- For most blokes, hair loss is easily avoidable and treatment options are safe, accessible, and affordable.
- A combination of oral and topical medication has an 83 per cent success rate in retaining hair, and a 66 per cent success rate in regrowing it.
- Specialty “clinics” overcharge and underdeliver, employing dodgy tactics to put profits before results, when exactly the same treatments can be sought from a regular GP.
First Things First - Can This Be Fixed?
In a word, yes.
It’s true that hair loss is still a major concern for many men today, but it doesn’t need to be. Modern pharmaceutical treatments are easily available, affordable, and have a very high success rate.
The main thing to consider when deciding on whether or not to either start a treatment plan or shave it off is to act as soon as possible.
The two most commonly prescribed medicated treatments, paired together, make a damn good team. More men than ever are enjoying their luscious locks for years longer than they ever expected thanks to a fairly simple course of treatment.
We can't tell you what those medications are here because of Australia's laws against advertising prescription medication. These laws are designed to protect consumers from predatory marketing campaigns, and are very useful for this purpose.
Of course, like all medications, there are things to consider (which we’ll cover in great depth below), but the good news is that if you’re feeling like you’re thinning on top, there’s more than just a glimmer of hope for your hair. In fact, if you act fast, there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to reverse any of the damage that genetics, nature, and time has already done to your head (well, at least what grows out of it).
How Common a Problem is Hair Loss?
Hair loss is one of the most common ailments to plague us fellas. More than 50 per cent of men will experience thinning, balding, or a receding hairline by the time they’re 50, and for many, it happens a lot earlier (30 per cent will experience it by their early thirties).
How Quickly Does It Happen?
For some, it means the rapid loss of all of the hair on the top of their head. For others, it means a gradually receding hairline which insidiously dwindles over time until they’re left with a semi-circle of fluff on the back of their noggin’. Some men go patchy, but most barely notice their follicles saying bye-bye. It’s that gradual.
What is common amongst all cases is that treatment is available, accessible, and largely effective.
What Causes Hair Loss?
Given that everybody loses about 100 hairs a day (on average), the term “hair loss” is actually misleading. Where the trouble lies, especially for us blokes, is when those hair follicles decide it’s time to pack it in and stop regrowing the luscious locks they once produced en masse.
There are plenty of reasons for this, some hereditary, others environmental, and many of them unavoidable, but it’s not all bad news either.
Outside of heavy radiation treatment to the head, which is (thankfully) pretty rare, most cases of hair loss can be traced back to one (or more) of five causes:
- Heredity (your folks)
- A medical condition
- Your hairdresser
Heredity - this is the most common and explicable cause of hair loss in men, showing up in the form of male-pattern baldness (aka androgenetic alopecia).
It typically happens gradually (which is why some fellas take a while to notice that it has already started) and in predictable stages, with hair retreating from the front of the forehead, and with the formation of a bald patch at the back of the head. Eventually these two meet up and leave a U-shaped footprint of thin hair around the back of the head (a la Mr. Burns).
This occurs when testosterone is converted into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which slowly (perhaps sometimes not-so-slowly) begins deteriorating hair follicles.
“DHT acts on the scalp to cause follicular miniaturisation”, says men’s health expert Dr. Zac Turner. “The perception of hair loss is a result of from the shortening of the anagen (growth) phase of hair follicles, as opposed to the hair just not growing. A shorter growth phase leads to shorter, thinner hair.
“This continues until the appearance of baldness covers the majority of the scalp.”
Medical condition - hormonal changes can trigger hair loss, though this is more common in females. Medical conditions that can cause hair loss in men include alopecia areata (a disease which makes the hair fall out in patches and is often triggered by stress), ringworm of the scalp (a highly contagious fungal infection) and trichotillomania (literally pulling your hair out).
Medication - chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the most obvious ones here, but the baldness they incur is almost always temporary. A range of other treatments for conditions including cancer, arthritis, depression, heart problems, gout, and high blood pressure can also contribute to hair loss.
Stress - it’s a more powerful force than you think. Many will suffer some form of hair loss after particularly stressful events, but on a temporary basis.
Your hairdresser - or whoever who does your ‘do, really. Some hairstyles that pull hair tight, (i.e. cornrows) can cause traction alopecia. Hot oil treatments and perms (because you’re reading this in 1976, right?) can cause inflammation in the hair follicles that leads to hair loss. This can unfortunately be permanent if scarring has occurred. And the obvious: excessive bleaching isn’t good for a healthy scalp either (but you try telling that to Kanyé).
Why is This Happening to Me?!
While feeling like a lion without his mane is one of the most common health concerns all men face worldwide, there are still plenty of old wives’ tales around the issue. Being able to differentiate between fact and fiction is an important first step in understanding hair loss.
The reality is you most likely fall into that first category. It’s your hormones that have done you you.
Dr Zac says: “Unfortunate to say, but it’s not your fault – it’s your parents.”
“Genetics play a big role, but try not to stress: this happens to almost everyone at some point in their lives.
“Some people are just more, or less, affected at different ages.”
The most common myth that you’ve probably heard is that hair loss is carried through the mother’s side. While it’s true that the primary baldness gene is attached to the X chromosome (that’s the girl one), which us fellas get from our mums, there are plenty of other things to consider.
Though the hereditary factor is slightly more dominant on the woman's side, there’s plenty of research to suggest that men whose dads sport a chrome dome are more likely to develop male pattern baldness than those who don't.
In short, you might find yourself thinning due to one or a couple of the above listed reasons. What’s important is that you decide if treatment is right for you sooner rather than later.
What are the Treatment Options?
Since time immemorial man has toiled tirelessly to find a solution to losing his locks. Ancient Egyptians, who were obsessed with a healthy head of hair and are observed to have worn wigs to cover their failing follicles, are perhaps the most bizarre in this regard.
An ancient script known as The Ebers Papyrus, from around 1550 B.C. (read: very f*cking old), suggests, in no particular order: boiled porcupine hair (applied to the scalp for four days); hippopotamus, crocodile, tomcat, snake and ibex fat (mixed together, of course); and, perhaps most bizarrely (which is already a tall order), the leg of a female greyhound, sautéed in oil, with the hoof of a donkey.
We shit you not.
And speaking of shit, Hippocrates himself--the father of Western medicine-- was known to prescribe himself a mixture of opium, horseradish, pigeon droppings, beetroot and undisclosed “spices” as a topical ointment, though this was obviously about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
He did, however, note that eunuch’s never lost their hair. Funnily enough, this never caught on as a treatment (we know which we’d prefer to keep too, if we had to choose).
Modern medicine has made leaps and bounds since then (seriously, phew), and the two medical treatments prescribed today for hair loss have a very high success rate.
As we mentioned at the start, there are two commonly prescribed treatments which most doctors would employ to treat male-pattern baldness, and with a success rate of 83 per cent, countless blokes have the marvels of modern medicine to thank for maintaining their manes.
“Other alternatives like hair transplants, platelet-rich plasma and light therapy have been used for the treatment of hair loss”, notes Dr. Zac, “but there is far less consensus on some of these treatments in terms of efficacy.”
“Treatments also work better to keep hair, as opposed to regrowing it, meaning jumping on it early is your best bet for stopping hair loss.”
Okay, But What About the Side Effects?
Like any medication, prescription pharmaceuticals aren’t without their potential drawbacks, but it’s also important to note the low rate of occurrence in these side-effects.
And while we can't name the medications that are commonly prescribed here due to Australia's (rightly) stringent advertising laws, we can say that a very small percentage of men may experience:
- Mild cases of ejaculation disorder and/or erectile dysfunction (it should be noted that this figure is around the two per cent mark, and reported cases have been neither serious nor permanent, with adverse effects disappearing after the course of treatment ceased).
- Burning or irritation of the eye, itching, redness or irritation at the treated area, and unwanted hair growth elsewhere on the body.
It’s also not uncommon for users to experience accelerated hair loss before the regrowth begins (some manufacturers refer to this as “shedding”, and it is a normal part of the treatment process).
In extreme cases, some medication can induce an allergic reaction, but this is something a doctor will cover in more detail when discussing a treatment plan.
The important thing to note with both of these treatments is that they are approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and are used by millions of men the world over with a very high degree of success for retaining and regrowing their hair, and a miniscule margin of minor side effects reported.
Why are Some Treatments so Expensive?
Great question. And the truth is pretty bloody galling.
In short, and as mentioned earlier, Australia has strict laws that ban advertising for prescription medication.
This is largely a very good thing, but it also means that clinics (you know … the ones on the telly with the cricketers and the big claims) can hide their prices until very late in the sign-up process, and lock people into long contracts for medications that you can actually just get from a GP for a fraction of their extortionate prices.
In fact, the way some clinics have pitched the issue means that most blokes aren’t even aware that they can get safe and effective treatment from a regular doctor.
“There are a lot of misleading clinics out there taking advantage of people with deliberately minimal or confusing information,” says Dr. Zac.
“More transparency on the subject is a very good thing. You can be sure that your local GP isn’t pulling one over you, but some of those hair clinics promising the world should be looked at with a great deal of caution.”
Thankfully, this is changing, and effective hair loss treatment for Australian men is coming out of the shadows and into a new era where patients are better informed, better equipped to take treatment into their own hands, and better off.
But Bruce Willis Looks Cool
We couldn’t agree more, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
As long as baldness has been a thing, the handsome and hairless amongst us have been able to make it look cool. There’s no disputing that the Bruce Willis’, Jason Stathams and, heck, Patrick Stewarts of the world are bona-fide badasses.
Hair loss comes in many forms and can affect us all in different ways. Whether you want to keep what you’ve got up top (and maybe get some of it back), or go the full Dwayne Johnson and shave it all off, there’s a good chance that effective treatment is a lot easier than you think.
It’s definitely a lot easier than having to save the world from bad guys at Christmas.