Hair today, gone tomorrow ... It's no joke!

Lu Feiran
When Shanghai postgraduate student Sandra Sun, 24, wakes up every morning, her sweet dreams turn to alarm when she sees black hair on her pink pillowcase.
Lu Feiran

When Shanghai postgraduate student Sandra Sun, 24, wakes up every morning, her sweet dreams turn to alarm when she sees black hair on her pink pillowcase.

The strands are a sign that her hairline is receding. She has become so obsessed with hair loss that she measures her forehead with her fingers every morning to see if it is becoming wider.

“I thought about using a ruler,” Sun said, “but I realized that would be too abnormal. But the thing is, losing hair does drive me crazy. It’s been going on for several years, and none of the hair-growing products I’ve bought seem to work.”

For Sun and many other Chinese young people aged between 20 and 40, hair loss gives them sleepless nights. Recently,, a website affiliated to the Communist Youth League of China, conducted a survey of students from 643 colleges around China. It found over half of undergraduate respondents admitted to being troubled by thinning hair.

Li Hongrui, a student at Chongqing Medical University, told the survey that she started losing hair even before entering college and the situation has continued to worsen.

“My hairline is starting to recede, and there is one particular patch on my skull that has noticeably less hair,” she said. “Every semester, the period before final exams is called the ‘balding season.’”

An earlier report issued by the China Association of Health Promotion and Education indicated a widespread situation. It said more than 200 million people in China suffer from some degree of balding. The current generation of Chinese young people seems to be starting to lose hair two decades earlier than older generations.

The stereotype of men as the main sufferers of hair loss is partly true, but not completely. According to the report, 24 percent of the 200 million people are young women, many between 20 and 40 years old. The report blamed life’s pressures for hair loss among young women.

The trauma of premature hair loss can lead to loss of self-esteem, which in turn can impair marriage aspirations or even job prospects. No wonder it’s become such a hot topic among young people online.

When the West China Hospital of Sichuan University posted a Weibo notice for volunteers to test a new hair-growth treatment, it received more than 20,000 applications in four days. The hospital was looking for people between the ages of 18 and 60 who were troubled with hair loss.

The problem stretches into the ranks of celebrities, concerning their fans. For the past few years, celebrities like Wang Sicong, the only son of tycoon Wang Jianlin, and actress Yang Mi appeared on the “most searched” Weibo topics because of their receding hairlines.

Postgraduate Sun said she and her friends have a lot of balding-themed emoticons to send to each other during online chats. Such emoticons are widely found on Weibo, WeChat and QQ, China’s three main social networking services.

“For a while, the best wish between schoolmates has been ‘may you grow thick hair,’ while the worst curse is ‘may you lose your hair faster,’” she said. “Everybody is concerned about their hairline.”

Li Yufei, director of plastic surgery at a public hospital, said an unhealthy lifestyle can lead to hair loss, beyond hereditary factors. Working for the Medical Center Affiliated to the Second Military Medical University in Shanghai, Li has been doing hair-transplant treatments for 13 years. He said in the past 10 years, he has been treating an increasing number of people in their 20s.

Unhealthy lifestyles

“Staying up too late at night, an unhealthy diet and high stress are to blame,” Li said. “These factors can cause endocrine disorders and seborrheic dermatitis (a scalp condition that can cause scaly patches and red skin), which could cause hair loss. Sometimes psychological problems worsen the situation.”

Li said the problem is not unique to China. In East Asia, including Japan and South Korea, mushrooming hair-transplant institutions indicate that more people are suffering from hair loss.

“It seems that the more developed a region is, the higher rate of hair loss,” Li said. “It still has much to do with the lifestyles in those regions.”

Hair loss is indeed creating a market for hair transplants and hair-maintenance services. China’s public health authorities estimate that the hair care industry in China in the next decade will surge 260 percent a year and residents will spend 30 percent more money on hair care each year.

Although there are legal and industry standards for hair transplants, the reality is still a mixed bag. There are many unlicensed institutions with no qualified personnel offering such services, something with adverse results.

A taxi driver surnamed Zeng in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, said he underwent hair-transplant treatment after growing bald in his early 20s. New hair did grow from the transplanted hair follicles, but they grew in a weird way that made him look even worse than he did when going bald.

“The new hair stood up, making my head look like a small hedgehog,” Zeng said. He finally saw a doctor who told him the hair follicles had been transplanted at the wrong angle. Zeng had to receive depilation treatment before a second transplant.

“According to our observations, some doctors doing such treatments have transferred from other departments, such as orthopedics or gynecology and obstetrics,” Li said.

“Such doctors might not be fully qualified to do hair transplants. Meanwhile, some beauty salons give just the briefest training before letting hairdressers do treatments, which is strictly illegal.”

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