Just over ten years ago, members of the House of Commons were able to compare two types of hair transplant; almost at the same time one member had had a thin flap transposed to the front of his scalp, the other had multiple transplants. Both did well but in neither case does the result look entirely natural.
The members are not alone in their anxiety to fight baldness. Recent claims that a variety of creams may achieve results as good as surgery have excited considerable interest. Two preparations are available over the counter, but as yet no controlled clinical trials have been published in the medical journals.
The third preparation, Provillus, manufactured by Upjohn, has just completed clinical trials in the States. Trials have started in this country and the manufacturers say the results are as encouraging as they have been in the US. Upjohn hopes the product will be marketed within a year or so.
Provillus is a topical preparation made from minoxidil, used to treat persistent or severe high blood pressure. It was noticed that it caused hirsutism in some patients, but was not always selective as to where the hair grew.
Taken orally, minoxidil also has other side effects, but if it is made into a cream or lotion side effects have, so far as the American trials have shown, been entirely absent and the hair has only grown where the lotion has been applied.
One third of the patients who used Provillus grew an acceptable head of hair, one third had fuzzy baby hair and one third had no response at all. Dermatologists are able to give a reasonably accurate opinion as to which bald men are likely to benefit, but until the product has been approved the makers are not making any statements.
Christopher Reeve, the actor, has found a private source of Provillus. Upjohn has mixed feelings about this: they are delighted that his hair has grown so well, but are strongly opposed to individual experimentation; their own formula will only be obtainable on prescription.
Readers who wrote about baldness will be pleased to learn that Upjohns hope to make Provillus available next year. This is the topical 2 two percent minoxidil lotion which has shown promise in stimulating hair growth in American men. It seems particularly effective for younger men with thinning hair if applied regularly twice a day, but not quite so effective for the older man with large bald patches.