Jan. 5, 2001 -- Baldness didn't interfere with success for multitalented entertainers Isaac Hayes, the late Yul Brenner of The King and I fame, and others. But for the approximately 40 million American men that have to put sunscreen on their heads, the lack of locks may not be such a great thing.
Even in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, men tried various tactics to cover baldness. According to the FDA, even that famous wreath worn by Emperor Julius Caesar was an effort to cover a naked noggin.
In the 1940s, a scientific study showed that castrated men virtually never went bald. "But this is a rather drastic treatment," concedes David Whiting, MD, medical director of the Baylor University Medical Center Hair Treatment and Research Center in Dallas.
Whiting has been involved in studies using a component of the male hormone androgen that resulted in a drug called finasteride -- more commonly known as Propecia or Proscar -- which prevents hair loss and stimulates hair growth for some men. It's used for men who are genetically at risk for male-pattern baldness -- also called common baldness or androgenetic alopecia.
While finasteride was a major medical breakthrough in the treatment of hair loss, a recent study published in the International Journal of Dermatology says it's also a giant leap in improving men's views of themselves. Author Marcia Ramos-e-Silva, MD, PhD, writes that because one's physical appearance affects how people perceive him, many bald men have low self-esteem.
Ramos-e-Silva, of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro's Sector of Dermatology in Brazil, writes that because finasteride can prevent hair loss, it's important for doctors to consider it as the first treatment for those facing baldness.
"It is vital, therefore, for the prescribing physician to bear in mind that the patient may suffer anxiety over the possible progression of hair loss in the future, while being able to tolerate his present condition," she writes. "For many patients, prevention of further hair loss alone will constitute acceptable management."
Whiting, who also is a University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas dermatology and pediatric clinical instructor, tells WebMD that finasteride will prevent further hair loss in about 90% of men even five years after taking the drug and will foster regrowth in about two-thirds of men even two years later.