We're well into the final month of summer - where did that go? - but did you know that August marks the return of National Hair Loss Awareness Month? The campaign devotes a whole 31 days to increasing the understanding of hair loss.
Statistics show that over 50 per cent of men and millions of women in the UK will suffer from some form of hair loss during their lifetime. So, I ask, why does talking about hair loss remedies remain such a taboo topic, even though it's such a common phenomenon?
I believe that people suffering from hair loss have been living in the shadows for too long. This may be because we lack cultural understanding of the issue, or perhaps people have an innate fear of any potential embarrassment that comes with wanting to undergo a procedure that many people still consider to be vain.
Despite this, I think it's important that we talk more about losing hair. To support this annual campaign, I want to talk openly about hair loss causes and treatments, and tell you what I come across regularly as a surgeon in this field.
I often see patients who believe hair loss will be permanent and that once it starts, there's no going back. Hair loss can come about for various reasons, and some forms can be improved by simple changes in diet or lifestyle, so it is by no means incurable. It's important to assess and understand which type of hair loss you have, so treatment can be tailored to suit. It's also something that everyone - whether they have obvious symptoms or not - should be keeping an eye on, so that any changes can be monitored and managed. Take a photo and compare it to what you see in the mirror in three months' time, for example.
Another misunderstanding I often come across is to do with the age at which hair loss can begin. You certainly don't have to be 'old' to start experiencing hair loss, and thinning can start in your 20s or sometimes earlier. Although hair loss is often associated with getting old, it can occur at any stage in life and for various reasons including physical stress, skin conditions, overall health or even a poor diet.
Although most of my patients come to explore the possibility of hair transplant surgery, I also regularly encounter people who simply want advice on how they can stop hair loss themselves. They may not need surgery to rectify the hair loss they're encountering and are instead looking for a non-surgical 'miracle' treatment.
Though we are yet to discover this 'miracle' cure for hair loss, there is an abundance of great topical remedies on the market which I often recommend trialling before I recommend hair transplant surgery. Choosing whether or not to undergo any kind of surgery is a difficult decision and should only be considered if the patient is ready. Alternatives to surgery can often surprise patients who have jumped straight to thinking they need the procedure without considering other non-invasive and relevant remedies, such as low-level laser therapy, shampoos, creams and pills.
However, I also see a lot of people who have tried countless treatments and cover-ups with no luck in halting their hair loss. When this trial and error process isn't delivering results, hair transplant surgery becomes an attractive solution which can give a lasting result.
Once patients have carefully considered all the options available to them, many often ask about hair transplant surgery, which is surprisingly a much less daunting process than most people think. I am often asked if surgery will hurt and I can honestly say that any pain associated with hair transplants is minimal. Patients often become concerned when I tell them that we'll be carrying out the procedure under local anaesthetic, but many of my former patients have been so relaxed during surgery that they've watched the football or a film throughout. From the outside, it can seem like a bizarrely surreal experience, but one that makes them feel totally at ease.
What's important to remember is that each and every case is different and it's imperative that patients are comfortable with their decision to pursue any treatment or hair transplant surgery. There are many different causes and an equal number of solutions to hair loss, which need to be addressed and carefully considered. Let's use Hair Loss Awareness Month to stop covering up the problem, learn more about it and start the journey to a fuller head of hair.