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Baldness: Not Just for Men Anymore

Baldness: Not Just for Men Anymore "Hair today, Grown Tomorrow"

When many men lose their hair, they sport a “cue-ball” effect. Their heads become completely bald with only a thin strip of hair remaining just over both ears and around the back of the head. Given a long life, about two of every three men will go bald.

But one of every four women will also suffer hair loss woes. In the U.S., that’s almost 30 million women.

“For women, hair loss is cosmetic death,” says Ken Washenik, M.D., Ph.D, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center and medical director for Bosley, a hair restoration company. “About 15 percent of women experience some degree of noticeable hair loss, beginning at age 30.”

In women, hair loss more closely resembles not a cue ball but a divot left on a golf course. Female baldness almost always results in a severe thinning of the mid-scalp while the hair on the top and back of the head becomes sparse.

The lion’s share of hair loss in women is caused by a condition known as “androgenetic alopecia.” That’s an inherited sensitivity to the effects of hormones on hair follicles which sit down deep in the skin. Women’s hair loss may also be caused by pregnancy, disease, burns, accidents and certain medications.

“Female pattern hair loss can also start after the birth of a child, during menopause or after a total hysterectomy,” says Alan J. Bauman, M.D., a Boca Raton, Florida, plastic surgeon who specializes in all type of hair restoration.

Thus, a newer trend in beauty and cosmetic surgery is more women having hair transplantations as rejuvenation professionals come to the rescue of women with molting manes.

Science has developed a handful of treatments to restore a woman’s crowing glory to more fullness. Those treatments include newer hair transplant methods for head and eyelash hair, a hair transplantation method known as “Follicular Unit Extraction” (FEU) and a Brazilian method that coats donated hairs in rich plasma made from the patient’s own blood.

On the cosmetic surgery horizon are new types of hair cloning being developed in at least three nations.

“Hair plugs of twenty years ago have given up the ghost,” says Dr. Bauman. “Today, plastic surgeons use the techniques of microsurgery to replant groups of two and three healthy hair shafts in tiny trenches in the skin.” The older method of hair transplants using one-inch wide hair plugs was painful and left the scalp full of brown scabs that took longer to heal. Baldness: Not Just for Men Anymore

In the FUE, the surgeon uses a tiny punch-like scalpel that cuts the skin around one to four hair follicles at once. The follicles are then inserted into the scalp in equally tiny slits, so tiny they require no stitches and can’t be seen once the new hair begins growing in seven to ten days. (The donor sites in the very back of the head, however, are closed with self-dissolving stitches.)

With a background in microsurgery, Dr, Bauman was intrigued when he heard about a workshop demonstrating the work of a Brazilian surgeon who transplants hair from patients’ heads to their eyelashes. Not surprisingly, it’s known as the Brazilian single-follicle eyelash transplant.

Working with magnifiers on his glasses that increase vision five fold, Dr. Bauman also now offers that exacting procedure, replacing one lash at a time.

“Twelve eyelashes can be done in about half an hour or 30 eyelashes in about a two-hour session,” says Dr. Bauman who claims trained eyelash transplant specialists are few and far between.

Because the transplanted hair comes from the head, the lashes continue growing and must be periodically trimmed. If the patient has very straight hair, an “eyelash” perm is recommended.

Experts say natural eyelashes are often damaged by the use of false eyelashes, over plucking or even because of the hair pulling disorder known as “trichotillomania,” in which the sufferer is driven to pull out as much hair all over her body as possible. Traumas like auto accidents also contribute to eyelash loss when the face is injured.

Hair cloning, more accurately known to research scientists as “follicular neogenesis” happens when hair shafts and roots are taken from a patient’s head to be cultured or multiplied in a lab. The new technology promises to help not only balding women and men but scarred and burned patients, too.

While the technique requires years of clinical testing on real patients before it can be approved as a baldness cure for the general public, here’s how it works, according to Dr. Washenik: A small piece of tissue with hair is taken from a patient and handed over to a lab specialist known as a tissue engineer. Hair follicles contain stem cells that can permanently regenerate hair in bald spots. After the lab has cultured the sample with proprietary (READ: a biotechnology secret worth billions!) chemicals and techniques, the cells are injected back into the patient’s bald spots as hair seeds and that is where the new hair grows. Researchers in the U.S., England and Japan are racing to bring the technique onto the market.

“We know the technique works because it has been done on lab mice and twice on humans,” says Dr. Washenik. “In one case, a lab grew a patch of hair from one patient’s head on another test subject’s forearm. The hair seeds produce hair where they are replanted.”

That Holy Grail – a baldness cure for men and hair restoration for women -- is probably three to four years off, due to the complexity of heretofore unknown side effects and the body’s complex chemistry.

Carlos Uebel, M.D., a plastic surgeon in Porto Alegre, Brazil, takes hair grafts from patients’ scalps and coats them in platelet-rich plasma, made from the patient’s own blood. Dr. Uebel studied his patients that were treated with the method and found a significant number treated with the technique had hair regrowth sooner and grew up to 30 to 40 percent more hair than replant patients who did not have the plasma.

So there’s no need to let thinning tresses be uppermost in -- or on -- your mind.

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