Ireland should care about hair.

Louise Hickey

South Korean politician, Lee Jae-Myung proposed at the beginning of the month for public health insurance to include hair loss treatments. This caused a huge divide in the public.

Opponents say this is populism, but whether it is or not, he raises a valid point. The National Health Insurance service in South Korea provided yearly figures for those who must attend hospital for hair loss. The total amounted to €230,000.

In Ireland, just 2% of the population experiences alopecia. It is easy for these people to feel alone. Speaking to one student who experienced hair loss for years and has received treatment, they said they felt very alone at the time “I would love to see more people speak or write about their experience because I couldn’t find anyone to discuss my fears with and it delayed my decision on getting the operation”.

Jae-Myung’s meeting with people suffering from hair loss highlighted the mental health aspect of the situation. He said that hair loss coverage was necessary for “body completeness”. One woman who attended told her story of having to give up treatments as it would amount to 4 million won (€2,956).

Hair loss is embarrassing for a lot of people and there should be more thought put into prices. It is not possible to completely pay for procedures, as this would be taking money away from other national, emergency sectors. It’s not a quick fix, but the stress caused by hair loss is a medical concern.

Treatments in Ireland include medication like finasteride and minoxidil, along with implantation of hair or Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). A reduction in the price of supplements or free initial trichologist appointments should be a must. FUE can cost anything from €8,000 to €20,000. Reductions in prices and grants are needed in this area.

Deborah Whelan, a Galway-based trichologist tells the College View that causes of hair loss can be down to hormones, stress, postpartum effects, lack of sleep, nutrition, or poor treatment of hair (applying too much heat). She said, “The thing to remember is that for most people it is treatable”.

Hair loss treatments are not included in public health insurance, as they are deemed cosmetic rather than a necessity. Lorraine Lambert, manager at Ailesbury hair clinic, based in Dublin and Cork agrees. “The reality is that is an individual is looking to change their appearance in an aesthetic way, they should pay for it themselves.” Said Lorraine. She added that “it is not a health issue”.

With so many people afraid to speak up about the stress caused by hair loss it is a difficult battle to win, but there is hope. In recent weeks hair has become a subject of discussion internationally and more people have begun sharing their stories.

There was a move in this direction towards the end of last year, when Heather Humphreys announced an annual grant of up to €500 towards wigs for those suffering from hair loss, due to illness. The grant will come into play in May of this year. Hopefully, this is the beginning of helping the minority, who feel alone in suffering.

An alopecia support group has also been set up to bring people within that community more connected. The group and more information can be found here