How to hold on to your hair
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If television and film are any guide, the popular image of male grooming is a swift daily shower that includes a brief attack on the hair with a dollop of foamy, no-frill shampoo. It’s an attitude to haircare that many have clung to, even as their skincare knowledge has transformed. Until, that is, their hair begins to fall out.
“Too many men over-shampoo,” says New York trichologist Bridgette Hill, “and most of them aren’t using quality product.” Instead, they lather up with shampoo laden with thickeners and sulphates. And because the scalp is an incubator for new hair, says clinical medicine research scientist Dr Federica Amati, “these irritant chemicals can stress both the hair fibre and the pre-emerging fibre still in the scalp, affecting hair growth and thickness”.
According to the American Hair Loss Association, approximately 66 per cent of men will have experienced some degree of hair loss by the age of 35. By 50, significantly thinner hair will be the standard for 85 per cent of men. Genetics, ageing and the levels of hormones such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) all play a role.
“Parabens and other plastics used in synthetic fragrances in many hair ranges act as endocrine disruptors,” says Amati, “meaning they have an impact on our body’s normal hormone function.” Some of the ingredients in everyday shampoos are “essentially those used in floor cleaner”, says Tabitha James Kraan, whose Cotswold salon specialises in organic products. “Often men think they have dandruff when in fact it is stripped, dry, flaking skin.”
Some brands are putting gentle, nourishing ingredients to the fore. James Kraan’s range includes a scented hair oil made up of organic oils such as safflower and rosehip (£43). Venn’s Synbiotic Polyamine Shampoo (£49) deploys micro-bubbles to lift dirt and impurities, negating the need for detergent, and contains pre- and probiotics to cultivate a diversity of microbes.
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Retinols, part of a wider trend of the “skin-ification” of the scalp – tending to it with the care previously reserved for the face – are also appearing in hair products, designed to encourage cell turnover. Monpure’s Follicle Boost Hair Density Serum (£83) is one of several products introducing retinols to decongest the scalp and follicles. The serum also contains pumpkin seed extract, which inhibits the production of DHT. Such “blockers” are often used in anti-hair loss products, including FDA-approved, prescription-only oral treatments such as Propecia. But, Hill cautions, it is worth getting to the root of the problem before turning to DHT blockers. “What if the hair fall is from something else altogether?” she says. “It might be an imbalance of bacteria, or stress; you’ve had a medical procedure or high fever. It might be that your skin coped with sulphates in your 20s but overuse over time can cause irritation. If you get something that is specifically to block DHT, it may be that you’re treating entirely the wrong condition, disrupting the microbiome and causing more harm.”
German aesthetics doctor Barbara Sturm, known for her inflammation-busting facial range, is now deploying the ingredients celebrated in her skincare in her Molecular Hair and Scalp Collection. Hair goes through different phases – growth, transition, resting and shedding – she tells me, “and inflammation can interrupt the growing phase”. Her Anti-Hair Fall Collection contains actives found in ingredients such as extract of camellia and larch, which work to elongate the growth phase.
“Sturm’s new range is interesting,” says Hill, “as her philosophy is anchored around anti-inflammatory medicine.” She believes it will work in a number of ways to “help nurture the hair follicle to encourage the resetting of the hair growth cycles, and reinforce the strength of the hair fibre”.
Another skin scientist bringing his expertise to haircare is Professor Augustinus Bader, who transformed decades of research first into a healing gel, then a groundbreaking facial moisturiser. Bader’s haircare range, which launched last autumn, contains the same key ingredient as his skincare: TFC8, a blend of amino acids, vitamins and synthesised molecules naturally found in the body’s stem cells. “It delivers ingredients that influence the skin cells and their genetic expression… awakening our intrinsic ability to regrow hair,” says Bader.
Clinical trials of 105 men and women over 12 weeks found The Scalp Treatment (£62) increased hair-shaft thickness by 370 per cent. The Leave-In Hair Treatment (£38) increased shine by 330 per cent and hair count by 31 per cent over 12 weeks, numbers that Bader suggests might rise with extended use. US dermatologist Dr Anetta Reszko recommends the range to her patients, having used it on her own hair. “After several weeks I noticed dramatically less shedding,” she says, “as well as improved hair density.”
Bader has also launched a supplement, Hair Revitalizing Complex ($125, currently only available in the US), designed to increase follicular blood supply. Elsewhere, British trichologist Philip Kingsley offers PK4 Soya Protein Boost (£26.50), that contains the full spectrum of amino acids – the building blocks of keratin, the protein that makes up hair. It’s recommended for use with Kingsley’s Tricho Complex supplement (£46), which comprises a range of hair-growth focused trace vitamins and minerals.
Technique counts too. Ayurvedic hair brand Fable & Mane encourages men to indulge in an Indian head massage technique, champissage. Focusing on acupressure points along the head and neck, it employs the brand’s new SahaScalp Soothing Serum (£29), made with antioxidant amla berries. “Massage encourages blood circulation to bring more nutrients and oxygen to the scalp,” says Hill.
“If men understood the power of a routine that cares for their scalp, they could slow hair fall and even prevent it,” says Sturm. “Think of it like a garden. You can’t grow a paradise if you don’t tend the soil.”