The follicle five: Battle against baldness
Dateline follows five men on different hair treatments
By Rob Stafford
Dateline NBC
Updated: 6:16 p.m. ET Nov. 26, 2004
They are Dateline's version of the '"Fab Five," five proud men at the pinnacle of their lives -- and life is good, except for one thing. They'reall losing their hair.
For men, going bald or having thinning hair can be an extremelyemotional issue, bringing on feelings of lost virility, attractiveness,sexiness or simply getting old. But now our guys are going to try toget control of their ever-widening bald spots and ever-thinning hair.
The five, all friends from the Miami area, have agreed to participate inan experiment for Dateline. For 12 months, they're each going to try a different drug, medical procedure or one of those products you've seenadvertised on late night TV or the Internet. We'll follow them over the next year to see how well these productsand procedures work on these volunteers.
Our five men range in age from their 30s to our oldest volunteer, whois 54.
Joe Fernandez is an economics teacher at Miami Beach High School.
He loves teaching, but he's also been the target of student's cutting remarks about his hair. Now he hopes growing back some hair will endthe jokes and continue a personal transformation. Through vigorousweight training and diet, Joe lost over 100 pounds. This tough Vietnamvet now feels liberated enough to care about the way he looks. And that's important, because he has two young daughters from his secondmarriage, and he's tired of people mistaking him for their grandfather.
Paul Silva, 38, is a life long resident of Florida, the land of swimmingpools. Paul, who works in real estate- has a huge collection of hats, allthe better to keep his head covered practically all the time. His wife,Linda, wishes he wasn't so obsessed with his hair, and would believe he’s attractive. He also doesn't believe in being photographed. It'sbeen 10 years since he's taken any photographs with his family. ButPaul hopes that will soon change and someday he'll be able to relive his teenage years, when he had hair almost as long as the singers inhis then favorite rock group, "Quiet Riot." Hector Romero is also 38, married with two children, and he works forIBM in computer tech support. His job requires taking a lot of training classes, but his learning often takes a back seat to his hair. He wouldtry to sit in the back of the class or the back of elevators so he doesn’thave to worry about people at his balding head. And he hopes his wifewill be understanding about his taking on this Dateline hair challenge.
Our last two volunteers are brothers and identical twins. Richard andGeorge Suero have more in common than their looks. At 43 years old, they both work for Eli Lilly as pharmaceutical salesmen and drive thesame type of car. They've been close their entire lives, including theirdays at Georgia Tech when they were gymnastic teammates and hadfull heads of hair. But old photos only serve as stark reminders of what used to be. George is married with two kids. Richard is divorced. Andonce again, he's on the dating scene, which only compounds his hairstress, especially since he lives in Miami, a city with a reputation forsexy women and men in top shape and usually with full heads of hair.
It makes Richard feel he's at a disadvantage.
What causes some men to have more hair and others less? It’s genetics, experts say in most cases -- sensitivity to the hormone DHTis the culprit. This byproduct of testosterone interacts with hairfollicles, causing them to shrink. The hair then thins and can fall out.
Eventually follicles can stop growing hair completely.
It's a problem that affects all races, men and women. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that nearly 40 percent of bothmen and women have visible signs of hair loss by age 40. Yet, mostpeople fall prey to myths about what causes them to lose their hair,like always wearing a hat.
Dr. Alan Bauman: "Totally untrue. There is no way that a hat is going
to cause you to lose hair."
Dr. Alan Bauman of Boca Raton, Fla., is a hair transplant surgeon. Hesays a favorite myth blames baldness on genes inherited from themother's father.
Dr. Bauman: "That the hair loss comes from the mother's side of the
family. And that's probably an old husband's tale. Not true. We see
that it's genetics and it comes from both sides of the family."
And along with those many myths, there are plenty of wacky ideas onhow to grow hair. Our five have heard about some outlandish curestoo.
Paul: "I was told have a cow lick your head."
Stafford: "Have you tried it?"
Paul: "No, it's crossed my mind."
Richard: "They told me to put pantyhose on your head. Okay imaginethat. Tie it on your head when you go to sleep at night so that. It slips off the pillow, and you're not causing the friction to cause the hairpull." Stafford: "You put pantyhose on your head?"
Richard: "Pantyhose on my -- go to bed. I knotted it right up.
Obviously I was very desperate at this point. Nothing worked." And at perhaps Paul's most desperate point, he took some unsolicitedadvice from a stranger at a shopping mall.
Paul: "And he said, you know what you need to do is, you need to buy
a horse hair brush and brush your hair, and I'm like, excuse me. What
do you mean? What are you talking about? He goes, for the bald spot."
Stafford: "This is a stranger."
Paul: "Yeah."
Stafford: "So did you buy it?"
Paul: "Yes I did. I don't think two days passed by. And now I own a
wooden hair brush. I will confess, I was there every night, 200 this
way and 100 that way. I didn't see any result from it, no."
But what kind of results will our volunteers see when they each try a different approach to growing hair, using drugs like Propecia andMinoxidil, a laser device, or a hair transplant? Our volunteers are on aquest to get back at least some of what they've lost over the years.
They're hoping this will be the last day they see their hair and self-esteem go down the drain. For the next year, we'll follow our "follicle five" to see what happens as they each try a different hair growingdrug, product or medical procedure.
But before they begin this Dateline project, we have them examinedby Dr. Paolo Romanelli, a professor with the University of Miami's Dermatology Department. He takes photographs and notes- toestimate how much hair each man currently has on his head. He'lllater give his opinion on whether any of the purported hair growingproducts and procedures actually worked on our volunteers.
But first our volunteers receive their weapons in this battle againsthair loss. Richard, our twin who is single, will be taking one of the only two FDA approved drugs to grow new hair, Finasteride, popularlyknown as Propecia.
Richard: "I expect it's going to work well. Actually, I have a friend
that tried it and it seems to have worked fairly well for him."
Stafford: "On a scale of one to 10, 10 being the most optimistic, zero
being the least, how optimistic are you that you're going to grow some
more hair?"
Richard: "I would say eight."
The prescription pill is designed to block production of DHT, thehormone that causes most hair loss. It costs about $50 for a 30 day supply, or $600 a year. And in its promotional material, Propecia'smanufacturer says people like Richard have a good chance of seeingnew visible hair growth.
Next, Joe, our 54 year old teacher, will be using a double punchapproach, taking two drugs at the same time. It's a technique some doctors believe increases the chances of growing new hair. LikeRichard, he's taking Propecia, but he's also using the only other F-D-Aapproved hair growing drug, Minoxidil lotion.
Sold over-the-counter, he'll be using the extra-strength version whichcosts about $25 for a one month supply. The total cost for the twodrugs will run about $900 a year. Scientists aren't completely sure why Minoxidil works, but believe it stimulates hair follicles to createnew growth.
But like most drugs, there is a small chance of side effects. The mostcommon with Minoxidil is inflammation and itchiness to the scalp.
Propecia's side effects include possible decreased sex drive. But Joe'swife, Susana, supports his efforts to grow new hair.
Hector, our computer support technician, will be using an alternativenutritional product from Finland. Viviscal is the type of product you often see advertised on the Internet, complete with dramatic beforeand after photos, testimonials from people who say it grows hair, andscientific studies that the company says prove it works. Viviscal ismostly made from minerals and fish extracts and Hector will take one tablet twice a day. It costs about $55 a month or $660 a year. Hectoris wary. He says he doesn’t want to be disappointed.
George, our twin who is married, will be using something totallydifferent from everyone else, a device called the laser comb.
Advertised in newspapers and the Internet, the product emits anactual low-level laser beam that the company says safely stimulates hair follicles. We paid $700 for the special comb and according to theinstructions, users are to slowly pass the device over their scalp. It’srecommended to use the laser comb for a minimum of five minutes,three times a day for the first four weeks. The company can't claim the device grows hair without FDA approval, which the company says it’strying to get. Still, in its promotional material, the manufacturer saysthe comb makes hair thicker and fuller, and that 90 percent of theircustomers are satisfied with their results. George says he has reasonto believe it will work. He says he has a friend who tried it and thathe’s seen a difference.
Our last volunteer, Paul, who hopes to once again flip his hair like arock star, is about to undergo the most intrusive treatment: a hairtransplant. And he is thrilled. And Dateline is paying for the procedure,as we did for all of the treatments. Still, many people might have second thoughts about a transplant because of images of rows of hairplugs implanted into a scalp that often looked strange, what some callthe plastic doll-head look. But Dr. Alan Bauman, a hair transplantsurgeon, says medical advances have eliminated that plug look fromyears ago.
Dr. Alan Bauman: "Today's hair transplants are 100 percent
undetectable. There may be people that you know who have had hairtransplantation, and you are unable to tell." But to get that look takes a lot of money and man hours. Plus, thereare risks -- as Paul quickly realizes when he arrives at Dr. Bauman'soffice for his operation. They include scarring, transient swelling, bruising, hair growth failure, pain and discomfort. But he wanted to gothrough with it. After taking medication to relax, Paul jokes about thestrange-looking laser hood that's used to stimulate his scalp. And thenPaul gets a final consultation.
Stafford: "A year from now, 10 months from now, what will his scalp
look like?"
Dr. Bauman: "Well, he is going to have a brand new hairline, so it'sgoing to be a lot lower, a more youthful position. And he's going tohave a hell of a lot more coverage all through the top front area." Dr. Bauman marks with a pencil where he plans to implant the newhair. As Paul enters the operating room, he'll need to get comfortable because he won't leave for seven hours. The donor hair comes fromthe back of his head because it is genetically immune to that hair losshormone DHT, erasing the worry that it will fall out like Paul's old hair.
After numbing his head, the doctor removes a small section of hisscalp. Technicians then cut out individual hairs from that donor scalp.
Paul remains relaxed the entire time.
Paul: "It kind of sounds like a scratching noise, no pain. And a little
pressure. But, I mean not even close to what I thought I would befeeling." Then, the doctor and his team replant about 1900 individual hairfollicles. Seven hours later, the process is complete. This procedurecost about $10,000. And Dr. Bauman has instructed Paul to start usingPropecia and Minoxidil to help keep his old hair from falling out. But fornow, he's only thinking about new hair growing in.
But will Paul's transplants take and will this fulfill his dream of gettingback the kind of hair he once had? Will any of our men see the resultsthey're hoping for? We check back six months later with each of our"Follicle Five" to see who is growing new hair and who is not. You maybe surprised by the results.
Part 2: Six months later, what are the results?
By Rob Stafford
Dateline NBC
Updated: 6:16 p.m. ET Nov. 26, 2004
It's been almost six months since we last saw our "follicle five." Each of our volunteers is trying a different hair growing treatment. Andwe've sent them back to Dr. Paolo Romanelli, a professor with the University of Miami's Dermatology Department. The doctor tookphotos of each of our volunteers at the start of this project and is nowtaking similar shots. We'll be comparing those before and afterpictures and hear Dr. Romanelli's subjective opinion on who has andhas not grown new hair.
But first, we sat down with our five guys to hear what they think.
Joe, our oldest volunteer at 54, is disappointed. He grades his progress at a D-minus, saying he doesn’t see any difference. Joe istaking a double-punch approach. Using both of the only two FDAapproved drugs for hair growth, Propecia and Minoxidil. But where Joedoesn't see a difference, Dr. Romanelli sees some minor changes.
Dr. Romanelli: "I like to say mild to moderate growth. Some results,
but not spectacular."
That's enough of an incentive to keep Joe trying the drugs for another six months. The manufacturer of Minoxidil says its product is most"appropriate" for men who have "gradual hair loss on the top of theirscalp" and not for "frontal baldness." Also experts say it will take abouta year before our volunteers will truly know if their treatment is asuccess or a failure.
George, our twin who is married, says he regularly uses his laser comb. It's a $700 device that emits a low level laser that is supposedto stimulate the scalp. He says he has noticed a difference. Dr.
Romeanelly, who did not know what each of our volunteers was using,feels George had good results.
Dr. Romanelli: "I think had some substantial results. I see some new
follicles. New hair follicles in the crown. I think the results were veryencouraging." Dr. Romanelli: "Richard, moderate growth. Some good results,
especially around on the bi-temporal areas."
Hector, our computer support technician is taking Viviscal, the fish-based product imported from Finland. He had said his expectationswere low.
Dr. Romanelli: "Hector, unfortunately, is the most disappointing one.
On the bi-temporal area -I don't see any growth."
Still, Hector feels he has had some success, because his hair hasstopped falling out. It also has stopped drying out.
Stafford: "Hector, it's $600 a year for Viviscal."
Hector: "Yeah, I think it's worth it. If it helps you maintain what you
have, I think it's definitely worth it."
The company that makes Viviscal says people who are in the earlystages of hair loss "likely benefit most" from using their product.
Hector has been losing his hair for more than 10 years. But when itcame to growing hair, there was unanimous agreement about our last volunteer. But Paul was not feeling confident two weeks after he hadhis $10,000 hair transplant. Back then, he was in a panic. His scalpwas traumatized right after the surgery and he actually lost some ofhis existing hair. Paul's doctor, however, reassured him that it's not unusual to lose hair right after a transplant. But what's happened sincethen? He's thrilled with his new growth.
Dr. Romanelli: "Paul, I definitely see substantial growth in the bi-
temporal areas. In the two temples."
Paul, who hasn't taken a family photo in years, is changing. He'sbecome friends again with the mirror -- and something else. He nowhas a brush.
So far, Dr. Romanelli says he's seen minimal to substantial growth in 4out of 5 of our men. We're going to check back in another six months to see how they're all doing after one full year. It's important toremember our Dateline hair project is an unscientific exercise. Yourresults may be different and you should consult your doctor beforestarting any of these treatments.
And while Paul already feels transformed, there's another big changecoming for his family this holiday season. It had been 10 years sincehe’d taken a Christmas picture with his family.



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