Hair loss is common in men and women, especially as we age – for example, in androgenetic alopecia (or pattern baldness). 80% of men and 40% of women. In most cases it may be physically insignificant.

However, modern society has an aversion to hair loss. Check out how there has been speculation in the news about whether 10-year-old Prince George and his younger brother Louis will inherit their father’s legacy “Genes for hair loss”.

The market for hair restoration procedures is likely to be profitable 10 billion pounds by 2026. You can even buy baby wigs that are suitable for children up to three years old “more attractive”.

That was not always so. Baldness has been revered in many cultures and periods of history, from ancient Egypt to the inhabitants of Issini (modern-day Ghana) in the 18th century. Shaved and bald heads could symbolize purity, a rejection of superficiality, and could be ritualized through daily shaving.

Fresco painting of a bald Jesus with a halo.
The fresco of a young, bald Jesus in the Cave Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Serbia.
непознати/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Bald heads are also positively associated with divinity. Includes medieval and Christian art stark depictions of Jesus And Madonna. Today there are Buddhist monks, nuns and other political and religious groups shave their heads regularly.

In the West, baldness was also celebrated in the 19th century. But not for religious reasons, but for pseudoscientific reasons that were tied to harmful ideas about intelligence and race. It set a precedent for a Eurocentric bias in hair loss research that continues to this day.

Eugenicists and hair loss

Ten years after Charles Darwin published his famous evolutionary thesis “On the Origin of Species” in 1859, his cousin Francis Galton expanded it to suggest that there were certain groups of people more developed than others. Galton and others used all observable differences in humans, including variations in skin color and hair, as “evidence” for distinct human races, some supposedly superior to others.

Black people in particular were pseudoscientifically classified as having different hair and being evolutionarily inferior to white people. Victorian Eugenicist viewed black people’s hair as animal fur and argued that they were the same “black-skinned, wool-headed animal.”[s] for 2,000 years.”

Related to eugenics was the pseudoscience of phrenology, which attempted to predict traits such as personality and morality based on physical characteristics. These included a person’s head shape, complexion and the amount of hair on their head. Phrenology, which had fallen into complete disrepute, served to maintain it Scientific racismthe idea that race is biological and that some races are superior to others.

Victorian writer Henry Frith wrote in his 1891 book: How to read characters in features, shapes and faces: “The hairless men are the intellectuals: their mental and physical strength are both considerable… Among the bald men, the brain dominates the matter.”

Such ideas were combined with the false belief in the superiority and intelligence of white men compared to other “hairier” races. Frith wrote: “White and comparatively hairless races have[e] domination in the world [over the] strong, wild, hairy breeds.”

American medical students were taught “that slaves, Indians, women and donkeys never become bald because of their small and undeveloped brains.” In 1902 the doctor David Walsh was founded wrote a book on hair diseases in which he stated: “Baldness is practically unknown among savages.”

Amazingly, this eugenic logic remained unchallenged until the end of the 20th century. In 1966 the dermatologist Ian Martin Scott concluded: “In colored races, hair loss is a rarity and is virtually unknown in many semi-civilized communities.”

Illustration of Franz Joseph Gall, the founder of phrenology, measuring the head of a bald, elegantly dressed old lady;  Her poodle is lying on a chair with her wig wrapped around her.
Phrenologists believed that the shape of your skull determined your personality.
Welcome collection

Diversity when it comes to hair loss is important

Today, such false beliefs are fortunately rare in science. However, as in many areas of medical research, the following also applies here: Studies and clinical trials on hair loss focus predominantly on whites and ignore or exclude other racial groups.

Social psychologist Hannah Frith (no relation) and me recently reviewed psychology studies which examined a total of more than 10,000 bald men. We found that almost all research participants were European or Asian, with only 1% coming from South America or Africa.

Meanwhile, dermatologists and other hair loss experts continue to routinely study medical textbooks that only contain pictures of it White scalp and straight hair.

This is a problem because, as recent (and limited) research shows, hair loss is common across all racial and ethnic groups. A 2022 study reviewed data from almost 200,000 British men (aged 38 to 73). The researchers found that 68% of white men reported hair loss, compared to 64% of South Asian men and 59% of black men. (The relatively small differences can be partly explained by the fact that the white men in the study were older).

There are also forms of hair loss that are known to be more common in people of color. For example, Asian women are more likely to have it Alopecia areataan autoimmune disease that causes hair loss.

Black people are more likely to thrive Traction alopecia, a type of hair loss that occurs due to constant pulling on the hair follicles, including through hairstyles that are too tight. This condition highlights the effects of a racist society on hair.

Black people, in particular, may feel compelled to conceal their Afro-textured hair (considered uncivilized) through weaves, braids, and chemical relaxers. All of these practices can be physically harmful, including to hair follicles.

Alopecia resources that are racially inclusive (from Center for Evidence-Based Dermatology) help dermatologists make more realistic recommendations that place people’s hair problems in their social and cultural context.

A better understanding of racism in hair loss research is important. It reminds us that neither the texture, color, nor amount of a person’s hair says anything meaningful about them, evolutionary or otherwise.

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