Thursday, February 28, 2008

Debunking Hair Loss Myths

You might be surprised to learn that many people are unable to untangle fact from fiction when it comes to hair loss. Some of the blame lies with the many companies and individuals exploiting hair loss myths in order to sell bogus hair products. Other myths may linger because people with hair loss, particularly women, are reluctant to talk about an issue that remains sensitive and sometimes emotional.

The following are some popular myths about hair loss to watch out for:

Myth: Pattern Baldness Comes From Your Mother's Side Only

For those of you secretly blaming your mother's grandfather for your male- or female- pattern baldness, it's time to let go. The hair loss gene does not get passed down from your mother, nor does it skip a generation. If fact, there isn't even a single hair loss gene; researchers think pattern baldness is probably due to the interaction of several genes inherited from both parents.

Myth: Only Men Experience Pattern Baldness

In reality, hair loss is just as common in women as it is in men, though the degree of loss tends to vary by gender. "By the age of 50, over 50 percent of men have significant hair loss," Dr. McAndrews says. "For women, about 25 percent have significant hair loss by the age of 50, though it may be less apparent because women are more conscientious about hiding it than men are."

The timing and pattern of pattern baldness is also different in men and women. While men tend to start losing hair in the 30s and 40s, hair loss begins in the 40s or 50s in women, though it can occur as early as the 20s. And while men first lose hair in the front and at the top of the head, women's hair thins diffusely throughout the scalp.

Until recently, women have been reluctant to seek treatment, but hair restoration surgeons say that women make up more and more of their practices.

Myth: Poor Blood Flow Causes Pattern Baldness

This myth has been used to sell hair loss products as bizarre as a device that allows you hang upside down in your closet overnight in order to restore blood flow. But as Paul McAndrews, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and hair restoration surgeon and a clinical professor at the University of California School of Medicine, explains, "Blood supply is excellent in the balding region, which is why hair transplant works so well."

Myth: Pattern Baldness is Caused By Hair Mites, Plugged Follicles, Vitamin Deficiencies

Other manufacturers claim that pattern hair loss is due to a hair mite called the demodex mite that can be removed with certain shampoos, or to plugged hair follicles, which can be unplugged with a shampoo or laser comb.

Dr. McAndrews says there's no evidence to support either of those theories. "The dermodex mite has been seen for centuries on hair follicles on face and scalp. If the mite contributed to hair loss, my beard hair would be gone."

As for plugged hair follicles, they simply lead to ingrown hairs, he says.

Other manufacturers claim that vitamin deficiencies cause pattern baldness. Although some studies have linked crash diets to temporary hair loss, malnutrition is rarely a cause of hair loss in the United States. And consuming more of a given vitamin, such biotin or zinc, than required will not have an impact on hair re-growth.

So why are people so willing to buy into these myth-based products? "Hair loss can be devastating," says Gregory Pistone, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and hair restoration surgeon practicing in Marton, New Jersey. "I think anytime you're dealing with an issue that concerns self-esteem, you will find a lot of people trying to make a quick buck by playing on people's weaknesses."

People who are looking for products to help their hair loss may want to consider medical therapies that have been Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved for the maintenance and possible regrowth of hair. Finasteride (Propecia) is approved for use in men, and minoxidil (Rogaine) is available to men and women.

Myth: Hair Transplant Can Only Produce a "Pluggy Look"

Older approaches to hair transplantation involved grafts containing 8 to 20 hairs. Such large grafts made the scalp look as if it had "plugs" of hair. Today's techniques, if performed by a qualified hair transplant surgery, allow the surgeon to transplant tiny grafts of one to four hairs, creating a very natural look.

"These days, unless hair transplant is done improperly, it's undetectable," Dr. Pistone says. One reason this myth persists may be because the people in whom a transplant is visible are usually those who've had older surgical techniques. That's why it's still important to ensure you see a hair qualified transplant surgeon; research their education and ask to meet patients who had their hair transplant performed by them.

Educate Yourself

By learning about the real causes of hair loss as well as the FDA-approved treatments, you can learn to face your hair loss head-on.