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Hair-raising agenda for hirsute forum

The forum is looking at lots of hair-raising issues

(Keystone)

For people prone to bad-hair days help is at hand in the shape of 300 clinical experts who are in Zurich for the European Hair Research Society’s 11th congress.

Switzerland’s inaugural hair-science meeting has attracted delegates to the city’s University Hospital from 30 countries, including the United States, Australia and Indonesia.

The agenda covers topics such as the affect of stress on hair growth, advances in measuring hair density, the link between ageing in hair and the rest of the body, and an intriguing lecture entitled: "A nonsense mutation in the Corneodesmosin Gene in a Mexican family with Hypotrichosis Simplex of the scalp."

It may come as a surprise to many people that so much time and effort is spent on hair research. But our follicles have a vital role to play in our physical, emotional and social make-up, according to Professor Ralph Trüeb of Zurich University Hospital.

"Hair has lost many of its functions compared to the animal world, but it still protects our heads from UV radiation, helps regulate body temperature and is an important sensory organ," said Trüeb, who is president of the congress.

"It also gives off sexual signals and is symbolic of youth and strength. Many women dye their hair blonde because it is seen as a sexually attractive colour, or red to denote a strong will. Many Japanese youngsters dye their naturally black hair perhaps to break away from the conformity of the older generation.

"Men usually colour their hair to hide greying, particularly in China where grey hair is seen as a sign of weakness. Young men may also grow their hair long to demonstrate independence."

Hair loss

Trüeb said that one of people’s main concerns about hair is alopecia, or hair loss.

"Recent studies have shown that 50 per cent of men are concerned by moderate hair loss, which rises to two thirds when the alopecia is severe," he told swissinfo.

"The studies also point to the fact that all women are alarmed by hair loss, even when it is moderate. I think this highlights just how important hair is to us."

Trüeb noted that there were now many hair products on the market, but he warned people not to go overboard for fear of damaging their locks.

"Shampoos and conditioners are generally good, but remember that if you have miserable hair to start with, it will never look as good as the model on the advert even after using the products."

Roots

Trichology, or the scientific study of hair and the scalp, has its first known roots in Egyptian times when hair specialists played an important role at the courts of the Pharoahs.

But the science has come on in leaps and bounds in the past 50 years, and the ability to create new hair using stem-cell technology may be just a few years away.

One of the keynote speeches at the forum, "Hair Throughout the Ages", will be given by Doris Lier of the CG Jung Institute Zurich.

"Hair science in the early days was viewed as a form of magic, for example, red hair used to be associated with witchcraft," said Trüeb.

"But since the discovery of fungi and bacteria it has become a much more exact science and we now know what can go wrong with hair and the scalp and where we can intervene."

But what hair-raising antics do the Swiss get up to? "The Swiss are not people of extremes generally, so they don’t tend to go to extremes with their hair in my experience," said Trüeb.

swissinfo, Matthew Allen in Zurich

In brief

The average scalp has 100,000 hairs, with blondes boasting 120,000 hairs on average and redheads 80,000.

It is normal to lose about 100 hairs per day from the scalp.

Around 90% of scalp hairs are usually growing, while the other 10% are resting.

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Key facts

The European Hair Research Society, founded in 1989, is an independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the research of hair biology and hair disease in Europe.
Its 11th congress runs from July 7-9 in Zurich.

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