Victoria Short had golden-brown, glossy locks, and when she lost a patch of hair on top of her head at the age of 13, she scraped her hair up high into a ponytail to hide her bald spot. But nine years later, Victoria was running her fingers through her hair when she found another bald patch – this time on the left-hand side of her head. Soon others followed, all on the left side, but all fairly easy to conceal.
Victoria, who works in public relations, was concerned enough to go and see her doctor, who said the hair might grow back, but if it didn’t there wasn’t much he could do. He diagnosed Victoria with alopecia, the medical term for hair loss, and six weeks later, by the time Victoria saw a dermatologist she had three or four more patches, all the size of a small coin. She then saw a trichologist – a hair and scalp specialist – but no one managed to halt her hair loss.
“Soon the patches were starting to join together. I left the trichologist feeling bereft and traumatised. I was starting to struggle to cover my hair loss up,” says Victoria, who lives in Cheltenham in Gloucestershire, UK.
“It took nine months for the hair to fall out of my head, and seven months for the rest of my body. It was a tough time. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. I took each day as it came.
“But I soon realised I was lucky. Some of the women with alopecia that I’ve met have told me they went to bed with hair at night, and by morning it had fallen out. Those nine months gave me the chance to adjust rather than having baldness dumped on me in one go.”
Far from feeling sorry for herself, Victoria, now 25, has stayed as positive as possible. “I’ve always been phenomenally confident in my own skin and that helped me adjust, but I did go through a stage of grieving. The emotion that was the hardest to deal with was guilt. I felt guilty about being upset over something as trivial as losing my hair.
“But when I was feeling rubbish, I played the silver lining game. I told myself I didn’t have to buy shampoo, rush home to wash my hair, or spend hours styling it.”
The turning point came when Victoria discovered a wig business set up by a fellow alopecia sufferer.
“I got 12 wigs in the end, including a long one, like my old hair, a long curly one, and a pixie cut.
“Each day I wear a different one, or some days I don’t wear one at all. My clients know I might turn up bald and they’re fine about that! Going bald has taken some getting used to, but I decided I wasn’t going to apologise for who I was. Some alopecia sufferers are on edge but I don’t let it bother me.”
Victoria has come to terms with her hair loss, but she isn’t alone in her grieving. According to Dr Sanjay Parashar, consultant plastic surgeon and director of the Cocoona Centre for Aesthetic Transformation and Day Surgical Centre in Dubai, hair loss is a very common problem the world over, and in the UAE it affects about a third of the population. And while hair loss has traditionally been predominantly a man’s issue, almost half the women asked in a recent survey complained of the problem to a degree.
“People as young as 21 are visiting our office,” says Dr Parashar. “We see at least 10 patients, usually aged between 21 and 29, suffering from hair loss every day.”
Dr Parashar says hair loss can be devastating for both sexes.
“In my opinion, women are more concerned than men about their hair, because their hair fall is more evident after washing,” he explains. “In men it can be the cause of a lack of self-confidence, can affect their work and make them nonproductive. In women it can cause depression and personal insecurity.”
Victoria Tipper, a nutrition coach at Dubai Herbal and Treatment Centre (www.dubaihtc.com), adds: “People often blame the water in Dubai for hair loss but that’s probably an old wives’ tale. High stress is more likely to be the cause, whether people are trying to meet work deadlines or juggling a busy family life. Prolonged release of the stress hormone cortisol, which occurs when a person is chronically stressed, has an adverse effect on the thyroid hormone, and this causes hair loss.
“Low vitamin D is also associated with thinning hair. Even though in Dubai we have the opportunity to top up vitamin D levels through sun exposure all year round, many people are deficient. Iron deficiency also plays a role in hair loss so vegans and vegetarians are at greater risk.” If a change in diet or taking supplements don’t work, those suffering hair loss may need to see a specialist. When a patient first goes to see a consultant, a full medical history will be taken, including details about the effect of the hair loss on the patient.
Treatment to rejuvenate the hair that is thinning could involve taking the drug Finasteride or using Minoxidil, an application thought to slow hair loss and promote hair growth.
The other option is surgical and there are two main types of hair transplant – FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction) and FUT (Transplantation). FUE has become one of the most popular cosmetic treatments in the world and involves individual hair follicles being taken from the back and sides of the scalp and implanted into the area that’s losing hair – often the front.
FUT involves taking a strip of hair bearing skin from the zone at the back of the head and grafting it in the crown area. “In my opinion, FUT is more preferable because the result is more density and it is natural and longer-lasting than FUE,” says Dr Parashar. “On the other hand, FUE appeals to people due to the lack of incision and stitching.” The cost can be Dh30,000 or more, depending on the size of the area involved.
Brit Paul Woodman, 44, underwent an FUE transplant six months ago after years of trying to cover up his receding hairline. “I started losing my hair about 10 years ago and it affected my confidence,” says the IT manager.
“At first I used to push bits from left to right and I used to walk with my head down, hoping my hair wouldn’t blow up and reveal my hairline.” In March this year, Paul underwent a £15,000 (Dh88,650) hair transplant. Over 12 hours, at The Private Clinic, in Harley Street, London (www.drkouremada.com), surgeon Dr Thomy Kouremada-Zioga transplanted 5,500 of Paul’s hairs from the back and side of his head to the front, giving him his hairline back.
“It didn’t hurt,” laughs Paul. “I had a few injections to numb my head. It took a few weeks to settle down, but after a month, I had a hairline for the first time in years. Now I have so much confidence.”
Paul’s surge of confidence is common, says Dr Parashar. “Patients have been promoted in their companies after having a hair transplant,” he says. “Others have benefited professionally in Bollywood. Sports stars, politicians and stage artists all have treatment.”
But while in the past many UAE residents went abroad for treatment, more now choose to stay here for transplants. “The expertise is better and it is competitive in cost now,” continues Dr Parashar. “Hair transplants aren’t just a procedure. They require follow-up care, advice and supplementary treatments for the best results. They are best done in the country where you live so you can have continual medical support.”
An alternative to transplants is “hair system”, a fine film of netted material with human hair glued to the scalp and which remains for a month. “This gives a much more natural look than a wig and it feels like part of your body and can be styled, washed, coloured and trimmed,” says Dr Parashar.
Experts stress it takes time for different people to tackle hair loss, but the point is there are solutions out there. UK hair transplant surgeon Asim Shahmalak says: “Getting their hair back transforms patients’ lives. I’ve had middle-aged men crying their eyes out because they have no hair, but once they’ve had treatment, they return with tears of happiness.”
For Victoria Short, there was no treatment for her alopecia, and she accepted that. “I’m so used to not having hair it would be difficult to adjust to it growing back now,” she says. “I certainly wouldn’t compromise my health and take drugs to get my hair back. I’d rather have my health and no hair, than have hair and poor health. Looking back, I’m so glad I never let my hair loss destroy me, and now it’s part of who I am!”