By Rima Ramoul
“Trichology was a subject that was very new for me,” saysSaleem Akhtar, a former patient in his native Pakistan. “Back home, somebody was telling me, ‘You just catch a bat, burn it, and put it on your scalp’ [laugh].”
“Believe me, I’ve seen people who are scared so much that you just tell them do such thing, and probably if they can, they will.”
Catching, burning, and using a bat’s ashes on his scalp was only one of the many bizarre suggestions Akhtar received from people who wanted to help him stop his hair loss.
For four to five years, he tried various things -one stranger than the next- but to no avail. Eventually, a friend of his recommended he consult a doctor who deals with modern medicine; a trichologist.
Now say the word ‘trichologist’ in public and most people would have a deer-in-the-headlights look plastered on their face.
“I didn’t know what a trichologist was,” admits Akhtar, “and I went to a couple of dermatologists and they said ‘Well, we do the same thing.’
But one of the guys said ‘There is a gentlemen who has come from somewhere out of the country, and he’s the one who has a trichology diploma, along with his dermatology’”.
Trichology and dermatology are two branches of medicine people turn to when they experience various hair and scalp problems.
Greg Wlodarczyk, a certified trichologist and hair & scalp nutritionist, writes on his website that “a trichologist focuses on the elimination and treatment of causes of a disorder” and that a dermatologist focuses primarily on pharmacological medicines.
One thing both professions also have in common is that their practitioners earn a very good income.
Salary.com shows that dermatologists in the United States earn an average of $235,178 per year, while PayScale.com shows dermatologists in the United States, with 20 or more years of experience under their belt, can earn up to $305,209.
Consulting either one of these doctors is quite costly.
“It probably depends on the recognition one has, but mainly the results. I think most trichologists can make a very good living,” says Wlodarczyk. “Most of them charge $120 to $250 per initial consultation, and $60 to $150 for a follow-up.”
Akhtar started undergoing bi-weekly laser therapy sessions where he says ampoules with a placenta-based product would be applied on his scalp, before the laser would be passed.
Each session was approximately 30 minutes long, and cost him around $100 (CND). All in all, his therapy lasted between 12 to 13 weeks, but he says it was worth it as he saw an improvement.
“I believe it has slowed-down my hair loss,” he says, “maybe if I was supposed to be bald in five years time, or 10 years time, it might take another five years extra to reach that point where one can really notice that somebody is bald.”
When Jane’s [name changed] scalp started to itch, and she desired hair that was ‘longer, thicker and straighter’, she too decided to pay a trichologist a visit.
She entered his office full of anticipation at what she hoped he could do for her. Unfortunately, she was to leave feeling unsatisfied.
After being examined, Jane says she was prescribed expensive hair products, as well as liver pills and brewer’s yeast for her to ingest as nutritional supplements.
Her initial consultation with the trichologist cost her over $100, while she says she spent just as much throughout the years on the trichologist’s personal line of hair products.
“They gave me a superficial exam and prescribed products that were not any more effective than products I could have purchased for much less at a drug store,” she says. “I did not know of alternative trichologists and was a bit young and naïve.”
The trichologist she consulted often worked with celebrities and had his own line of hair products. Though it was somewhat unreasonable for Jane to expect that the trichologist could change the nature of her hair, she says he was of no help either when it came to her itching scalp.
This is something that Wlodarczyk cautions against. Not all trichologists are the same, he says, and even though they may have been trained at the same school and received the same level of good training, some may decide to lean toward cosmetology rather than preventative medicine.
Jane is now a volunteer website administrator for the Cicatricial Alopecia Research Foundation, and recommends that anyone who experiences hair problems would be wise to consult a dermatologist.
“My dermatologist took a scalp biopsy which enabled her to diagnose my condition,” she says. “She told me not to waste my money on expensive shampoos that would not help my condition.”
Yet, patients who wish to consult either one must keep in mind that these doctors are by no means miracle workers.
“If one has unrealistic or unfounded expectations about the hair regrowth or other disorders as well, he or she will be disappointed not only with trichology, but even with conventional medicine or hair transplants,” says Wlodarczyk.
“What is often misunderstood about [baldness] is the fact that when hair follicles stay for a few years in dormant stage, they die out […] and cannot regrow […],” he says. “So if one has been thinning for 10 to 15 years and comes to see a trichologist with an expectation to regrow all his hair, he or she will be disappointed.”
Given that the majority of people lack knowledge when it comes to hair problems, one cannot over-emphasise the importance of research.
“It is up to the individual to do his own research and find the trichologist who does what they are supposed to,” says Wlodarczyk. “It is best to inquire about what the consultation or treatment will involve and how much it will cost.”
For the amount of money you will spend on consultations and/or hair products, you must be certain that the trichologist or dermatologist is right for you.