As a clinical entity due some serious consideration, hair loss - in its varied forms - has never fully been embraced by mainstream medicine. Perhaps this is because of the barbershop origins of hair loss treatments, or the age-old jokes about toupees, or possibly it's just that hair loss - often justifiably - is not seen as a health issue, & therefore warrants little attention. This is a puzzling attitude given that skin problems are readily referred to a Dermatologist and hair - like sweat & oil glands, & nails - are appendages of the skin.
So what has evolved out of this confusion is a mongrel mix of hair loss treatment salesmen posturing as 'Hair Loss Consultants', or post-trade certificated hairdressers with an elementary understanding of hair loss issues, or the fringe opportunists who unashamedly prey on the religious or cultural fears of certain minorities.
Successfully treating hair loss problems - even by Medicos - is often just a roll of the dice rather than a planned, sequential investigative process. Two attitudes are typically the main stumbling blocks:
1. "Hair loss is hair loss" - meaning that all hair loss conditions are essentially the same and a one therapy cookie cutter approach to treatment works for all.
2. Hair is a totally separate part of our body; unaffected by what might be happening to our body. In fact our hair is a reflection and barometer of what's happening to our body - internally & externally.
Hair is one of the body's most metabolically-active tissues, often reflecting the first signals of internal disturbance. Causes for hair loss may be an inherited condition, hormonal, nutritional, metabolic, physiological, autoimmune, psychological, or environmental, the taking of certain medication, the actions of a third party, or any combination of these.
Some hair loss problems may be temporary and self-correcting whilst others are corrected with nutritional/hormonal interventions. Conditions such as genetic thinning can be stabilised but not cured - whilst others cause permanent hair loss due to follicle destruction.
With all these complex factors to consider, how can the diagnosis & treatment of hair loss be anything other than a specialised area of health care?
For decades, consumers anxious about thinning hair or hair fall problems have had to tread the minefield of companies or individuals offering 'guaranteed' hair loss cures - at a price. To their collective shame governments, medical associations, & other regulatory bodies having done nothing to control the practices, claims, and charges of hair loss companies. Departments of Fair Trading - supposedly in place to protect the consumer - gutlessly hide behind the dictum of 'Emptor caveat' - "Let the buyer beware".
I contend that the majority these hair loss companies - and the untrained salespeople they employ - are illegally practicing medicine. They tell prospective clients they have "genetic balding" or some other alopecia - is this not making a medical diagnosis? They suggest treatment such as laser therapy, Minoxidil, 'special' shampoos & nutritional supplements - is this not prescribing?
These unscrupulous charlatans possess little knowledge of the appropriateness of the treatments they sign clients up to - nor are they able to recognise potentially dangerous adverse effects of treatment when & if they arise.
Even more disturbing some operators produce their own untrialled & non-approved remedies, making outrageous claims to its efficacy. Still others openly tell prospective clients they add 'special ingredients' to prescription medication in order to make that medication more effective!
My client files are replete with stories of people having previously paid many thousands of dollars to hair loss salesmen when all that was required was some iron or other nutritional supplementation, a change of oral contraceptive, or in a number of cases - nothing but time - these individuals were experiencing a temporary & self-correcting condition.
The hair loss treatment industry is long overdue for regulation and the registration of qualified practitioners. No other area of health care tolerates untrained poseurs to masquerade as qualified specialists. I believe it's only a matter of time before there are fatal consequences to an innocent consumer in allowing these unchecked practices to continue.
About the Author: Tony Pearce RN is a specialist trichologist* and a registered nurse. He is a founding member of the Society for Progressive Trichology. Tony has a clinical practice in Sutherland & Rozelle NSW. He is the Clinical Director for Trichology of Virginia/DC in the United States. In Australia he can be contacted on 02 9542 2700, or through his website at www.hairlossclinic.com.au
*A qualified Trichologist has studied & successfully completed a recognised Academic Trichology Educational Program. Copyright Anthony Pearce 2006.