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Baldness Cure

"No more rugs, no more plugs"

That's the new mantra of the hair-replacement industry, which has undergone huge changes during the past few years.

Most if not all experts agree however that unprecedented and even more momentous change in the next decade is to be expected.

Hairpieces are virtually a thing of the past. Much ridiculed hair plugs, which sprout from bald pates like tufts of sawgrass on desert dunes, are being replaced with transplanted hair follicles, for a more natural look. At least one new hair-growth drug is being tested. And within a decade, scientists predict, hair cloning will be a reality.

For Bernie Cylc, a 36-year-old computer programmer from Orlando, these advances are most welcome. "I was about 27 when I started losing hair at a rapid rate," says Cylc. "I looked in the mirror, and I looked a lot older than 27. It just wasn't me." Three years later, carrying the prototype male pattern balding from his forehead to his crown, he had his first hair transplant. A second followed four years later. Total cost: $14,000.

The Cost of Freedom

In the United States, about 35 million men younger than 50 have discernible male hair loss or thinning hair -- and 90 percent of those men say losing their hair bothers them, says Ken Washenik, a dermatologist and medical director at the Bosley Medical Institute, a national hair-restoration company with a consulting office in Orlando.

"You know how they say a woman can never be too rich or too thin? Well, a man can never be too rich or have too much hair on his scalp," says Washenik.

As a result, medical hair restoration has become a big business. Last year, almost 32,000 hair transplants, about 90 percent on men, were performed in the United States, at a cost of almost one-third of a billion dollars, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. That's up from 29,000 in 2002. And U.S. sales of Propecia, one of the most popular hair-growth medications, totaled $111 million in 2003, up 13 percent from 2002.

Medications such as Propecia and Rogaine, which slow or halt hair loss, are generally effective but only while they're being used, says Washenik.

The root cause of baldness in men is dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, a byproduct of the male hormone testosterone. DHT speeds up the growth cycle of hair at the temple and crown. As a result, new hair never gets a chance to mature before falling out, and the follicles that produce the hair weaken and die. However, the hair on the back of the head continues to grow because it is genetically programmed to resist the ravages of DHT. This prompted scientists to wonder whether hair from the back of the head would survive if transplanted to the front.

Drew Voight

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