Bald and the beautiful

Imagine if there was a cure for baldness. Well maybe you don't need to. According to a recent report, there just might be an answer to some of our prayers.

A dermatologist, at the University of Pennsylvania, George Cotsarelis, believes he's found the longed-for silver bullet.

Dr Cotsarelis and his team of researchers gave the lotion to mice and found that it was effective.

Dr Cotsarelis recently told a US science journal that not only had he found the cure, he could have a lotion on sale within two years. It would work, he said, by inhibiting an enzyme, prostaglandin D2.

According to the story, Dr Cotsarelis and his team of researchers gave the lotion to mice and found that it was effective in both stopping hair loss and in regenerating follicles that had already ceased to produce longer hairs. Dr Cotsarelis says he is trying to interest some US drug firms and is hoping it will be on sale soon.

Sounds good? Well maybe.

"It is highly unlikely that this would be a 'cure'," says Gabrielle Caswell, president of the Cosmetic Physicians Society of Australasia. "But perhaps it may aid in hair loss 'management' - if it works."

So maybe we'll have to keep on with the comb-over or the "I shaved this for the Olympics" look.

But what about treatments already out there - do any of these work?

Anyone who's watched late-night TV will have spotted adverts for hair loss clinics such as Advanced Hair Studio or Ashley & Martin.

According to Ashley & Martin's website, its program of "specialty cleansing products, prescribed medications, natural supplements, therapeutic treatments and on-going support will arrest baldness and re-grow hair naturally".

The clinic claims that clinical trials conducted by a "leading dermatologist at one of Australia's leading universities revealed that over 98 per cent of hair loss patients regrew an average of 113 per cent more hair".

The other mob uses the "latest laser beam technology, an FDA approved regrowth pharmaceutical, and a proven scalp and follicle treatment program". Neither website gave a price range, nor indicated how long treatment would take.

But many men - former cricketer Shane Warne included - do seem to swear by these places, though not all methods are suitable for everyone.

As Dr Caswell told me when I asked her about Dr Cotsarelis's baldness cure: "For any treatments to have the desired effect, they normally need to be started early. They have no effect when a man has been totally bald for 20 years – the only treatment in this instance is hair transplantation and this is only feasible if there are sufficient donor hair follicles available."

Dr Caswell is a big fan of PRP treatment. This, she says, involves extracting a little bit of blood and spinning it in a centrifuge to separate out the plasma and platelet portion. This is then injected back into the skin, stimulating the hair follicle cells and getting them working again. This is combined with ''derma rolling".

Dr Caswell explains: "It stimulates hair growth by creating controlled damage to the skin. The derma roller is a hand-held device with surgical steel micro needles that are rolled across the skin, creating microscopic punctures into the skin, which is meant to enhance the skin's natural healing abilities by temporarily opening pores on the surface. These punctures are perceived by the skin as damage, which stimulates the release of growth factors." It sounds like torture. ("It can be painful and uncomfortable for the patient with some swelling and bruising") and isn't cheap ("It usually starts at $1100 per treatment"). And on top of that it might not work.

"Responses to all treatments for balding can be variable," Dr Caswell says. "Influencing factors include the patient's general health, lifestyle habits and the type of hair loss they experience."

So why bother? Many men shrug off the creeping loss of hair without a worry while others find it really strikes at the heart of their self-esteem.

Some will shave off what's left and maybe grow a little beard to compensate. Others might wear a hat. And then there are wigs and artful grooming - the modern-day comb-over that seeks to hide that expanding bald spot with careful placement and product.

But the fact is that we're probably all going to lose our hair sooner or later. Baldness is in our genes - it's not called male pattern baldness for nothing. So whatever side you take in the 'balding gracefully' debate, the fact is that an out-and-out cure would be a huge, Viagra-beating money spinner for Big Pharma.

Would you get treated for baldness? Or are you just letting nature take her course?