Kim Jong Un’s North Korea has suffered a strange uptick in the number of people suffering from thinning hair or outright going bald, South Korean experts have reported.
The experts spoke with Radio Free Asia (RFA), discussing how the phenomenon appears to derive from a number of sources, including infections that caused hair loss as an after-effect and the use of soap and laundry detergent that contain “harsh” chemical ingredients.
Choi Jeong Hoon, a doctor from North Korea who fled south and now serves as a senior researcher at the Public Policy Research Institute at Korea University in Seoul, explained that it is “not easy” for North Koreans to find “mild” chemical products.
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“Ordinary residents cannot afford to worry about hair loss,” he explained to RFA, adding that the cost of treatment for the average citizen is too much to afford – and it often does not prove very effective.
Treatments fall in line with either pharmaceutical and cosmetic treatments, both of which can additionally help accelerate hair loss. The ingredients, often believed to have beneficial effects on hair or skin, in reality have no verification of efficacy due to the murky state of regulation in the country.
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Ahn Kyung Soo, head of DPRKHealth.org – a blog following health issues in the Hermit Kingdom – wrote that many treatments are more akin to “oriental medicines,” which are topical tonics based on medicinal herbs likely to have minimal effects. Such treatments include dipping a needle-like hairbrush into a glass bottle and then rubbing it on the scalp to stimulate it.
Another expert argued that the military’s caps may also damage hair due to lack of proper ventilation, which leads to bacterial buildup and clogged pores that can result in thinning hair. All able-bodied men are typically required to serve 10 years in the armed forces.
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Hair loss is not solely a North Korean issue: South Korea has also seen in recent years sudden and widespread hair loss proving such a problem that it helped play a role in last year’s presidential election.
Candidate Lee Jae-myung, who is not bald, gained support from voters after proposing that the government should pay for hair-loss treatments.
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Online communities for bald people exploded with support for Lee as South Korea only covered treatments for baldness caused by certain diseases. Reports say one in every five South Koreans suffers from hair loss.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.