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Hair Loss In The Press

It is always reassuring to see stories in the media about hair loss – it’s good to see the subject is being taken more seriously. That being said, it can be equally frustrating when you see ‘expert’ opinions that are factually incorrect, or information that’s misleading.

Two such stories have appeared in the last few days, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to clear up some rather confused ‘facts’ that have been reported.

In last week’s Sunday Times Style magazine, there was an article that discussed the ‘unnatural’ method of hair plugs and how this procedure has been replaced by the more natural technique of FUE (follicular unit extraction). Whilst transplant techniques have certainly progressed, it’s impossible to draw comparisons between these two methods as FUE does not contribute to what a hair transplant would actually look like – it’s simply an alternative method of harvesting the donor that, in general, enables significantly less hairs/grafts per operation.

The current natural-looking results of hair transplants are due to follicular unit transplantation (FUT), regardless of the method of harvesting the donor. It is the artistry, design and attention to detail that decides the results, not just the technique.

Another thing that amuses me, is for journalists to insinuate that certain celebrities have had transplants at the slightest change of hairstyle, hair length or even hair colour!  Jude Law, Graham Gooch, Shane Warne and Elton John – bar some plugs many years ago – have not actually had transplants themselves, yet their pictures were used to ‘showcase’ some of the main examples of hair transplantation! Jude Law clearly and simply has grown his hair long compared to the cropped look that is being used as the ‘before’. Graham Gooch and Elton John wear hairpieces, while Shane Warne used to advertise for a laser therapy company when he hardly had any hair loss in the first place!

Whilst the above is merely misleading, what I heard this week on BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat was rather worrying. The station ran a story throughout the day that named Propecia® (finasteride) as a hair loss drug that causes permanent impotence amongst men and puts their sexual health at risk.

Let’s just clear this up. Finasteride (Propecia®) works by temporarily blocking the 5 alpha reductase enzyme, which facilitates the conversion of testosterone into DHT (dihydrotestosterone). By blocking the enzyme, you reduce the amount of DHT produced and, therefore, reverse the miniaturisation of hair during the male pattern balding process.

Whilst using this drug and blocking DHT may cause temporary impotence in a very small percentage of users, it causes no risk whatsoever to a man’s fertility, as was claimed by the ‘expert’ who was interviewed.

It makes no scientific sense that any side effects could continue as a direct result of the drug use in the long-term beyond the survival period of the drug in the body, which is 30 days. I’ve been prescribing Propecia® or finasteride to hair loss sufferers for over 15 years now, and none of my patients have reported permanent impotence. I have also checked with my colleagues across the world and they report a similar experience.

It is known that the incidence of such side effects is influenced by the manner in which they are explained to the patient at consultation. I emphasise that such side effects can happen due to a variety of reasons and, most commonly, these are psychological. In the original clinical trials conducted on behalf of the manufacturer, two per cent suffered the side effects, but three quarters of those cases were actually on placebo rather than the drug itself.

Stating that a man’s fertility may be affected by the use of Propecia® is not only scientifically incorrect, but it’s also damaging to those who are currently using the drug to aid their symptoms of hair loss.

It’s worrying to see such reporting without properly researched information. All you get is a  shocking news story which doesn’t take into account the damaging effects that this reporting may have on those involved.

I guess the old adage is true – don’t believe everything you read!

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