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Losing It : Fashion: Men are looking for ways to plug the bald spots and conceal the gray. More and more are winding up in surgery or in hair salons.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kevan King spends an inordinate amount of time in front of the mirror, assessing the damage. He lowers his head and approaches the looking glass like a ram ready for battle--the better to check out his hairline.

King has reason to be concerned: His hair is not only falling out, it’s turning gray.

“Am I receding or have I already receded? That’s what I worry about,” says the 36-year-old advertising account executive.

King’s preoccupation with his hair--or lack of it--is not unusual. Look at the shelves of hair-coloring products in the drugstores and you will find that Grecian Formula 16, around since 1961, is surrounded by a number of coloring products, all introduced within the past three years.

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Hair salons report a surge of business from men who want to get rid of the gray. And plastic surgeons and hairpiece manufacturers seem to be recession-proof.

Recently, Time magazine reported that Bruce Willis was so distressed by the look of his thinning hair in his new movie “Hudson Hawk” that he had every offensive frame retouched. Industry insiders scoff at the story, citing the prohibitive cost of retouching every frame of film. No one, however, denied or seemed surprised that Willis would make such a request.

For many men, it seems, vanity is rooted in the hair follicle.

About 30 million American men suffer from male pattern baldness to some degree. The hairline recedes from the temples in an ever expanding U-shape until the top of the head is completely bare. In extreme cases, only a fringe of hair remains around the ears and nape of the neck.

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What’s more, there are 30 million American men over 35 who have gray hair, says Julie Bohl, a spokeswoman for Combe Inc., which makes Grecian Formula 16. Indeed, more than 3 million men color their own hair, spending $47 million a year.

Graying hair is the easier condition to remedy. “About 15% of our color business is men,” says Gregory Miller, a colorist at Vidal Sassoon in Beverly Hills, “and the number is going up every year.” Typically, Miller’s first-time clients are in their mid-30s.

The first time in the coloring chair is difficult. “Men are (more) skittish (than women) because they are not in control of the situation,” says Stuart Gevart, colorist at Umberto’s in Beverly Hills. “So I treat it like negotiating a contract. The best tack is to tell them exactly what they can expect.”

Once they get in the coloring habit, many men still fear exposure. For those sensitive clients, many pricey salons offer private rooms and after-hours appointments.

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There are different salon techniques for covering gray. A color tint covers all the hair. A more complex color weave darkens select strands of gray, blending it with the original color. Both processes require touch-ups every six to eight weeks. Prices start at about $45 for tints and $75 for weaves.

Do-it-yourself color kits designed for men are available at most drugstores and beauty-supply houses. The prices are relatively low (most products sell for less than $10) but the mess is considerable (plastic gloves are needed to apply the color). Over-the-counter color covers all the hair, including the gray, but fades with repeated washings and lasts about six weeks. One benefit of any color process--either a home job or a salon do--is that the color coats each strand and makes the hair feel thicker.

There are other color options. Grecian Formula 16 and Youthhair are dressings and conditioners that gradually darken the hair.

A cure for baldness is more elusive. For several years, Americans spent about $300 million annually on ineffectual cures for baldness, according to the American Hair Loss Council. But last January, the Food and Drug Administration banned any lotion or potions that claimed to prevent baldness or stimulate hair growth, except minoxidil. According to the FDA, only Upjohn, of Kalamazoo, Mich., showed scientific evidence that its product works. Minoxidil is marketed under the name Rogaine.

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More than 2 million people have tried Rogaine since 1988, says Laura Hawin, Upjohn spokeswoman. “In clinical tests half of the men who tried Rogaine saw at least moderate hair growth,” she adds.

Although Upjohn will not release sales figures, industry analysts predicted worldwide Rogaine sales of $155 million in 1990.

One of the Rogaine success stories is Los Angeles attorney Paul White. “I got a real sense that something was happening after I had been using Rogaine for five months. I started noticing some filling in at the crown, not so much on the temples. But it noticeably slowed up the thinning process.”

White says his dermatologist considered him a good candidate for Rogaine: He is young--28--and his hair was just beginning to thin.

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But there are down sides to Rogaine, even for men who show results. It must be applied two times a day, forever, or the balding pattern resumes. It is available only through prescription, and the hair that is generated often resembles duck down.

The annual cost of Rogaine ranges from $600 to $1,000, depending on the amount used and the cost of visits to a dermatologist.

There is a minoxidil competitor on the horizon, a compound developed by ProCyte of Kirkland, Wash. The product imitates a substance in the human body that trigger’s healing mechanisms, including hair growth. Karen Hedin, vice president of administration for ProCyte, expects results from the first human tests by early fall, but a marketable, FDA-approved product will not be available for at least five years, she says.

Hairpieces are another option for concealing baldness. Sales are up, says Jerry Roman of the New York-based Louis Feder company, which has been making human-hair wigs and hairpieces for 72 years. “Most of our clients come to see us when they are between 30 and 40 years old. But they have been getting younger. Twenty-five-year-olds will call us the second they loose four strands of hair,” Roman says.

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Some of Hollywood’s biggest box-office draws--Sean Connery and Bruce Willis among them-- sport Feder-made hairpieces in their films. “They treat their hairpieces like a garment and will change them depending on the character they are playing,” Roman says.

Each hairpiece lasts three to four years, and the cost, which varies with the amount of human hair used, runs from $1,200 for a small hairpiece to $3,000 for a full wig with sideburns. Synethic hairpieces cost much less.

The last act for many balding men is surgery. Transplants (moving tiny plugs of hair forward on the head) and scalp reductions (closing up the bald spot) have been around for some time. The newest technique is hair lifting, a radical form of scalp reduction. The horseshoe-shaped bald area and soon-to-be bald area are cut away and the scalp is stretched over the head, covering the bald spot with hair-bearing skin.

This technique has been used for six years by Dr. Dominic Brandy, a Pittsburgh-based plastic surgeon. He has found that hair transplants are not the answer for patients with male pattern baldness. He says hair loss will continue and leave only the transplants, resulting in a cosmetic problem.

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Dr. Sheldon Rosenthal, an Encino plastic surgeon who does hair replacement and hair lifting, says his clientele is 40% men; 20 years ago, men made up less than 1% of his business. He says his clients often combine the most popular hair-replacement surgeries--transplants and lifts--with such procedures as liposuction or a face-lift. Prices vary; transplants run about $2,000, lifts anywhere from $3,500 to $15,000.

Rosenthal views hair replacement as a job-related necessity. “It’s a tough job market out there and looking good has become as important for business as it has socially. Employers are making choices on qualifications as well as appearances. It is a cruel world.”


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