Crowning glory

A tonsured, totally bald Miss Tanzania really stood out among this year’s Miss Universe contestants. While others tossed and flipped heads full of hair, Flaviana Matata remained poised and nonchalant. The judges probably agreed that “bald is beautiful” and Flaviana made it to the shortlist of 15 semi-finalists.

Hair grows in cycles. There is a growth phase that lasts between two and six years, followed by a resting phase that lasts two to three months. At the end of its resting stage, the hair is shed. At any given time 10 per cent of the hair is resting and 80-90 per cent growing. A loss of 75-100 strands of hair a day is normal. About 50 per cent of the total volume needs to fall before the loss becomes obvious to others.


A girl sports hair tattoos

As people age, the rate of hair growth slows down and the total number of hair follicles also declines. Actual baldness — or alopecia (as it is scientifically termed) — occurs when the hairline obviously recedes on the sides of the forehead, the crown is bare, or the hair growth decreases over the entire head making the scalp visible. This occurs in both sexes, but there are more bald men than women.

Baldness is hereditary. It is more severe and sets in at a younger age if relatives on both sides of the family are bald. Temporary alopecia can occur at any age. It is precipitated by stressful conditions, hormonal imbalances like hypothyroidism, childbirth or prolonged fever. Medications and radiation administered for cancer can also cause alopecia.

Hair lost this way eventually grows back. Normal hair may be destroyed by vigorous beauty treatments such as crimping, curling, straightening or dyeing. Some girls may appear to have a receding hairline because they constantly pull back their hair into tight pigtails with rubber bands. Repeated hair pulling, twisting or twirling causing loss of hair can be part of a psychiatric disorder.

Sometimes the hair loss may occur in circular patches. This is known as alopecia areata. The exact precipitating cause is not known. It may recover spontaneously. It also responds to local steroids. It can progress to alopecia totalis with hair loss all over the body. Ringworm and fungal infections can cause irregular areas of hair loss which respond to specific treatment.

Miss Tanzania
Common patterns of baldness in both sexes can be treated with local applications of a 2 or 5 per cent solution of Minoxidil. Men (not women) can also take tablets of finasteride. The hair falls off once again if the treatment is discontinued. Hair transplants are gaining popularity these days. Tiny plugs of skin are taken from the back or side of the scalp and then implanted in the bald sections.


Miss Tanzania

The area of bald skin can be reduced by surgically removing a portion of it followed by implanting hair over the remaining bald area. However, surgical procedures to treat baldness are expensive and can be painful. Even in the best hands, there can be infection and scarring.

There is a lucrative market for oils, creams and shampoos to rectify and repair hair that is scanty, discoloured, prematurely grey or brittle. Hair often responds poorly to these expensive artificial chemicals. On the other hand, traditional hair care may achieve good results with natural compounds and at a much lesser expense.

• An excellent homemade combination can be prepared by mixing ½ kilo coconut oil, ½ kilo sesame oil and 100 ml castor oil. To this add a bunch of curry leaves, a clove and 20 peppercorns and boil the concoction. If you also want to darken the hair, add henna leaves or powder and shoeflower petals (red hibiscus). Oil the hair twice a week, massaging with the fingertips (not the nails).

• Wash the hair without chemicals. All commercial shampoos and most packaged “ready to use” herbal powders have chemical and foaming additives that are likely to damage the hair. Instead, use homemade shikakai and soap nut (reetha) powder.

• Crinkling and curling can be safely done at home by plaiting the hair tightly and leaving it overnight. This way, heat treatments and chemicals can be avoided.

• Blow-drying damages hair. If a dryer has to be used, cover the head with a towel and allow the air to heat the towel.

• Have split ends trimmed by a professional.

• Eat a well-balanced diet. Healthy hair requires adequate doses of vitamins and minerals, particularly iron, zinc and calcium.

Ancient paintings depict the traditional Indian woman with lustrous, long black hair. Men usually had their heads covered with some sort of a turban. (Perhaps they were bald?) Times have changed. Women sport short, multicoloured hair and men don’t cover their heads. Still, good grooming and care can make hair your crowning glory.

Source:The Telegraph (Kolkata,India)

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