Two-and-a-half years ago I received an email from a young man named Rob who was developing a hair regrowth technique based on intensive, long-term scalp massage. He had read my post Modulating Testosterone Levels (For Men) and had some thoughts about DHT and hair loss. Rob agreed that male hair loss resulted from DHT shrinking/inactivating hair follicles, but he disagreed that hair loss had anything to do with circulating levels of DHT. It was the accumulation of DHT in the follicle due to reduced blood supply and calcification of the scalp that caused the problem.
This theory matched my intuitive observations. My own hair loss, starting in my early thirties, hadn’t coincided with raging male hormones, but rather with an unhealthy period of my life that included too much alcohol, many late nights, a high carbohydrate diet, significant weight/fat gain, and most likely lower levels of testosterone and DHT. Just an n=1 observation, but the idea of a direct correspondence between hair loss and circulating DHT left something to be explained. I was intrigued by Rob’s idea.
By 2014, my diet had improved and my hair loss had greatly slowed, but I wasn’t regrowing any hair. Being over 40 and happily married, I didn’t feel too self-conscious about my much-receded hairline, but I was curious about Rob’s hair regrowth system. At the very least I could get a good blog post out of it, even if it didn’t work. I told Rob that yes — he should send me his eBook and I’d take a look.
His system involved a number of dietary recommendations, such as cutting out grains and refined sugars, limiting cruciferous vegetables, and eating gelatin-rich foods like bone broth. Pretty close to a paleo diet, or Mark Sisson’s “Primal” diet, but with a few modifications. I pretty much ignored this part of the system, as I was already eating a healthful diet that wasn’t that different (I eat a low-grain Mediterranean diet these days, lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, plenty of olive oil, nuts and seeds, most of my protein from eggs, wild salmon, sardines, and beans, some dark chocolate and red wine, coffee and tea). I’m only as strict as I need to be, and if my health is good I’ll sometimes eat ice-cream, sourdough bread, barbecued meats, drink beer or whiskey, etc. I wasn’t interested in following an extremely strict diet, even if it would help me regrow my hair. But I was willing to try the massage part …
For twenty minutes in the morning and again in the evening, I massaged my head with various kneading, pinching, and pressing motions. The initial goal was to loosen up my scalp so that it moved freely over my skull, and could be pinched away from my head without too much force. This proved difficult; my scalp was really stiff and tight. After a number of weeks it began to yield. My scalp would often feel a little greasy after these massage sessions. But no new hair growth …
Rob said it would take around five months of regular massage before I saw any regrowth. Well, okay. In for a penny …
It was encouraging, and interesting, that my scalp was changing in tone, and even in shape. After a few months I could feel the shape and details of my skull bones through my scalp. As Rob had predicted, my scalp was getting thinner and looser, becoming less calcified and shedding excess accumulated sebum (gross!).
I continued the twice-daily massage process for the recommended ten month period. Amazing, around month five, I did start to see hairs sprouting on parts of my scalp that had been previously bare. By the seventh and eighth months my hair had thickened considerably around my crown and the top of my head, and my hairline had noticeably advanced. By month ten, I still had a receded hairline, but my hair was much thicker and fuller, and much less receded.
I wrote about the experiment, posting pictures, and linking to Rob’s eBook, which was for sale on a “pay what you want” basis. While my post didn’t quite “blow up the internet,” it did receive considerable attention. Not all of it positive. People accused me of faking or exaggerating my hair regrowth, inventing an imaginary person named Rob, and giving false hope to people who wanted alternatives to minoxidil or hair implants. Some commenters reported trying the massage process and getting great results. Others tried it and got nothing but a sore scalp. I started to wonder if it had been a good idea to write about the experiment in the first place. I thought it was cool that it worked and would be a fun thing to share, but I hadn’t expected any controversy. Especially since I wasn’t selling anything.
Soon after this Rob and I got together and met face-to-face for the first time. We discovered we had several interests in common (writing, making music, health research) and instantly hit it off. I told Rob I was surprised by the controversy my blog post had generated, but thinking about it, I could understand. There are plenty of snake oil scams on the internet, dubious potions to rub on your head. And many young men feel really desperate about hair loss, giving the issue more weight than it deserves (at my age you realize most people care way less about your appearance than you do yourself).
Rob was having some problems of his own. He had promised his eBook customers unlimited email support, and was getting buried, spending hours each day responding to the detailed questions and concerns of people who had purchased the eBook. It didn’t sound sustainable. He was considering just shutting the whole thing down. I recommended that he create a FAQ, stop email support, and give the eBook away as a free download, but he didn’t feel that would be fair to customers who had purchased it.
Rob decided to take the eBook offline while he caught up on email support. This coincided with my initial post and my follow-up FAQ post getting even more views and peaking in popularity. Since I don’t sell advertising on this blog [edit: as of Dec. 2016 I have started to experiment with Google AdSense], this did nothing for me except clog up my inbox with requests (and a few self-righteous demands) that I send people Rob’s now-unavailable eBook. I updated both posts and explained the situation, and temporarily deactivated my Contact page. I had a bit of a crisis about blogging in general. File under no good deed goes unpunished.
After the initial ten-month experiment in late 2014/early 2015, I continued the scalp massage, but only 5-10 minutes a day. Since then I have not seen significant additional hair regrowth, but I’ve kept the hair I regrew, my scalp still feels nice and loose, and I’m pretty happy with my hair right now (except that it’s going a little gray, but I have another experiment planned to potentially address that). Here are pictures I took last week. Sorry about the weird tint — I have the HTC One with the low-light purple tint issue.
For reference, here is my “before” shot taken in late May 2014:
And one from the front taken in the summer of 2013 (with my dad and daughter).
In short, the technique worked for me, not to dramatically and quickly regrow all my lost hair, but to slowly and painstakingly regrow a significant amount of my hair. My current personal opinion is that this technique can work for many people, provided that:
- You do the massage practice consistently, correctly, and for a very long time.
- Your hair loss is actually due to calcification and thickening of the scalp, and not some other issue like nutrient deficiency or autoimmunity.
- You eat a healthful, nutritious, low-glycemic load, anti-inflammation diet.
Does Any Reputable Clinical Research Support This Approach?
In short, not much. Rob initially learned of the scalp massage technique by a paper by Henry Choy from the University of Hong Kong, published in the Journal of Clinical & Experimental Dermatology Research in 2012. The results in the paper, nearly complete hair regrowth for nearly all the participants, are hard to believe, and Choy’s experiment has not been successfully replicated to the best of my knowledge.
Dr. Rei Ogawa has presented some interesting research in regards to what he calls mechanotherapy. According to Ogawa’s research, stretching the scalp turns on genes associated with the hair follicle’s growth phase.
Other research included in the new edition of Rob’s eBook discusses the above research as well as research related to “microwounding” and acute (temporary) inflammation of the scalp.
Rob’s New Edition of His eBook — Should You Buy It?
Rob has recently released a new, much expanded edition of his Perfect Hair Health eBook. I’m not going to give you a sales pitch here. In fact, I want to undersell Rob’s eBook, and this technique in general. Here’s why:
- If you are worried about losing your hair, there are faster, more effective methods. Minoxidil, as long you can tolerate the side effects. Hair transplants. Or, the best option (at least for men), cut your hair short and/or shave it, and wear that look proud. It’s not a bad look.
- If you are impatient, this isn’t the technique for you. Once again, forty minutes of scalp massage a day, and it took five months to see any results.
- The technique doesn’t seem as effective for women. Maybe that’s because female hair loss is less often related to calcification and thickening of the scalp, or more often related to autoimmunity, nutritional problems, and/or stress or physical trauma. I’m not saying it can’t work for women, but the success stories I’ve heard are
allmostly men. Edit: a couple women have written to me saying that had good results, and Choy’s initial study did include women.
- There are still no large-scale, reputable clinical studies to support this approach to hair regrowth. There are definitely hints of evidence, but nothing definitive.
That said, I’ve read the new edition of Rob’s eBook (well, I read some of it and skimmed some of it — it’s 258 pages long), and I’m impressed. It includes all the things that were missing from the first edition, including:
- Numerous before and after pictures of men who have successfully used the technique to regrow hair (including my own — I gave Rob permission to use them, free of charge). Rob includes his own progress pictures as well.
- A very detailed, comprehensive video that includes all three massage techniques (pinching, pressing, and stretching).
- The latest scientific research in regards to diet and hair growth, mechanical stimulation of the scalp, etc.
The 2nd edition of Rob’s “Perfect Hair Health” eBook + video package is available at perfecthairhealth.com for $49. There is also a $69 package that includes video interviews with customers, and a $149 package that includes a personal 30 minute Skype call with Rob. Unless you don’t believe that Rob is a real person and need to verify that he actually exists, I think the $49 basic package will suffice for most. Talking to Rob won’t regrow your hair; ten months of intensive scalp massage might.
I don’t make any money from the eBook — no kickbacks here. I want to see Rob succeed, both because he introduced me to a technique that helped me regrow a lot of my hair, and also because he’s a good, honest, sincere person who has put a tremendous amount of work into this product, and created a real viable alternative to drugs or surgery.
If you want to try the technique but don’t want to buy the eBook (or can’t afford it) you can probably get enough information from my first two posts (and additional discussion in the comments) to DIY. I was able to “muddle through” with only a vague idea of how I should be doing the scalp massage (Rob’s first video was pretty vague; he only demonstrated the techniques on his arm instead of his scalp). Fortunately the new video is much better, and I’ll be incorporating some of the new techniques Rob demonstrated in my ongoing maintenance scalp massage.
This will probably be my last post about hair regrowth unless something really noteworthy happens. If you try the scalp massage technique, good luck! Please feel free to comment, but keep it polite and respectful. I’m happy to answer any questions, but before you ask please review my first hair regrowth post and my follow-up FAQ, including my responses in the comments.