London: EastEnders actor Shaun Williamson who played Barry Evans, the hapless car dealer, had it written into his BBC contract that he had to remain bald and overweight so whether he liked it or not, he couldnt do anything to improve his looks without getting the sack.
Shaun, aged 40, has suffered from male pattern baldness for 19years. It is a genetic condition in which an overabundance of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a highly active form of the male hormone testosterone, causes gradual hair loss. It is the most common reason for baldness in men, with about 60% suffering from this form of hair loss.
At the moment there is no known cure for baldness, aside from medications that may slow down or prevent future hair loss or wearing a wig. However, a new and superior surgical technique known as Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT), in now being carried out in the UK. Shaun underwent this procedure recently and now has a head of healthy hair making him look at least ten years younger.
Shaun says: When I thought there was nothing I could do about it, I kidded myself that going bald didnt matter. But I cant tell you how chuffed I feel now when I look in the mirror and see the Shaun I remember from 20 years ago.
The technique, carried out by only a few specialist surgeons in the UK, has become so popular that there is currently a three month waiting list. In FUT, a microscopic surgical technique is used to transplant thousands of healthy follicles from the sides and back of the head and retransplanted to the balding area. This results in a higher density of hair follicles – about 90 per square centimentre being transplanted. These hair roots are not affected by DHT and their density allows for a far more successful and natural outcome that the rows of trees in early transplant surgery such as that carried out on celebrities like Elton John.
The pain-staking operation in which the patient is given a local anaesthetic and a sedative may take between two and eight hours depending on the size of the area being treated.
It also requires not only great surgical expertise but artistry to place the hairs in a way to produce a natural growth pattern. From the day of the treatment it takes about two to four months for the new hair to start to grow and about six to eight months before substantial hair is seen and a year before the full result matures. Patients who want a denser look may want more than one treatment.
Shauns operation was carried out by Dr Bessam Farjo, formerly a general surgeon in the NHS, who studied the procedure in Canada. He does more than 300 similar operations each year at his Manchester clinic and also sees patients in Londons Harley Street. They include footballers, media people, City types, fund managers and even builders. The procedure costs between £2-3000.
He says: Our patients are not necessarily wealthy people. They simply feel psychologically that they will be happier with a full head of hair and they make a choice, for example, between buying a new car or having this procedure.
The majority of those wanting FTS are older and it is not recommended for younger people who may continue to suffer hair loss.
Our oldest patient was 83 and there is no upper age limit. Most are men and about 10% are women. We do not recommend this procedure for younger people, say those aged 20 to 25 because they may suffer more hair loss and we advise medication to slow hair loss down, says Dr Farjo.
The procedure is also used to disguise scarring and high hair lines from face-lifts, to recreate eyebrows and eyelashes, to establish moustaches and beards following gender reassignment and cover unsightly scars.
For those whose hair is starting to thin there are medications which may slow down the process and prevent future hair loss in both men and women. These are sold under various brand names and only available by prescription. These include Regaine which contains a drug called minoxidil and this is applied as a lotion twice daily to the scalp; Propecia or Proscar contains finasteride and is taken as a tablet and works by blocking the conversion of testosterone to DHT and Avodart, also taken as a pill and similarly blocks DHT.
Whilst few women go bald, they may suffer hormonal changes, such as during pregnancy and at menopause which can cause hair loss. Stress, psoriasis, crash diets and eating disorders can damage hair dramatically as can some medicines such as the contraceptive pill. It is advisable to seek specialist advice from a qualified trichologist who can arrange various tests, including blood to determine the cause and recommend treatments, including hormone replacement therapy, nutrition and lifestyle changes.
According to the Institute of Trichologists iron deficiency is increasingly responsible for general hair loss in women.
More and more cases of thinning hair in women are attributable to iron deficiency. This is more probably common among vegetarians and those with eating disorders. It is not always appreciated that iron deficiency can occur even when a patient is not clinically anaemic and has normal haemoglobin levels. As with thyroid problems, with which the symptoms of iron deficiency can be confused, a blood test is essential to correct diagnosis. Thinning of the hair should not be ignored, it can be an early manifestation of other conditions, it says.
Like glowing skin and strong nails, healthy hair is largely the result of a nutritious diet. As well as iron, vitamin C is required for it to be absorbed into the body and an amino acid called lysine (also found in meat). Hair food includes fresh vegetables, salads and fruit, live yogurt, cold-pressed oils (olive, sunflower, sesame, flax), pulses (peas, beans, lentils), whole grains (brown rice, oats, buckwheat, millet), seeds (sunflower, pumpkin,, sesame and linseeds), almonds, figs and dates, fresh oily fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines)
Often damage results from over-treating or roughly treating the hair or pulling too tightly such through braiding, which is known as traction alopecia. Usually the hair recovers when the mistreatment stops. Colouring, perming, combing and harsh shampoos can damage the hair.
There are specialist supplements such as Nourkrin, which is made of shark cartilage which contains glucosamine which stimulates the growth of new tissue, the mineral silica and vitamin C. It costs almost £50 for a months supply and can be purchased at health food shops and pharmacies. Another hair food supplement is Vita Tress by Nexxus which treats fragile contains B vitamins and minerals to treat fragile and thinning hair which costs £18 for a months supply.
Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic
54 Green Street
London W1K 6RU
T: 0207 629 4004
Institute of Trichologists at www.trichologists.org.uk has a full list of clinics and practitioners
Nourakin information and current special offer 0845 3990022
Nexxus VitaTress Hair Food Supplement available from www.salonlines.co.uk or by phoning 0870 027 3353