Irish Times February 2011

Publication: Irish Times
Date: Monday, February 7, 2011
Page: 13
Extract: 2 of 2
Circulation: 106.926
Author: Brian Boyd

Src: Irish Times

Why go bald? Beyond trauma and toupée

‘I just want to walk into a pub, sit down, order a pint and feel normal.” This was one of the reasons recently given by a man about to have a hair transplant procedure in Dublin. It cuts to the core of how hair loss for men – at any age – is the trauma that dare not speak its name. If you delve into the many online forums dedicated to male hair loss, you discover a world of despair: horrific photos are posted alongside sad tales of expensive and embarrassing botch jobs; people plead for help, guidance and advice – and options are weighed up in accordance with the latest technological developments in the field.

Significant hair loss can begin in the early teen years but it mostly hits men in their 30s and 40s. While some may go with the flow and embrace their new bald/partially bald look, to others it can signify a loss of virility and attractiveness and is an indication of the ageing process kicking in with a vengeance.

Some men react very badly to hair loss: “You become obsessed, every waking moment is spent analysing your hair loss,” writes one blogger. “It’s about identity and self- esteem and it completely strips men of their confidence. You can’t hide hair loss – it’s there on show and every time you walk past a mirror you’re reminded of it.”

Some of the “remedies” suggested over the years make old wives’ tales seem scientifically rigorous. From “Positive Visualisation” to sprays to tonics to massage techniques – it seems everyone has an “answer”. Hair transplant is the only effective and long-term solution to male pattern hair loss. For many, this procedure still conjures up images of pop stars with clumps of doll-like hair that makes the subject look even more ridiculous than he did in the first place.

All has changed though with the arrival of the natural and virtually undetectable Follicular Unit Extraction (Fue) procedure. This allows trained surgeons to place individual follicles (and not the clumps of old) into the thinning areas at the front and top of head. The rather folksy analogy given is that of having a back garden full of grass and a front garden with no grass. Grass is taken from the back garden (which quickly grows over again) and is “transplanted” into the bare front garden.

If you look at any before/after pictures of a Fue procedure you will typically see (if the clinic is reputable) a thoroughly natural result. Hair just seems to have magically grown on the front of the head to replace that which has fallen out.

A clinic in Blackrock, Co Dublin, is now attracting international acclaim thanks to the actor James Nesbitt becoming their leading ambassador. Nesbitt had two hair transplants at “Hair Restoration Blackrock” and was so impressed by the results that he appears on the company’s website extolling their work. And Nesbitt is of that “blokey” demographic – the type who is worried about their hair loss but is petrified of any procedure, not least because of the perceived “vanity” component.

“The hair transplants have changed my life,” says Nesbitt. “It’s horrible going bald and anyone who says it isn’t is lying.”

Dr Maurice Collins, who runs and is the chief surgeon at Hair Restoration Blackrock, says such is the “stigma” still associated with male hair loss that 95 per cent of his patients tell him that he is the first person they have ever discussed their hair loss with.

“in a sense this has nothing to do with hair loss and everything to do with self-esteem and confidence” says Collins. “We never say the procedure is going to make anyone better looking- make them more attractive or more handsome – it’s not about that. This is about restoring men to normality. As with the patient who said to me he just wanted to be able to go to the pub and feel normal again.”

There is also the ageing element associated with hair loss – and how this impacts on both your personal and professional life.

“A 35-year-old with hair loss can look like a 45-year-old because losing hair from the front of your head doesn age you prematurely,” says Collins. “But there are no ‘miracles’ here – patients have to have realistic expectations of what the procedure can do for them.”

Collins’s oldest patient was aged 85 and his youngest 15. He works on a strictly confidential basis but can say his clinic has carried out procedures on “ambassadors, road-sweepers, motorbike couriers, multi-millionaires – people from every walk of life.”

The procedure involves taking hair from the “sweet spot” at the back of the head (which can involve leaving a small scar) and placing it, follicle by follicle, in the areas of the front of the head where hair is missing or has fallen out.

“We do sit people down before they opt to have the procedure and explain to them what this entails, how it will work for them and what result they can expect to see,” says Collins. The procedure is not about having a full head of new hair overnight – there are only so many times you can extract hair from the back of the head and it can take up to (sic) a year for full results to be visible. People who have had the procedure (it takes around six hours) say pain-wise it’s a bit like having a filling.

It is expensive to get done. Every individual has different needs but you’re looking at about €5,000 as a very general guide. It’s costly because there are up to 18 nurses, surgeons and technicians working on you,” says Collins.

The big difficulty about this growing area (sorry) is that it’s unregulated. Collins says he has worked on people who “would not have had very satisfactory procedures done in the past”. He talks about “commercial organisations where you find yourself talking to a salesperson”.

For some, a hair transplant may be either too costly or, for whatever reason, not suitable for their needs. There are only two FDA-approved solutions for hair loss and these are Minoxodil (known as “Rogaine”) and a prescription-only medication.

As an indication of how busy the Blackrock practice has become, fuelled by celebrities talking openly about having a hair transplant and what it has done for them, Collins has had to move from the Blackrock Clinic to a purpose-built building nearby. “We had to go from 750 sq ft in Blackrock Clinic to 7,500 sq ft where we are now because of the demand,” he says.

The Blackrock practice is by no means the only one offering the Fue procedure in Ireland or even Dublin – it is in the news because of James Nesbitt talking widely in the press about it.

Anyone even half-considering a hair transplant is advised to thoroughly research the options available and ask to see clear, untouched photographs of work done on previous patients.

Obviously no one’s face is used in these photographs to preserve privacy.

As new, sophisticated and effective as the Fue procedure may seem, within a few years it may be old hat. It can be said with some degree of confidence, that baldness will be a thing of the past in the not too distant future if early research findings into even newer procedures are to be believed. “The three areas being looked at now are gene therapy, hair cloning and stem-cell research,” says Collins. “Down the line they’re looking at growing hair the same way they’re looking at growing a heart, liver and kidneys.”

For many, though, Fue is proving to be a successful solution in the short-to mid-term. As one bank manager patient at Hair Restoration Blackrock said after his procedure: “You’ve just done to me what banks haven’t been able to do – you’ve made me recession proof and guaranteed me growth.”