A concoction of opium, horseradish, pigeon droppings and beetroot was a remedy offered for baldness by the father of modern medicine Hippocrates, who battled hair loss himself.

The ancient Egyptian recipe included “toes of a dog and a hoof of an ass”, according to the HairLossLearningCenter.

Others rubbed hippopotamus fat on their scalps. In the absence of hippos, the fat of lions, crocodiles, snakes and geese were other alternatives, but to no avail.

Julius Caesar wore a wreath to disguise his hair loss and a prematurely balding King Louis XIII of France made wearing a wig popular.

There have been many advances since then, with a host of celebrities digging into deep pockets to get a hair transplant to keep their crowning glory.

English soccer star Wayne Rooney is the latest follically challenged celeb to try to roll back the years, and roll forward his hairline. He was out and proud on Twitter recently, raving about his pricey hair transplant, and triggering responses like “Mane (man) United” and “Hair we go”.

Other celebrities who have had transplants include cricketers Jacques Kallis and Shane Warne and Monty Python star John Cleese.

In his first game after getting his new locks, Kallis produced a man-of-the-match performance against India at Newlands, leading the Wall Street Journal to speculate about his “inverted-Samson performances”. But Kallis remained coy about his new mane, saying the secret was to “take a bit of beer and manure and rub it on your forehead”.

Dr Larry Gershowitz, who heads Cape Town-based Medical Hair Restoration with his business partner, Dr Craig Ress, said many men tried to hide the fact that they had transplants done. “It’s refreshing when someone like Rooney is open about it,” he said.

The partners have run their hair transplant practice for more than a decade, with Gershowitz doing it for 14 years and Ress for 16.

Since ancient times there have been many remedies offered to counter hair loss. There are many myths, like balding or permanent hair loss is caused by wearing caps, the constant use of blow dryers or stress.

“There are many bogus treatments on offer. In the US it is estimated to be a R10 billion industry. More than 75 percent of males and about 8 percent of females suffer from baldness and there is a huge market of people eager to accept bogus treatments to restore their crowning glory.

“There are the snake oils that date back eons and more recent home remedies like (dog conditioner pill) Bob Martins and horse shampoo. But the simple truth is ‘magic’ hair tonics, vitamins, natural rubs, special lasers can’t restore hair.

“The shampoos and other serums only improve hair health. In cases of temporary hair loss from stress, these may appear to work, because the hair would grow back anyway,” Gershowitz said.

Oddly enough, even Hippocrates had a concoction. But he also realised that eunuchs (men who were castrated before puberty) were spared from baldness.

“But chopping off your testicles would be a hefty price to pay,” Gershowitz said.

Centuries later, researchers discovered that this was due to the absence of testosterone (the male sex hormone) which produces a chemical called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. “Baldness is caused by a sensitivity of the hair follicle (root) to the male hormone (testosterone). It is a progressive disease that results in a thinning of the hair, which eventually becomes miniaturised and disappears.

“Once the hair has fallen out and bald skin appears, no prayers, potions, lotions or laser therapy could ever restore the lost hair.”

Despite the fact that there are thousands of quick-fix remedies and potions, the US Federal Drug Administration has only approved two products to prevent further hair loss – a pill called Propecia (finasteride) and a product called Regaine (minoxidil).

Although both have a role to play, they have their limitations.

Gershowitz said they did hair transplant surgery, a minor surgical procedure, under local anaesthetic in fully equipped theatres. The client goes home the same day.

“A strip of hair-bearing skin is removed from the back and sides of your head, where there is permanent hair. This site is then sutured closed.”

The donor hair is then dissected into tiny grafts containing two to three hairs each.

“These are placed into tiny slits in the bald area – we can do anything from 1 500 to 7 000 hairs. It takes between four and seven hours. Your body’s natural “glue” will anchor the grafts in place within minutes.”

He said these hairs rooted and grew. Full results could be seen in eight months to a year.

“Costs vary from R22 000 to R40 000, depending on how extensive the baldness is,” said Gershowitz. “The transplant hair lasts until the day you die.”

An expensive process, depending on your budget, then. But if you can afford it, at least it’s not a case of hair today, gone tomorrow.

Source: Weekend Argus (2011-06-15, 12h51)