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Is pollution making us bald?

Sarah-Belle Murphy
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Image: Getty

One minute you feel like you have a full-head of hair, the next it's creeping backwards like it's afraid of your face. Going bald may be a part of life for millions of men but if recent studies are to be believed, we could be exacerbating the problem by living in smoggy cities.

The study
Scientists at Queen Mary University in London believe that toxins and carcinogens found in polluted atmospheres can stop hair growing by blocking the mechanisms that create the protein hair needs. Their study involved plucking follicles from balding men (let's hope they didn't take too many) and examining them in the laboratory. Under the microscope it became apparent there had been a disruption in the process of hair growth caused by oxidative stress made worse by pollution.

Before you pack your bags and head for the hills to take in that mountain air, the team point out that there is an inherent aspect to hair loss. According to the British Association of Dermatologists, hereditary hair-loss is at the root of 95 percent of baldness, which can start in those as young as their teens.

The reasons for balding
Why the creeping away of the crowning glory? Most hair loss is down to the fact that testosterone, a hormone present in high levels after puberty, is converted into an enzyme (dihydrotestosterone) which has an adverse affect on hair follicles. This means weak hair is produced that is prone to breakage and it can mean follicles pack in their duties all together.

The miracle cure?

The market is flooded with so-called miracle cures for baldness, which is no new phenomenon. The Ancient Greeks were fascinated with their receding hairlines and Hippocrates thought that castration was the secret to preventing baldness. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't prepared to put his balls on the line and instead concocted a potion of horseradish, pigeon droppings and beetroot to smear over his diminishing hairline. Safe to say you won't find this particular mix on the supermarket shelves, but you certainly won't be short of choices for anti-baldness potions.

The effectiveness of modern lotions is debatable, with results varying between individuals. From a long line of contenders, only three have been proven to work:

  • Minoxidil, which improves blood supply to the scalp
  • Finasteride, which blocks the production of the enzyme
  • Hair transplants, the more extreme choice which transfers skin from parts of the scalp that still have active follicles.

So-called remedies aside, baldness needn't be an obstacle to attractiveness. Just look at the A-listers on our The Bald and the Beautiful slideshow (see related link above). Not to mention the money saved on hair products, forgoing the stress of greying and avoiding the inevitable frizz of old-aged hair.


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