Hair-loss isn't just for men anymore.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
SANTA ANA, Calif. -- All Dr. Craig Ziering has to do to make his patients want more hair is to run his fingers through his shiny black curls.
The man has a great head of hair. A nice advertisement for a guy who makes a living selling hair transplants. And, for years, his practice was mostly men who wanted to look just like him.
But there's a problem with the male hair-loss market. Men are used to going bald. They've even formed bald pride clubs.
Women, however, don't expect to lose their hair. And that's where doctors such as Ziering are starting to target their scalpels. The number of women receiving hair transplants rose 57 percent nationwide between 2003 and 2004, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
"Having a bald spot is not real attractive," Celestine Lewis, one of Ziering's patients, who runs a catering company, said. "My clothes are great. My makeup is great, but you look at my head and I have these bald spots."
She's typical of women who come to Ziering. Her hair started to fall out in odd spots, receding from the front and getting patchy. She tried pills and creams. She tried a vibration technique. Nothing.
What Ziering and his staff do is a little more heavy-duty. He uses a diamond-shaped cutting tool to open from 1,000 to 3,000 holes in the scalp. He takes a swath of hair from the back of the person's head and then he groups those hairs into little bundles and implants them in the holes. The whole thing takes eight to nine hours. After about four months, the hair starts to grow.
Hair transplants in women typically are not as successful as they are in men, but more women are choosing to have the surgery -- and buying at least five to 10 years before their hair might start to thin again, said Dr. Jeffery Epstein, director of the Women's Center for Hair Loss in Miami and New York.
"Many physicians don't realize there is more to be done than to tell women to use Rogaine and accept it," he said.
It comes down to the type of thinning a patient experiences and her overall health. The diffuse pattern many women experience makes them more difficult candidates.
"The healthier the patient, the more likely you'll have success," said Dr. James Wells, former president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, who has a practice in Long Beach. "The bed you're transplanting has to be a normal bed, has to have a good blood supply."
Cost is another barrier. The price tag for surgery runs between $5,000 and $10,000. But it's a price worth paying, women said.
"In my case, I'm looking at $8,000," said Irene Dressler, 63, who spent the last year racing among doctors to try to uncover the reason for her hair loss. "But I've become really distressed over this."
Dressler said her hair loss, which started about 10 years ago, has been more devastating to her sense of femininity than losing both her breasts to cancer 20 years ago.
"I feel like it's a badge of honor. I'm a survivor, and I have the scars to prove it," she said of her breasts. "It's a part of my body that I can hide. But the hair -- it's right out there. There's no hiding it. It's such a part of a woman."
Dressler has tried Rogaine and Nioxin. She even ended up in the emergency room after a blood-pressure medicine meant to strengthen her hair raised her potassium level so high it jeopardized her heart.
If she can't remedy the situation another way, Dressler said, she'll have surgery with Ziering next year.
The more she studies the topic, the more she finds women going through the same thing. She used to take calls counseling and consoling women who were being treated for breast cancer. These days, she takes calls from tearful women who are losing their hair.