Former Emirati fighter pilot tackless hairloss head on
Hair loss can seem like something of a curse. It is elusive, difficult to predict and does not discriminate.
Some blame mothers, some fathers and some even blame hats. What we do know is it affects more than 40 per cent of people by middle-age.
Throughout history, scientists and herbalists have sought a way of defeating the scourge once and for all. Now, in Abu Dhabi, an Emirati former fighter pilot believes he might just have discovered the cure.
Omran Al Hallami set up a small laboratory – about 70 square metres – in his house in 2003, with the goal of discovering a cure for hard-to-treat illnesses and conditions.
The project began as a personal one. His pet parrot lost its feathers and fell into poor health. Veterinarians told him there was no cure.
“It [the parrot] really was very weak and had a lot of skin problems,” said Mr Al Hallami. “I couldn’t leave it [outdoors] – it couldn’t fly and something could eat it. But I couldn’t keep it inside the house, because it might transfer its sickness to us.
“So, I said, ‘If there is no cure, I should do something for it’.”
He turned to phytochemistry, the study of chemicals derived from plants, which Arabs have long practised.
After a decade of study, the 50-year-old claims to have discovered a clean and safe formula that could be sprayed on to his bird and stimulate feather growth within one to two weeks.
“Really, it was beautiful news for us – I was really happy with it,” Mr Al Hallami said.
“I took my parrot to the doctor again and he was shocked when he saw it.
“There was a Filipino guy working with him, he wanted to grow a beard. He said, ‘Can you spray the product on my beard?’
“I gave it to him and after a few weeks he called me and said, ‘My beard has started growing’.”
Mr Al Hallami observed a strong relationship between human and bird follicles and started working on a cure for human hair loss.
The result was a formula, he says, that some studies show can provide 4.7 per cent more hair density every month and reduces hair loss by almost 50 per cent – with strong results visible in two to four months.
The product, Biogrow, is made of natural components sourced from plants and trees.
If Mr Al Hallami’s claims about Biogrow can be backed up by results, it will be a victory in a battle that goes back a very long way. The ancient Ebers Papyrus – a compilation of Egyptian medical texts that, at more than 3,550 years old, is reportedly the oldest medical book in the world – even has an entry about dealing with hair loss.
In it, the author recommends boiling the fat of various animals with porcupine hair – with donkey hoof and sauteed female greyhound leg thrown in for good measure – and applying it to the scalp.
It also seems men have always taken hair loss badly. About 2,000 years ago, the Roman poet Ovid, wrote: “There is nothing graceful about becoming bald. Snatched by age, our hairs fall like the autumn leaves torn by a chill wind from the trees.”
For a more contemporary perspective, Lavina Ahuja, a personal development consultant at LifeWorks, a Dubai counselling service, says men often see hair loss as the loss of youth and virility and an indication that one is not in control of one’s life.
“It’s not just about appearance, but it’s almost about what their appearance conveys,” she says.
“For women, on the other hand, hair can also be very much about attractiveness. Having long, thick hair is considered to be the epitome of being feminine and attractive.”
Worrying about hair loss is not, she says, a sign of vanity, or superficiality. It has its roots in survival and reproduction issues.
“Hair loss is connected to old age, and being unattractive, and mortality: being ill and being frail,” she says.
Down the years, people have dealt with the problems in different ways. Julius Caesar sported a comb-over, brushing his hair from the back of his head to the front.
Seutonius’ The Lives of the Caesars states the Roman dictator’s baldness “was a disfigurement that troubled him greatly, since he found it was often the subject of the jibes of his detractors”. “Of all the honours voted him by the senate and people there was none which he received or made use of more gladly than the privilege of wearing a laurel wreath at all times,” it states.
Roman emperor Carus seemed more comfortable with his hair loss – even using it as a diplomatic weapon. When he was approached by Persian dignitaries suing for peace, he removed his cap and threatened to render Persia as scarce of trees as his head was of hair.
Napoleon Bonaparte, having started balding at 23, also opted for the comb-over. More than a century earlier, King Louis XIII of France, in his early 20s, also suffered premature hair loss and began wearing elaborate wigs. His courtiers followed suit, to make him feel more comfortable. By the mid-17th century, wigs had grown in popularity among the social elite, eventually adopted by English nobles and even early American colonists.
Tsar Paul I of Russia took his baldness so seriously that anyone who referenced his lack of hair was sentenced to death.
The 19th-century United States saw a wave of snake oil salesmen who travelled the country peddling dubious cure-all medicines. One of the most popular hair products at this time, Hall’s Vegetable Sicilian Hair Renewer, contained lead, which led to several fatalities among users.
Another quirky invention was Allied Merke’s Thermocap. It hit the market in the early 20th century, with promises it could immediately stop hair loss and boost growth. The device, a tall aluminium dome, would be placed on the user’s head and heated for short periods of time, supposedly boosting circulation and opening up pores.
That none of these products, which also include Koko formula, endorsed by the Greek royal family, and Dr Scott’s Electric Brush, have survived is telling. Today, dermatologists are very particular about what they prescribe to those suffering hair loss.
“There are quite a few hair-growth agents on the market and exactly how these agents function is not well understood,” says Dr Anthony Oro, professor of dermatology at Stanford Health Care. Such agents and remedies include minoxidil, finasteride, dutasteride, and laser-based combs.
“The hair stem cells that control the timing and quality of the hair made, are sensitive to nutritional, hormonal, and psychiatric factors,” he says. “Male-pattern baldness is believed to be a genetic predisposition for early hair miniaturisation in a defined region of the scalp.”
Because of the many causes underlying hair growth, and the time it takes for hair to grow, he says controlled studies showing a clear effect remain challenging.
Every month, Dr Senthil Prabahar Samiraj, dermatology and venereology specialist at Burjeel Hospital, tries out new trial-tested products.
One of the main treatments he prescribes is mesotherapy; injecting a solution just below the epidermis. Another constantly developing field, he adds, is hair transplantation. Dr Samiraj also points out the intricacies of treating different types of hair loss.
“Everything depends upon the condition of the patient and the reason for the hair loss,” he says.
Hair loss can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from thyroid problems to anaemia. “There are different types of hair loss. Some types are temporary; however, androgenetic alopecia – male-pattern or female-pattern baldness – is genetically related,” he says.
Androgenetic alopecia can affect almost three quarters of men at some point in their lives, and two fifths of women. Men typically show a receding hairline and vertex balding, while women show diffuse hair thinning.
Mr Al Hallami insists he has been careful to quantify the effectiveness of Biogrow, which has undergone in vivo trials in Switzerland and France to secure Europe-wide approval.
Of the participants – females with up to II-2 alopecia and males with up to IV alopecia – 98 per cent showed successful increases in hair density, without any adverse side-effects, he says.
“We have also done calculations and we found that people can grow between 2,000 and 5,000 hairs every month,” says Mr Al Hallami. “Of course you cannot see it in the first month or the second month, but in the third month you can.”
Mr Al Hallami’s company, Osma Cosmetics and Laboratories, has its main manufacturing plant in Switzerland, and a secondary one in Abu Dhabi.
“We are really happy with the product and now we can announce we have discovered the formula for human hair growth and this will have a really positive effect not just on our society, but worldwide,” he says with a smile.
“I can say with confidence that this discovery will open the door to a future where hopefully you will not see a bald man or woman walking down the street.”
Updated: December 9, 2015 04:00 AM