Calling a nightclub ahead of arriving to seek permission to wear a hat was once a normal part of Ryan Gaw’s weekend routine.
The ritual, which Ryan now views as extreme, was just part and parcel of having to cover up the hair loss that started in his late teens.
Like many young men who’ve experienced early onset of androgenetic alopecia, wearing a hat became a major social crutch for Ryan.
Without this hat he felt unattractive and vulnerable. He was also an easy target for insensitive quips about his hair loss.
Nowadays, Ryan who regained his hair through a transplant, says the time in which he invested so much energy in concealing his thinning hair seems a million life times ago.
But it was less than two years ago that he sought medical help for his condition with renowned hair restoration physician Dr Jennifer Martinick.
In June 2008 he had a 2,000 graft hair transplant and nowadays any signs of his former hair loss are almost impossible to detect to the untrained eye.
“It took me a good ten months to stop thinking about the need to keep a hat on,” Ryan says.
“I no longer use a hat unless I need it for protection from the sun.”
Ryan is now drawing on his personal experiences in his work as a consultant to New Hair Clinic in Sydney.
He says his experience has made him acutely aware of how young men, who are affected by hair loss, often hold themselves back in life.
He recalls how he felt alienated from his peers and how he reinforced his own isolation by refusing to return phone calls or rejecting social invitations.
“Hair loss actually affects the way you live your life,” says Ryan.
“A lot of people don’t realise that.
“The thought of going to a social event without my hat once terrified me.
“If I was going to a night club ahead of time, I’d call ahead and tell the manager that I was having treatment for cancer or had a scar and needed to keep my hat on.
“They don’t like you to wear a hat because of security reasons.
“So I would make up all kinds of excuses to try to ensure I could keep my hat on.
“I am quite embarrassed about the sorts of things I did, but that’s what I had to do in order to ensure that I could keep my hat on.”
Ryan says he inevitably encountered social and work situations where he wasn’t able to wear a hat.
He says an office job for an electrical wholesaler in Perth saw him enduring many months of ridicule by a former boss who only ever addressed him as “Friar Tuck”.
Desperately depressed, he quit his job, sold his home in Perth’s northern suburbs and moved to Sydney to start afresh.
Part of that fresh start involved seeking a permanent solution for his hair loss, so he sought an appointment with a hair loss clinic advertised on television.
“I decided that I wanted to get a transplant because I wanted to restore my hair once and for all,” Ryan says.
But a “serendipitous” wrong turn in a Bondi street led to a consultation with Dr Jennifer Martinick.
Ryan says along with the relief of discovering the level of treatment available he was comforted to learn he was not alone in his feelings of depression and devastation about hair loss.
The psychological effects of hair loss, particularly among young men, are greatly underestimated says Dr Martinick.
Dr Martinick, who is secretary of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) says feelings of isolation, depression and poor self esteem are common among men with androgenetic alopecia.
“I’ve come across situations where some young men are so deeply depressed about their hair loss that they stop socialising and undertaking any activities that will put them in the spotlight,” Dr Martinick says.
“This limits their quality of life and often prevents them from achieving their potential in their personal and professional lives.”
Dr Jennifer Martinick says many young men tell her they have chosen occupations that allow them to fade into the background.
She says it is heart warming to witness the changes that some patients make in their lives after their hair starts to grow again.
“I’ve had patients who tell me they’ve deliberately taken jobs as labourers or fishermen to ensure they can keep their hat on,” Dr Martinick says.
“It’s amazing to see the life changes made after they regain their hair.
‘I’ve seen them go back to study, find life-long partners or start up successful new business ventures.”
Dr Martinick says that as a general rule she doesn’t perform hair transplants on men under 26, however she believes there are circumstances, where a more flexible approach is needed.
She says her professional concerns are that young men can be unrealistic about what can be achieved from a hair transplant and expect to regain the hair line they had when they were 18.
In many cases, these young men do not comprehend they only have a limited number of follicles for transplanting to achieve the results they desire.
“But if I am presented with a mature 21 year-old with a realistic perception of what hair transplanting can achieve – and his hair loss is interfering with his quality of life – then I’ll consider undertaking a transplant,” Dr Jennifer Martinick says.
“I have a much more open mind about transplanting young men than I had a couple of years ago as I understand they are only young once.”
Dr Martinick says a common problem among young men is they often don’t notice the early stages of hair loss.
She advises young men with androgenetic alopecia to seek treatment as early as possible to prevent further hair loss and, in the event that they may eventually choose to have a hair transplant, ensure they preserve precious donor follicles.