Alopecia, or hair loss, can happen to women as well as men. Through human history, people have used various methods to counteract or hide their thinning hair, most to no avail. Following are some of these methods.
Numerous concoctions and medicines have been made for the last 5000 years promising hair growth. The ancient Egypt’s ingested a mixture of alabaster, animal fats, honey, iron oxide, onions and red lead after reciting a verse to summon the Sun God, and the ancient Greeks brewed mixtures of beetroot, horseradish, opium, pigeon droppings and spices.
In the 1800s, so called ‘snake oil’ salesmen sold fake medicines with imaginative names, and as weird as it may sound, the last known sale of such medicines was in the 1970s.
Wigs have been around for a long time. Royals in ancient Egypt, both male and female, used fake beards and wigs made of human hair, linen fiber or metals (which made them look similar as helmets).
In the 1600s, when the French King Louis XIII began wearing wigs to hide his thinning hair, their popularity rose in the court. The wigs were often massive, they had elaborate curls and were powdered white. The wig-craze spread to England and they became associated with power; the larger the wig, the more the power.
Much later, in the 1960s, it became easier to manufacture wigs. Their mass-production then resulted in increased sales and popularity.
In ancient Greece, Hippocrates noticed that eunuch did not go bald. Many years later, in 1995, researchers found that castration before or shortly after puberty prevents hair loss by reducing the testosterone and DHT levels in the blood.
The comb-over is a hairstyle worn by balding men. The remaining hair is grown long and combed over the bald area. Julius Caesar was an early user of this method, he developed a ‘comb-forward’ to hide his bald scalp. When this did not work too well, he started wearing the laurel wreath which later became a symbol of his power and virility.
In 19th century England, people would apply cold tea from India to the scalp, followed by rubbing lemon juice on the area.
The increasing popularity of hats in the 1900s is believed to be rooted in the fact that men wanted to hide their balding heads.
In the 1920s, scalp massages, hair pulling and brushing of the scalp were prescribed by a health advocate to increase scalp conditions.
In the 20th century, various devices that promised renewed hair growth started popping up, with none proven to work though. For example, clear, glass combs filled with gas glowing with purple light were run over the scalp to stimulate hair growth.
Another device was the bonnet-like Thermocap that emitted blue light and heat, supposedly to stimulate dormant hair bulbs and cleanse clogged-up pores. People could buy it for their homes and were advised to sit under it for 15 minutes per day.
The XERVAC was another helmet-like device, a vacuum pump that used suction power to allegedly spur hair growth.
Hair transplants were first successfully made in Japan around 1939. Hair follicles from the back of a patient’s head were removed and transplanted to the front of the head to give the look of more hair. This method wasn’t popularized in the West until about 15 years later.
For hair implants, synthetic fibers are surgically placed into the scalp. Were performed in dubious clinics and almost always caused inflammation, leaving people with scars and less hair than before.
Minoxidil, a pill invented in 1979, was the first medication in history to scientifically be proven to reduce the rate of thinning hair and even help grow back lost hairs. The second medicine proven to help fight hair loss was Finasteride, which came out in 1998.
Snap on hairpieces were available in the 1990s. Titanium sockets were screwed through the scalp, allowed to fuse with the bone for a few months, and then small gold-alloy snaps were screwed into the sockets. Then the snaps mated securely with the attachments on a custom-made hairpiece. This did not work too well as people could get life-threatening infections from the foreign objects under the skin.