Why men–and women–lose hair, and how to prevent it
Telltale signs for women–falling hair while combing, and very dry, itchy scalpBy Alex Y. Vergara |Philippine Daily Inquirer
When Los Angeles-based trichologist Michael Bernstein began his career at Svenson 30 years ago, hair loss was primarily a “young man’s problem.” But these days, over half of Svenson’s clients are composed of women, and Bernstein attributes this development to women’s lib.
The hair and scalp expert recently visited Manila to launch a series of US FDA-approved laser treatments designed to strengthen hair. Together with Svenson endorsers Mike Enriquez and RJ Ledesma, Bernstein also shared some facts and myths about hair loss.
It’s normal for men to go bald, he said. That’s why Svenson’s thrust when it comes to dealing with male clients is hair-loss prevention. It encourages men with a full head of hair like Enriquez and Ledesma to see them before the problem becomes evident.
Enriquez, for instance, tries to squeeze in twice-weekly sessions of Revage, a laser treatment to promote healthy hair. Ledesma, whose family has a history of hair loss, avails himself of Svenson’s hair loss-prevention program composed of three treatments, including removal of accumulated sebum on the scalp.
“You don’t wait for all your teeth to fall out before you go to the dentist,” Bernstein said. “You go to the dentist when you still have good teeth. It’s the same with your hair. There’s no point to wait for you to start losing your hair. You make sure you do everything to keep it.”
It’s quite normal for a guy to go bald, he added. It’s not an illness, but the result of shrinking hair follicles brought about by excess testosterone binding with 5-alpha reductase, an enzyme produced by the prostate.
“It’s probably nature’s way of telling young men between the ages of 16 to 30 to have children,” said Bernstein. “Testosterone, or the male hormone, is not the root of the problem per se. The problem starts when it binds with 5-alpha reductase.”
This binding action produces dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a powerful androgen that attaches itself to the hair follicles’ genetic receptors, causing them to shrink, which eventually leads to reduced anagen or the growth period of hair cycle among certain men.
On the other hand, “with females, hair loss is not normal,” said Bernstein. “But female hair loss has become so prevalent, over 50 percent of our clients are now women.”
He attributes this to the growing number of women joining the workforce. It’s also now common for women to hold positions of power as company CEOs, presidents and managing directors. On top of this, they still have to work as mothers and homemakers after office hours.
“As a full-time homemaker, the woman’s traditional place was at home as nurturer and caregiver, while the man, fueled with testosterone, went out to hunt,” said Bernstein.
As more women assume greater responsibilities outside the home, they become more aggressive in order to get the job done. They’ve also unwittingly stimulated their testosterone levels in the process. The added stress eventually takes its toll on women, including their hair.
“Nowadays, women are under much more pressure than in the past,” Bernstein explained in Svenson’s press material. “They now compete on equal terms with men in the corporate world. In addition, they’re still expected to fulfill their roles as mothers and homemakers while still looking glamorous and sexy for their husbands.”
Apart from activating women’s testosterone level, stress has been shown to inhibit the production of estrogen (female hormones) among women, which could result in fatigue and depression.
“That’s why hair is a great barometer of one’s health, particularly among women,” said Bernstein, who specializes in female pattern hair loss. “Anemia, thyroid imbalance, diabetes, anorexia, depression, menopause and crash dieting can all affect women’s hair. Hair can be considered the least important part of the body because it doesn’t support life. The body, like a computer, steals nutrients away from hair to support other areas.”
While men’s approach to hair loss should be preventive, women should approach it based on telltale signs such as falling hair while combing and having very dry, itchy scalp. Instead of brushing the problem aside, they should immediately see a trichologist.
One widely used treatment for women’s hair loss at Svenson is the topical application of phytoestrogens. It’s proven to be effective, said Bernstein, for women who lost hair because of menopause.
No miracle cure
Men who have gone bald and have lost their hair follicles shouldn’t fall for any miracle cures because there’s none. If they’re really concerned about their appearance, said Bernstein, they’re better off going to a reputable hair-care center like Svenson to have a nonsurgical hairweave done.
He also advised both men and women to keep their hair and scalp clean by shampooing regularly, even daily. He debunked the myth that shampooing daily could lead to hair loss. On the contrary, an oily scalp could impede hair growth.
“You wash your face everyday, and your scalp is just a continuation of your face,” he said. “So you should wash it everyday as well. I also recommend using a conditioner to make sure the hair combs smoothly.”
But there’s no truth to claims made by certain shampoos to stimulate hair growth. The most they can do, he said, is make existing hair strands appear thicker, but the effect is only temporary.
“Shampoo is formulated to wash your hair,” he said. “How long does it take for it to stay on your hair before you rinse it off—30 seconds, one minute? What can it do for one minute? The treatments we put on had to be left on for 12 hours to make it penetrate through the lower dermis.”