The bald and the beautiful - a gal's spot of bother

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am

The prospect of gradually going bald is unsettling for any woman. But finding that chunks of hair have mysteriously disappeared is even more frightening.

'This type of hair loss can affect people of any age. The cause is unknown but it is suspected that it has to do with an immune mechanism problem,' said Shirley Chan Wen, a dermatologist at Chinese University.

'Antibodies attack hair follicles, making it impossible for the hair to grow back.

'When one spot gets better, another can start up. In serious cases women can lose all the hair on their eyebrows and body.'

Ms Chan was speaking after reports in the local media speculated that actress Sammi Cheng Sau-man was suffering from sudden hair loss due to stress. Photographs published in newspapers and magazines showed what appeared to be isolated bald spots and thinning in the front.

A similar condition reportedly afflicted actress Amy Fan Yik-man in 1992, forcing her to stay out of the public spotlight for two years.

Registered Chinese medicine practitioner Cecilia The said: 'The condition Alopecia areata literally means hair loss without reason. I had a friend who developed this condition after moving countries and two patients who got it after a stressful event.

'Sometimes my friend would lose close to all of her hair. Nobody else in the sufferer's family ever had it.'

Celebrities who have reportedly used Chinese medicine to treat hair loss include Canto-pop star Candy Lo Hau-yam and comedienne Yuen King-dan.

During 2002, Lo supposedly wore a wig to a radio awards show because she was losing hair due to stress and hormonal fluctuations. The media reported that it took 18 months for Chinese medicine to cure her.

Hiding under a cap for two months after losing a third of her hair in 1999 due to stress, Yuen used a combination of acupuncture and Chinese medicine to recover.

Trichologists estimate about 800,000 Hong Kong women are suffering from some type of hair loss.

A former sufferer, who did not want to be named, said she first found out she had a problem at a hair salon.

'I was getting my hair cut and my stylist asked me if I knew I had a big patch of hair missing on the top of my head,' she said.

'After that I kept stressing that I would go bald. I started counting how many hairs I lost every day.'

It took close to a year for the hair patch to grow back.

Another type of baldness, Telogen effluvium, can also cause hair loss in women under extreme stress.

'Two or three months after a stressful event or after childbirth or surgery a women's hair can start falling out,' Ms Chan said. 'The follicles suddenly switch from the growing stage to the stagnant or shedding phase. Extreme dieting can also cause this.'

Luckily, this kind of baldness is only temporary. Since the hair will usually grow back, Ms Chan said the best way to deal with the condition was just to hide it with a wig or cap.

The most common type of hair loss in women - androgenic alopecia, or female pattern baldness - luckily is mainly due to genetics. It usually peaks when a woman reaches her 20s and again in her 40s. 'Women usually start thinning around the crown and front,' Ms Chan said.

She warned that women who straightened their hair or pulled their hair back tightly all the time could suffer peripheral hair loss. 'Dieting too much ... and iron deficiency can also make hair fall out.'

An average person has between 100,000 and 120,000 hair follicles. Each provides nutrients to the hair and is responsible for its growth, texture and lifespan. A normal person loses up to 100 hairs a day.