Despite an almost total lack of evidence in their favour and a surfeit of opinion opposing their continued production and promotion hair restoratives are probably as popular today as they have ever been. Indeed, baldness is one of the growing number of problems which today attracts the attention of companies specializing in the production of cosmetics as well as those which market medicines.

Before considering the value of hair restoratives it is necessary to examine the physiology of hair growth.

The basic and most important fact is that every single hair on your head has its own root; a root which was there when you were born and which produces a new hair from time to time. Not all the roots produce hairs at the same time and occasionally some roots may temporarily stop producing hairs.

As the years go by and more roots rest and stop producing hairs baldness develops. The chances of roots stopping hair production permanently at a relatively early age depend almost entirely upon an individual’s genetic makeup. The genes which determine whether or not you’ll go bald at thirty are as uncontrollable as the genes which determine your height and eye colour.

Genetically determined baldness affects men far more often than women and begins with a thinning of the hair above the temples and on top of the head. It gradually spreads over the scalp leaving a good growth around the sides and the back of the head. Men who don’t like signs of developing baldness sometimes try to hide their shinier patches by combing long strands of hair from the sides over the centre.

The type of alopecia (a medical term for baldness) which causes most worry is that described by doctors as alopecia areata. In this condition the hair loss is both sudden and dramatic. Hair falls out in patches all over the scalp, coming out in handfuls as the roots suddenly stop growing in their thousands. It’s a sort of hair root strike. This disorder most commonly affects young people in their teens and twenties and affects females as well as males. Doctors don’t really know exactly what causes it but most suspect that it is exacerbated if not actually caused by worry or emotional strain. The most reassuring note about this disease is that within a few months most patients will have grown a full head of hair again. The magical hair restoratives which can provide anecdotal proof of patients having benefited might have been used on patients with this spontaneously resolving disorder.

There are, of course, other causes of baldness. Some powerful drugs, for example, can be responsible for hair loss as can infections of the scalp. But stories that baldness is related to the wearing or not of a hat, the type of shampoo used, or the climate have never been verified.

The remedies which are available over the chemist’s counter or from home medicine manufacturers and wholesalers by mail contain a number of differing constituents. Since none of them seem to be based on scientific fact there is no logical way to assess their usefulness. Manufacturers sometimes advertise products as hair tonics, designed to produce healthier hair. These are as controversial as products advertised and sold as hair restoratives.

Several products contain vitamins – the universal panacea according to a number of promoters. H Pantoten Hair Nutrition tablets, described as the ‘unique vitamin formula for essential nutrition of hair and nails’ contain vitamin H, iron, calcium pantothenate, vitamins F, B5 and B9, inositol and methionine. Inositol has been described as a curative for alopecia in mice but I can see no reason to recommend this product for humans. Nor can I see any reason why anyone eating a normal diet should benefit from taking Head High Hair Vitamin Capsules which contain ‘specially selected vitamins and minerals vital to healthy hair’.

Gerovital H3 {Asian) Hair Lotion is an expensive liquid said to be designed for the ‘care and regeneration of the hair and for the prevention of hair loss’ and contains as its active constituent a local anaesthetic called procaine hydrochloride. This is the basic ingredient of a substance sold as a rejuvenating agent. According to the 1978 edition of Alartindale’s Extra Pharmacopoeia the remarkable claims for this ingredient are not supported by any scientifically valid evidence or by the trials carried out independently.

Another product, McKintol Hair Tonic, contains benzoic acid, boric acid, thymol, chlorocresol and industrial methylated spirit. I’m not sure why a cocktail of disinfectants and antiseptics should be advertised as a hair tonic.

Old wives’ tales for preventing and curing baldness

To prevent baldness developing try wearing an ivy leaf wreath. If the remedy fails, or is too late, try rubbing your scalp with a raw onion and then smearing the whole area with honey. If that is too messy for you try combing your hair the wrong way with a comb dipped in nettle juice, or sprinkle parsley seeds over your head three times a year.

These remedies are as likely to be effective as any proprietary medicines or expensive home cures!