Bad hair day to top all others.

By Dr James Le Fanu

Dr James Le Fanu Photo: PHILIP HOLLIS

There are 193 species of primate, of which 192 are covered in hair – the sole exception, as the zoologist Desmond Morris observed, being ourselves, ‘The Naked Ape’. This is, of course, not strictly true, as some humans are hairier than others, but their covering is still insufficient to fill the role it serves in our primate cousins of cooling them during the day (by protecting skin against the sun’s radiant heat) and keeping them warm at night. Meanwhile, the hair that does remain on the head and face (in men) grows much more luxuriantly, causing problems of its own, requiring regular trimming and washing if it is not to become a greasy tangle.

While this pattern of hair growth in humans is a biological puzzle, there is no doubting its cultural significance as suggested by the adverse psychological consequences of its loss. This is particularly the case in those afflicted by alopecia, which can range in severity from a single coin-sized patch to involving the entire body, including the loss of eyebrows and eyelashes.

This is an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the growing hair follicles. The obvious treatment then would be to suppress this process with drugs such as steroids that can be directly injected into the skin (which can be painful) or applied as a cream, or preferably, a foam. But, paradoxically, the reverse approach of stimulating the immune system by applying a chemical (DPCP) that induces chronic eczema of the scalp seems, if anything, to be even more effective.

Meanwhile, more curiously, this is one of the few conditions where there is unequivocal evidence of the benefits of aromatherapy with a mix of the essential oils thyme, rosemary, lavender and cedarwood.

Do you have Hair Loss Problems, read our Hair Loss Help