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Dr Asim Shahmalak

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New Research That Proves Just How Devastating Hair Loss Can Be

Posted: 10/01/2013 00:00

Celebrity hair stylist James Brown is the latest famous face to talk about the profound impact losing his hair has had on his life.

The hairdresser - whose clients have included Kate Moss, Sienna Miller and Emma Watson - first noticed his hair was starting to thin on top in his early twenties.

But it took another 20 years for him to find the confidence to seek professional help.

Now, following a successful hair transplant, Mr Brown has talked openly about the agonies he suffered losing his locks - and how he hid his bald spot for years under his trademark hat.

He admitted: 'I live [my life] going through airports, from LA to London, and I used to panic about having to go through airport security.

'It got to the point when it was so bad, I didn't want to take my hat off. Those minutes before going through security and taking my hat off, they were torture for me.'

I've written before about the trauma of losing one's hair - and how I credit celebrities with a sea change in attitudes towards the treatment of hair loss.

Not everyone reacts badly to losing their hair, but for some, like Mr Brown, it can be a genuinely troubling experience.

Don't just take it from me.

A major new study has revealed that hair loss can in fact trigger serious psychological breakdown - something my colleagues and I have believed for a long time.

Furthermore, researchers found it could even lead to exaggerated feelings of ugliness and, in the worst cases, trigger body dysmorphic disorder, where sufferers experience acute anxiety about their looks.

Doctors found that the 'enormous emotional burden' of going bald could lead in some cases to low self-confidence, mental disorders and even impaired quality of life.

The study is a major, and very welcome, piece of research into the psychological impact of hair loss.

Male pattern baldness (MPB), the main cause of hair loss, affects an estimated quarter of men by the age of 30 and two-thirds by the age of 60. So it is not necessarily someone else's problem for many British men - and, indeed, some women.

Don't misunderstand me, some men are happy losing their hair. Indeed, many wear their baldness as a badge of honour, feeling it suits them or reflects their personality. Others do not.

And until now the links between hair loss and mental issues among these men and women has been mostly anecdotal - shared via patient experiences, and in discussion among my colleagues in the hair replacement community - rather than scientifically proven.

Researchers at the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin - one of Europe's largest and most prestigious teaching hospitals - studied hair growth, hair disorders and changes in hair density and quality among patients.

I have previously argued that the impact of baldness has been ignored or dismissed by many in the medical establishment.

I concede, of course, that losing one's hair is not in the same category as experiencing, say, a heart attack or stroke. The affects may not be immediately life-threatening.

The new research makes clear the impact of hair loss can have equally far-reaching, and, sadly, devastating consequences.

Recent successful hair transplants on celebrities like footballer Wayne Rooney, actor James Nesbitt and X Factor judge Louis Walsh have helped make the procedures more socially acceptable.

But solid research like that from the Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin will help educate those who see hair loss as a purely cosmetic issue.

Men and women alike go through a series of psychological stages when their hair thins. It might be difficult to measure, but there are all sorts of side-affects of that trauma on day-to-day life.

And the researchers also found that initial natural thinning could trigger self-inflicted conditions like trichotillomania - where sufferers exacerbate hair loss by repeated twisting or pulling.

Again, these so-called 'psychotrichological' disorders might be accompanied by feelings of disfigurement, depressive and anxiety disorders including social avoidance.

Sadly hair transplants are not available on the NHS except in the most acute circumstances. And they are not cheap.

Wayne Rooney's operation, where follicles are painstakingly matched over two days to the surrounding hair for a totally natural procedure, cost in the region of £15,000 - though there are cheaper procedures in the region of £4,000.

It is thoroughly commendable that people like James Brown are willing to talk about their own hair loss and treatment in public. It lends credibility to my own experience as a surgeon and, I hope, will help others muster themselves to take action.

As Mr Brown admitted: 'I have the confidence now, it's mine, it's not going to fall out - it's my hair, it's incredible and I really wish I'd had it done it ten years ago to save me those years of hell. It's incredible.'

The good news is that treatments will become cheaper over time as the procedures advance. The results will be even better and they will become more widespread.

Until then, hair transplants should not be seen as mere vanity measures.

Hair loss can have far reaching consequences - and an underlying impact on well-being - as this important new research has shown.

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  • Hair Transplants - John Travolta

    John Travolta<br>The list of things that John Travolta isn't admitting to seems to grow longer by the day.We don't give a fig about his sexuality, but we do find it rather surprising that he won't 'fess up to having had a bit of a helping hand with his hair - because for years he's been regarded as having the least-convincing hairline in Hollywood.If only they were making Lego: The Movie he'd be a dead cert for the lead role. (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Bono

    Bono<br>Bono has always seemed to us to be someone with a rather high opinion of himself, so it comes as no surprise to discover that he's also stayed schtum about his barnet.The U2 frontman was clearly thinning by the late '80s though, but throughout the '90s and '00s his hair seemed to move in Mysterious Ways - increasing in density as it decreased in length.He obviously takes Pride (in the name of) his hair though, so we'll draw a (hair) line under the matter right here. (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Declan Donnelly

    Declan Donnelly<br>First we want to make it clear that the density of Dec's hair is something we'd never even considered until it was brought to our attention.But once we were made aware of an alleged increase in bushiness, we had to admit that something fishy did appear to be going on.Now we're not saying he's definitely had a transplant (and he's certainly keeping mum), but have a look at these pics and see what you reckon. (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Sir Elton John

    Sir Elton John<br>The artist formerly known as Reg Dwight started to lose his hair way back in the 1970s, and was one of the first celebs to undergo a hair transplant.The change was so dramatic - and he was so mega-famous back then - that he had to be honest about having had it done.We don't know how much work he's had done up there since, but he's got more hair than Marge Simpson these days. (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Jude Law

    Jude Law<br>Has he or hasn't he? That is the question when it comes to the talented Mr Law.Jude is famous for his sneaky mini-combover, as shown in the right hand picture - but there have been persistent rumours that he's also had a transplant.He's never spoken out about it, and definitive evdience is hard to come by - so for now it will have to remain a mystery, my dear Watson. (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - James Nesbitt

    James Nesbitt<br>He might still be best known to many of us for his role in Cold Feet, but it was obviously James Nesbitt's head that was getting a bit chilly.The actor has been upfront about having undergone two hair transplant procedures - and says the results have changed his life.Will we see the suave Northern Irishman becoming the latest Brit to make it big across the pond thanks to his new thatch? (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Rob Brydon

    Rob Brydon<br>Comedian Rob Brydon is another famous face who appears to have had a bit of re-thatching carried out on his rooftop.The Welshman hasn't explicitly confirmed that he's had a transplant, but did say: "For some time now my head has been feeling a lot warmer but I was unable to put my finger on the reason why."He might not be able to, but it looks like one of his co-stars isn't having any problems doing so in the right-hand photo here. (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Ronan Keating

    Ronan Keating<br>Boyzone star Ronan Keating was also an enthusiastic mini-combover man back in the 1990s, but sometime in the early noughties his hairline seemed to move forward a little.The change may be hardly noticeable, but that's how it should be when it's done right.We take our hats off to one of the best barnets in the business! (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Duncan Bannatyne

    Duncan Bannatyne<br>Not only has Dragon's Den tycoon Duncan Bannatyne's mop got darker in recent years, but his hairline has also moved forward.The gym chain owner has admitted having a transplant, in which a piece of skin is taken from the back of the scalp, cut into 1mm pieces and placed in balding areas.Apparently it's not as painful as it sounds and he's delighted with the results.(credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Shaun Williamson

    Shaun Williamson<br>The man who used to play Barry Evans in EastEnders has never even tried to pretend that his hair grew back overnight - which is just as well because nobody would have believed him.He even told Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant about the op, so they could use it to mock him when he appeared in their Extras (although the gags got cut).We think it looks pretty good actually, and it's better than looking like Keith Allen - as he was beginning to in the left-hand picture here. (credit: PA)

  • Hair Transplants - Alistair McGowan


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