By Dr. Tim Neavin from Artisan Hair Transplant in Beverly Hills, California

Why do we have hair, anyway?

That’s a great question.  For many of us, life would be easier if we didn’t have it.  Hair probably evolved in humans to protect the scalp and face from the sun and rain. It may have even served to help retain heat. Today, of course, hair on our head helps us more as cosmetic than functional. For both men and women, it has become another area of the body for us to accessorize and shape in fun and sexy ways. For many, it can even help characterize personas (hello, Carrot Top and Don King).

What makes it healthy and beautiful?

For both men and women, “thick and full” are the hallmarks of beauty. Straight, wavy, or curly are more personal preferences, but “thin and sparse” are universally agreed upon no-nos. Like anything else in the human body, both genetics and environment play significant roles in our thickness and growth density. Some men are unfortunately dealt with a hand that predisposes them to baldness. In those cases, environmental influences such as diet and even medications can sometimes slow down the process – but to an extent. While women don’t experience this male pattern loss, they are still at risk of thinning based on genetics, diet, and even specific styling choices!

Is it true that pony tails can cause balding?

Great question and “yes”!  Excessive tension on the scalp for prolonged periods of time can cause what is called traction alopecia.  How long is too long? It’s tough to say. But the most common areas where one can see thinning or loss include the hairline and temple region.  Before balding occurs, it can thin and come frizzy.  Consider this an early warning sign.  The main culprits of this rather prevalent problem include buns, chignons, twists, and various braids.  The good news is that early stages of traction alopecia can be reversed.  The better news is that it can be entirely avoided with looser pony or bun, or by changing styles frequently to reduce traction damage.

What can one eat to grow?

For one, hair is protein.  Thus, any diet poor in protein is going to challenge the scalp.  Not only that, when protein storage in the body is below average, follicles may enter a “resting state”.  Thus, it will not appear as beautiful and dense as it could be with diets that don’t incorporate enough protein.  When it comes to a thicker appearance, protein is king.

So what about vegan diets?

It’s important to note that protein is not the only important, necessary component.  Thus, super rich protein foods alone won’t cut it.  Diets that forbid meat but include things like soybeans, pumpkin seeds, beans, lentils, and protein can be enough; however, it still puts one at a disadvantage. These sources aren’t as protein dense as meats, and, iron  is harder to absorb from non-animal sources. Thus, if one is going to eliminate meat (and dairy which can be protein dense), it’s a good idea to develop a tactical plan to ensure that the essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals are included routinely in the diet.

Equally important to protein is vitamins and nutrients.  The list is long, but some of the important players included zinc, vitamin B5, folate, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin A, and beta-carotene.  The good news is that diets rich in fish and vegetables should cover all of these.  The better news is that there are several over the counter “stop balding” supplements that can probably give your a boost.  Of course, nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet.

What are some of the newer technologies?

Ah, the potions and lotions.  There are false promises than solutions to balding, particularly in men.  However, Minoxidil (Rogaine) can improve blood supply to the scalp and increase density after months of consistent use in certain individuals, both males and females.  Propecia is a drug that can help prevent the conversion of testosterone into a byproduct that destroys follicles in men prone to male pattern baldness.   These two products have pretty good track records for working well and consistently. Ketoconazole shampoo, which is an anti-fungal agent, may have some benefit as well in particular patients, but the mechanism of action isn’t that clear.

Other progressive therapies include platelet rich plasma (PRP therapy), where one’s blood is spun down to concentrate the platelet rich component then injected directly into the scalp to stimulate growth for dormant or weakened follicles.  This method has gained popularity in the last couple of years, and we’re hoping that more studies can prove its efficacy.

All of the following modalities addressed “injured” or dormant follicles.  In cases where the follicles are plain dead, we have no way to “revive” them.  In such situations, to restore hair density in men and women, it can be transplanted from a very dense area in the back and moved to the hairline to reduce the forehead or to areas of thinning to camouflage balding. It’s the best current method to lower hairlines or improve fullness.

But aren’t hair transplants “fake” looking or obvious?

Not at all, anymore.  The plug look was attributed to timeworn methods that advanced surgeons have abandoned.  In skilled hands, single follicles can be harvested and placed into the scalp to create permanent, natural looking results.  By using NeoGraft technology, which we offer, there is no cutting or linear scars. However, patience is a virtue when it comes to hair restoration.  It takes up to a year for all of the results to show.