[Newsmaker] Should Politicians Care About Your Hair Loss?

The city’s speech last week was Democratic Party of Korea presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung’s pledge to have hair loss treatments covered by public health insurance, prompting the both the cheers of supporters and the critics of populism.

What stood out particularly was the enthusiastic response from younger voters, despite hair loss known to be more prevalent among the older generation. In fact, the engagement itself was suggested by the youth committee of Lee’s election team, following a plea from a Lee supporter in his thirties.

Although its feasibility is questioned, the buzz around it indicates that the engagement has touched many young Koreans closely.

More concerned about the hairline

Traditionally, being a young Korean has meant that you had less reason to worry about going bald. According to a study by Stefanie Heilmann-Heimbach, professor at the University of Bonn, baldness in men of European descent usually begins in their 30s, and up to 80% are affected to some extent.

Hair loss in Asian men typically occurs a decade later and affects 50 to 60 percent of the male population.

But data shows a growing number of Koreans are being treated for hair loss, with a noticeable increase in younger age groups.

In 2020, a total of 233,194 people were treated for hair loss in hospitals, 43% of whom were women, according to the National Health Insurance Service. But the age group that received the most treatment was in their 30s at 22.2%. The figure was particularly high among men in their 30s, with 25.5% receiving treatment. Even those 20 and older, who are less likely to experience hair loss, were almost as likely to receive hair loss treatment as those 40 and older, with figures of 22.2% and 22.3 %, respectively.

NHIS Ilsan Hospital dermatologist Cho Nam-jun said it was not likely that there was an actual increase in hair loss in young men.

“More young people are more likely to seek clinical help because they are increasingly concerned about their appearance, rather than a drastic increase in hair loss,” he said.

Those in the industry speculate that the problem of hair loss may be bigger than official figures suggest. The public health system only covers a limited range of disease-related hair loss, and that does not cover home remedies that many young people often opt for.

A woman surnamed Park began using shampoos advertised as having anti-hair loss functions when she had her first child in her mid-30s.

“I started to lose a whole bunch of hair right after giving birth which freaked me out. So I thought I should take good care of (my hair) while I’m still young,” said Park, now 40.

It is still unclear exactly how effective the supposed anti-hair loss shampoos are, but they are widely viewed by the public as a viable option. TS Trillion, a company specializing in hair loss products, saw its shares drop from 791 won to 1,025 won ($ 0.66 – $ 0.86) on Wednesday. Their shares have hovered around 1,300 won since Thursday.

Several companies offering hair loss treatment products saw their shares jump after Lee unveiled his plan to support alopecia treatments if he were elected president.

With hair loss in young people becoming more of a problem, even young celebrities choose to “taling out,” a slang that combines hair loss (talmo in Korean) with the term coming out. Go Eun-ah, a 33-year-old actress, recently revealed on her YouTube channel that she received a hair transplant, as did comic book writer and TV personality Kian84, 37.

In 2016, then 23-year-old Peniel of boy band BtoB gained attention when he revealed he was suffering from stress-induced hair loss.

Another comic book author, Joo Ho-min, talks and jokes openly about how he went bald in his thirties, even earning the somewhat affectionate nickname “Monk Paju”.

The stigma of bald people is still relevant

The new trend marks a break with the past when talking about hair loss was bordering on taboo. Sul Woon-do, one of the most popular singers of the 1980s, kept his baldness so secret that he once said – perhaps jokingly – that even his wife was unaware that ‘he wore a wig until a few years into their marriage. To date, no photo of Sul without her wig has been made public.

But as more and more celebrities speak openly about their hair issues, much of the general public is being ridiculed, if not penalized, for the same issue.

The Youth Committee of the Democratic Party of Korea’s Election Campaign Team held an open discussion on Lee’s engagement last Wednesday, in which seven citizens in their 20s and 30s were invited to talk about the issues. to their premature hair loss.

A man in his 30s named Kim has said he has been losing his hair since he was in college. Kim claimed he spent around 20 million won ($ 16,700) to solve this problem, but eventually gave up due to the financial burden on his parents.

“Even when I was looking for work, I was like, ‘I didn’t get it because I’m bald?’ “, did he declare. The current health care system does not cover natural hair loss.

The representative of the Democratic Party of Korea, Kim Won-i, member of the parliamentary committee on health and welfare, said that hair loss is a type of “social disease”.

“While it doesn’t accompany physical pain, stress and alienation can affect social relationships. It can be expensive when looking for a job or going on dates, ”he said.

Hair loss is a global problem, but studies have indicated that people seem to be more tolerant of baldness in areas where it is more common. A study by data scientist Albert Mannes of the University of Pennsylvania found that men with shaved heads were seen as more dominant, and men whose hair was digitally plucked were seen as “more dominant, taller and stronger. than their authentic self ”.

But being bald at a young age tends to be more costly in a country where a large chunk of the population disagrees with this view.

A study published in the International Journal of Dermatology found that bald men in Korea were perceived to be older and less attractive by more than 90% of those polled. “The perception that bald men are less attractive was significantly more common among women than among non-balding men,” according to the study.

It also showed that the perception of bald men looking less confident was significantly more common among bald men than among non-balding men, indicating that baldness has a serious impact on self-confidence.

But the aforementioned Mannes study also showed that bald men are seen to be on average four years younger than their counterparts with hair.

Also, the idea that being bald can get you fired has some validity in Korea.

In 2018, the National Human Rights Commission urged not to penalize bald job seekers. This was in response to a petition filed by a man who claimed he was fired for being bald and refusing to wear a wig.

The government’s responsibility?

Representative Park Joo-min of the Democratic Party of Korea said adding hair loss treatment to the national health insurance system coverage was worth considering. He said that since hair loss treatment is a 110 billion won market, the additional financial burden on the part of the government would be around 70 billion won.

It is not known, however, how many people would benefit from treatment once the country starts subsidizing. According to a study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, the prevalence of androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness) in Korean men of all ages was found to be 14.1%.

This means that a corresponding proportion of the male population of around 3.5 million could potentially seek treatment once it becomes more affordable. This would increase the total cost of the treatment tenfold.

In addition to the government’s ability to shoulder the increased tax burden, the question arises as to whether it is fair to use state resources for hair problems, which is by no means a disease. deadly.

National health insurance does not cover non-essential medical procedures, such as corrective eye surgery and cosmetic and plastic surgery.

Lee Sang-yi, a professor at Jeju National University and a specialist in preventive medicine, criticized Lee’s commitment as a populist and said that there are other more serious illnesses that should be covered by the public health insurance.

“If the treatment for hair loss is covered by the health system, other procedures for cosmetic reasons should also be considered,” Lee wrote in his Facebook post, calling Lee Jae-myung “irresponsible.” .

By Yoon Min-sik ([email protected])

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