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Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia 2016 February;151(1):93-101


language: English

Doctors and baldness: a five thousand year old challenge

Daniele CAMPO, Valeria D’ACUNZO

Istituto Ortodermico Italiano, Rome, Italy


The history of trichology follows a thread that continually intersects with that of the history of medicine in general. Even Hippocrates believed that the approach to baldness should be of a medical nature. This confrontation between doctors and hair loss, which has lasted for five thousand years, begins with the invocations of the head physicians in the Egyptian era and ends with the recent institution of postgraduate Master’s degrees at Faculties of Medicine and Surgery. The biggest names in medicine concerned themselves with trichology beginning with Hippocrates, who dealt with the topic in his most famous work: the Aphorisms. Even the most celebrated doctors of the Roman era, such as Galen and Pliny the Elder, did not disdain considering hair loss, leaving important scientific contributions before passing on the baton to their distinguished colleagues of the Byzantine Empire. The narrative then flows through the most prestigious institutions of the Middle Ages, such as the Salerno School of Medicine and the Siena Accademia del Fisiocritici where, at the end of the 1600s, the distinguished anatomical describer Marcello Malpighi also taught trichology, and left his contribution to “Hair Science” with a fine description of the hair follicle in the pages of his Opera Posthuma. At the turn of the late Middle Ages and the early modern era, barbers formed the primordial nucleus of surgery and at the same time became the ones to concern themselves with hair loss. In the 1800s, several doctors published the first texts dealing with the anatomy and physiology of the hair and taking into account the principal forms of alopecia, but at the therapeutic level did not yet propose anything scientifically valid. Until a few decades ago trichology still lent itself to various commercial speculations. It was not until the twentieth century that the pathogenetic mechanisms of baldness were clarified in a scientific manner. With this knowledge, the pharmaceutical industry has been able, then, to develop the necessary drugs, and doctors have become willing and able to reappropriate treatments to counteract conditions that lead to hair loss.

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