Back in June of 2014, about ten months ago, I received an email from a young man named Rob with some ideas about DHT and hair loss (in response to this post). Rob had an interesting theory that DHT was not the main culprit in terms of male hair loss; that scalp fibrosis/calcification and excess sebum production were more responsible for male pattern baldness than any excess of dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
I was initially skeptical of this claim. There’s plenty of evidence to link miniaturization of male hair follicles (and subsequent hair loss) to DHT. One of the two major drugs prescribed to slow or reverse male pattern baldness is Propecia (finasteride), which is a strong 5AR inhibitor, preventing the conversion of testosterone to DHT. The problem with inhibiting 5AR (and the reason I never tried finasteride for my own hair loss) is the long list of potential side effects including reduced libido, impaired sexual performance, depression, and anxiety. I would rather be completely bald!
Rob claimed to have complete halted his own hair loss and regrown almost all of his hair using a massage technique. He wrote:
The cool thing about all of this is that it’s actually possible to reverse scalp fibrosis and release excess sebum trapped in the scalp skin, thereby increasing blood flow and allowing your scalp to flush out any trapped DHT. Using specific massage techniques I was actually able to arrest my hair loss and regrow nearly all my hair in just under a year (no drugs, shampoos, products, or surgeries). This is where our opinions differ slightly – I believe you can have healthy DHT levels and your hair too – and that the trade-off between sexual functionality and hair loss doesn’t need to exist 🙂
Rob offered to send me his eBook and instructional video for free. This made me even more suspicious — there are hundreds of scam artists out there peddling snake oil hair regrowth products to vulnerable, hopeful men hoping to get their hair back. But Rob wasn’t asking for anything in return, and he seemed sincere. What did I have to lose (besides more hair)? I downloaded the eBook and read it with growing interest …
Update: Rob has since taken the eBook out of circulation. Please see the note at the bottom of this post.
My Own Hair Loss Story
I noticed that my own hairline was receding in my mid-twenties. Around age twenty-eight or twenty-nine I became concerned enough to do something about it, and tried using Rogaine (minoxidil). For me, the main effect of Rogaine was making my scalp red and itchy. I theorized that this might be an allergic reaction to propylene glycol (an ingredient in Rogaine). At the time I was living quite near a compounding chemistry lab, so I asked them to mix up a formula including minoxidil but without any propylene glycol. The resulting formulation didn’t irritate my scalp, and slowly I started to notice a few new hairs. Over the next couple of years I halted my hair loss and even regained a bit. Still, the custom formula was expensive, the progress slow, and as I learned more about the potential side effects of minoxidil I became concerned enough to stop using it. At the time I was starting to experience some adult-onset asthma, and I wanted to make sure to eliminate any possible chemical that might be worsening my general health.
I resolved to keep my hair short (no comb-overs!) and embrace my new lesser haired self.
Over the next few years I was able to resolve my asthma symptoms with some dietary and supplementation changes. I also noticed that my hair loss stopped or at least slowed down greatly. Perhaps my more-or-less paleo diet had something to do with it, perhaps providing more nutrients and/or making my body less prone to excess inflammation.
I eventually became less self-conscious about my hairline. Now in my thirties, I was hardly alone among my male peers in having less than total coverage. Even though I was bleaching my hair at the time, I didn’t seem to be losing ground. For reference, here’s a Jondi & Spesh press picture from 2003:
Here’s a picture from six years later, in 2010. Maybe I’ve lost a bit more, but it’s not dramatically different than the 2003 picture (except no more bleach).
Still, my hair loss had not completely stopped. I noticed that my hair was not as thick on top as it once had been, and that I could see more of scalp when my hair was wet. This didn’t bother me as much as it would have when I was in my twenties, but I certainly didn’t relish the idea of gaining a round bald spot on my crown. I’d gotten used to my receded hairline, but bald on top was another thing. Still, even if it came to that, I wouldn’t be the first guy in the world to lose some or all of my hair. Since I wasn’t willing to use minoxidil or finasteride, and I didn’t want to endure or pay for any kind of hair transplant surgery or laser treatments, I resolved to just stay as healthy as possible and live with whatever the hair gods dealt out. I think most men make the same choice at some point in their lives.
Henry Choy, “Detumescense Therapy”, Dome Heads and Flat Heads
Rob’s eBook referenced a 2012 paper by Henry Choy from Hong Kong University, entitled Detumescence Therapy of Human Scalp for Natural Hair Regrowth (PDF). Choy theorizes that hair loss is primarily caused by thickening and hardening of the scalp, and that bald people have a more “dome-like” head shape because of trapped sebum (scalp grease). In a 100 person experiment (50 men and 50 women of various ages, ethnicities, and % of hair loss), Choy applied “detumescence therapy” over a ten monthly period to expel excess sebum, reshape the scalp, soften the scalp skin, and eventually regrow the subjects’ hair. The treatment involved two twenty-minute scalp massage sessions daily, during which the scalp was pressed on, kneaded, and rubbed.
Choy claimed amazing results: ALL the subjects regrew 90% of their hair. Dormant hair follicles came back to life. The first new hair growth was observed around month five of the massage therapy.
I was skeptical. Dome heads and flat heads — really? Head massage cures baldness? It seemed too easy. Had anyone else replicated the experiment? Rob’s eBook answers the question — a small group of natural hair regrowth enthusiasts did try to informally replicate the experiment, but their efforts petered out. Nobody knew how to do the massage technique, and five months is a long time to wait to see results.
Rob, however, stubbornly persisted, experimenting with various head massage techniques. For the first couple of months his hair loss seemed to slightly worsen, but he could feel the changes in his scalp, the skin becoming looser, softer, and more pliable. A few months later he started to notice new growth, and after ten months he had regrown almost all of his hair.
For Rob, the experiment worked!
Rob’s Hair Regrowth Protocol
Rob’s eBook goes far beyond Choy’s experiment in terms of getting to the root causes of hair loss, and also suggesting lifestyle changes to support hair regrowth and overall health. A few topics the book covers:
- the role of calcification and fibrosis in the hardening and thickening of the scalp
- estrogen/testosterone balance and hair loss
- the role of low thyroid hormones and hair loss
- dietary changes to improve hormone health and help regrow hair
- how to avoid chemicals that may disrupt or mimic hormones and play a role in hair loss
Rob’s hair regrowth program recommends the following:
- Two twenty-minute head massage sessions, morning and evening, using techniques demonstrated in the accompanying instructional video.
- Dietary changes such as avoiding grain products, refined sugar, and foods that may potentially disrupt thyroid activity.
- Avoiding shampoo — using only water and scrubbing to clean hair (both to reduce sebum production and to avoid potentially hormone-disrupting chemicals).
There are some other recommendations as well, but those are the three big ones. Rob covers each one in extensive detail (both in terms of explaining why, and making concrete behavioral recommendations).
Rob had approached me and a number of other people to encourage us to try out the technique, and perhaps share our experiences and maybe even before/after pictures for later editions of his eBook. At this point my curiosity outweighed my skepticism. What if the technique worked? Not only would I get more hair on my own head, but I could be part of validating a cheap, safe, chemical-free method for regrowing hair. And if the technique didn’t work, I could still get a good blog post out of it.
After a few back-and-forth emails I let Rob know I was going to try the technique. He agreed to answer any questions, check in every couple months, and even be available for a Skype session if I wanted to verify that I was using the massage technique correctly.
My Own Hair Regrowth Experience
From the beginning I found the intensive scalp massage to be generally pleasurable. It felt good to get the blood flowing, and the effect was both energizing and relaxing. I quickly realized I wouldn’t have time for a solid block of twenty minutes first thing in the morning; the morning rush of making breakfast and getting my kid to school on time didn’t allow for it. I settled for a few minutes in the shower, a few minutes before getting dressed, and the rest done later in the morning during short breaks from writing. Sometimes I would massage my head while reading something on the computer, which is about as much multitasking as I can handle.
Evenings were easier — I would do the head massage while reading or watching TV. Reading would only leave one hand free for massage, while I could use various two-handed massage techniques while watching TV. I probably watched more TV than was good for me over the past ten months. But hey, it was for science.
The book and video gave detailed instructions on how to perform the massage technique, and later Rob followed up with some additional tips and pointers based on what was working for his other readers/early adopters. The basic idea is to knead, squeeze, stretch, and press on your scalp quite hard. The correct application of force will fundamentally alter the composition of your scalp, breaking up calcification, expelling trapped sebum, increasing blood flow and stimulating growth of new capillaries, clearing trapped DHT, and possibly even modifying the epigenetic expression of hair follicle DNA. At first my fingers and hands got tired after only a few minutes, but I quickly gained finger strength.
As the eBook described, the first effects of the massage were generating a lot of scalp grease and dandruff. This was both gross and strangely satisfying. How long had that sebum been trapped in my scalp? My scalp would also be a little red directly after the massage, but the redness would quickly subside (no one ever commented on it). This might be more of a concern for completely bald men, who might want to start with less vigorous massage until they can completely gauge the cosmetic effects. As one user on this forum commented:
“I did that for awhile and then looked in the mirror – it looked like a pterodactyl had swooped down and attacked my head, so it’s obviously working.”
Here are pictures from June and July, early in the experiment:
Adult Cradle Cap?
After a couple months I noticed some strange brown patches near my hairline. Convinced I had some terrible disease, I was ready to call my doctor. Then I noticed that the brown crud could easily be scraped off, revealing healthy pink skin underneath. My wife Kia said “that looks like cradle cap” — she remembered when our daughter had the same condition as an infant. Nobody is quite sure what cradle cap is — it might be a fungal infection, or it might simply be related to overactive sebaceous glands. Either way, it affects about half of all babies right about when they’re getting their first batch of hair. Over the next few months I would often noticed the “brown crud” would precede new hair growth in a small area that was previously bereft of growth. As it scraped off easily enough and didn’t otherwise bother me (and was soon replaced by new hair growth) I became less alarmed. At a recent checkup I even forgot to ask my doctor about it — so for now it remains a mystery.
Here’s a family picture from August. As you can see, I’m three months into the head massage technique and my hairline looks about the same as when I started. Given the recent haircut and camera angle, it even looks like I’ve lost ground at this point. This is not a technique for the impatient!
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
I pretty much ignored Rob’s dietary advice. My diet was already decent — high in fruits and vegetables, low in grains and refined sugar — and I didn’t want to take on more than one thing at a time. Also, if I did the massage technique AND changed my diet, how would I know what had worked?
Rob recommends avoiding cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, etc.) because they might inhibit iodine absorption and interfere with thyroid function. I kept on eating these foods because of their many healthful properties, and because I’ve never had any thyroid issues.
Generally I think Rob’s dietary advice is excellent — my point is that I was already following most of it anyway, and didn’t feel like following it to the letter for the reasons stated above.
As for avoiding chemicals found in shampoo, deodorant, etc. — I wasn’t ready to go full hippie. However I did reduce my use of personal hygiene products over this period and generally found that I could keep pretty clean with hot water and a daily scrubbing. I also made sure the products I did use were free of parabens, phthalates, and other bad stuff that could potentially disrupt hormone balance.
Scalp Injuries and Numb Fingers
I continued the massage technique, running into only minor problems. The post-massage scalp greasiness and major dandruff subsided after a couple months, but a few times I picked at my “scalp crud” too enthusiastically and caused some minor bleeding and scabs. I would then go easy for a few days and everything healed up, but it’s easy to go too hard on your scalp. This would be a special concern for men who are starting from completely bald. I had enough hair to cover my temporarily scratched up scalp, but I’m sure people would have wondered what was wrong with my head if I hadn’t had hair coverage.
The other issue I ran into was numb fingertips after pressing too hard on my scalp for too long. Once again, backing off on the pressure and being more gentle resolved the issue. It’s a little tricky to find the right balance — being aggressive enough to “disrupt” your scalp and restart those hair follicles without injuring yourself!
Hey, It’s Working!
Around November (five months in) I really started to notice changes in both my hairline and the thickness of my hair. At this point there was no disputing (at least in my own mind) that the technique was resulting in new hair growth. Kia noticed the changes too.
The most surprising thing was running my fingers through my hair — it felt different. There was just more hair there! I joked with Rob that I was going to grow it out like Fabio.
The regrowth continued, even though I became lazier about the technique. I didn’t miss days, but sometimes I might only get two five minute sessions in. Still, I kept at it, and my hair continued to regrow.
I’m writing this post at about the ten month mark — the same amount of time mentioned in Henry Choy’s initial experiment. I haven’t regrown all my lost hair — I’d estimate about 75% of what I’d lost. I’m going to stick with the technique and see if I can get to 90%. Here are my latest progress pictures, taken just last week.
The Perfect Hair Health Site and eBook
Rob’s site is PerfectHairHealth.com. He’s currently selling the Perfect Hair Health eBook + video on a sliding scale, pay-what-you-like basis, with a recommended price of $30. If you’re willing to invest the time and effort in the head massage technique, this seems perfectly reasonable. It’s equivalent to about a month-and-a-half’s supply of Rogaine.
I don’t currently have any kind of business or financial arrangement with Rob. If you buy the eBook I get $0. I wish him all the success in the world, because the technique works, he’s making it available at a reasonable price, and people experiencing hair loss deserve an alternative to expensive chemicals with potentially health-damaging side effects.
Update: Rob is no longer selling the eBook (see below).
For a forty-five-year-old guy like myself, regaining most of my lost hair was fun and surprising. On the other hand, if I’d never learned the technique or regrown my lost hair, I would have been fine. It’s socially acceptable for a man my age to be balding or even completely bald.
The same isn’t true for young men, women of any age, or children. For those groups hair loss can be a source of self-consciousness and can damage self-confidence. While there still isn’t enough information available to know if this technique will work for every type of hair loss, it’s exciting to have a new alternative treatment available that is both free and safe.
So Who Is This Rob Guy?
Rob does have a last name, and I’ve verified that he’s who he says he is. He wrote the eBook as a side project and is not interested in becoming a hair regrowth guru. He has a writing job, plays drums in a band, enjoys various outdoor activities, and continues living his life … just now with more hair. I asked Rob how the hair regrowth experience had changed his life. He wrote back the following:
With that said, the hair doesn’t make the man! To me, hair loss was more of a mental stress, but I always tried to approach the problem analytically rather than emotionally (no matter how difficult). Since seeing regrowth, my life hasn’t changed much, and my self-esteem remains the same. But the nagging anxiety and stress it caused is gone. That alone made the journey worth it.
He went on to say that he has really enjoyed seeing and hearing about the progress his readers have made.
I include all this because hair-regrowth products and services, like the weight loss field, can be a scammy area filled with much quackery. As far as I can tell, Rob is on the level, and while he wouldn’t mind making some money from his eBook, the information and techniques in the book are legit. It worked for Rob, it worked for me, it worked for quite a few of Rob’s other readers, and apparently it worked for at least 100 people in Hong Kong.
To a Full Head of Hair!
Let me know if you have questions about the technique or my own experience — I’d be happy to answer them. It was a blast to do the experiment and even more fun to get positive results. A big THANK YOU to Rob for turning me on to this technique! And also to Henry Choy of Hong University, his research team, and subjects!
Update Sep. 2015: Rob has recently taken his eBook offline because the amount of time he was responding to email became unmanageable. I proposed that he make it available as a free download, but he felt that would be unfair to his customers who had paid large amounts on the sliding scale (so please don’t ask me to send it to you). While the eBook is no longer available, the “how-to” is all contained in this post, the follow-up update/FAQ post, and in my responses in the comments.
Update Aug. 2016: Good news — Rob is updating and relaunching his eBook. The new version will include a number of before/after pictures (my own included) as well as the most recent research studies in regards to scalp massage and hair regrowth. You can sign up at http://perfecthairhealth.com/