When he sneaked a beaker of Sodium Hydroxide from a chemistry laboratory in high school because he had read somewhere that it could straighten and bleach hair, John Mburu, an impressionable teenager then, could hardly wait for the outcome.
He went ahead and applied the chemical, expecting to get the best-coloured afro in town. He did get his afro, but in the process, seriously burned his scalp. He would later learn that he got the burns since his hair was not washed with a neutraliser after the application.
Years later, at 44, Mburu, who has worked in the cosmetic industry for close to 19 years, is a trichologist with his own business.
Trichology is a branch of dermatology concerned with the health of the hair and scalp. It helps in the diagnosis of alopecia (hair loss), hair breakage, hair thinning and diseases of the scalp.
“My first career option was to become a lawyer, but I missed studying law by a point, and therefore opted for my second career choice, cosmetology,” he says, recalling how, in 1998 in his final year of secondary school, he reported to school with a huge ‘afro’, which the head teacher ordered him to shave.
Mburu’s parents were appalled when he told them what he wanted to study, and would hear none of it. His father instead enrolled him in a computer college in Nairobi to study Information Technology, but after one month, he dropped out.
“I simply could not connect with computers,” he says.
In 2004, Mburu joined Pivot Point International-Kenya and got a diploma in cosmetology.
“Since 2005 to date, I have taught about hair in different forums and seminars in and out of the country. I started as a hair educator in Nairobi, then worked as a salon manager cum trainer in Tanzania for five years, and worked as a cosmetics educator for a leading cosmetic manufacturer in Kenya which saw me travel across East Africa for five years,” he says.
Mburu now co-owns an advanced hair and beauty college - Perfect Ten Hair and Beauty College - started in 2017 in Thika town, an institution that offers courses in hair, beauty and trichology.
As he went about his work over the years he kept encountering a major concern - hair loss.
“There are many hair dressers, but they have no training in hair science and hair loss restoration, and so cannot advise or treat clients who are grappling with this problem. That was my eye opener,” he explains.
When he first heard of ‘trichology’ he says he instantly knew that this was the answer he was looking for.
In 2014, he enrolled at International Association of Trichologists (IAT) in Sydney, Australia, for a two-year trichology course and graduated in 2016 July with a trichology certificate.
Today he treats hair loss, and views hair education as an art and science.
Art is predominantly trained and practised on the hair shaft, the visible part of the hair from the scalp which is made up of protein dead cells, which when manipulated forms a variety of style possibilities that people pay for in hair salons.
Although artistic, the hair shaft is also influenced by hair science, mainly chemistry.
“A good hairdresser understands hair chemistry. When the hair shaft has a problem, hair breakage occurs. Science in essence deals with the hair root, in this case, biology opens up the total understanding of the part of the hair below the scalp, where the hair grows and where alopecia happens,” he explains, adding that the hair root forms a link between the body and the hair.
“Hundreds of genetic conditions have hair abnormalities as a component feature, and so the evaluation of hair growth is an easy, first-level diagnostic tool.” It's good to note that if the follicular openings are breached, they also form a link from the scalp surface to the hair root,” says Mburu.
Most people with alopecia suffer from this link .He says that identifying hair abnormalities can also be a useful aid in the diagnosis of suspected defects and diseases in their early stages, before more severe symptoms of progressive multi-organ involvement develop.
“As hair is continuously shed and allows for non-invasive collection, it can also be an important component of evidence in forensic medicine. Finally, drugs, chemicals, and biological substances accumulate and are stored in hair fiber where they can be detected and measured,” he says.
For hair loss to occur, the hair root must be affected. This is the science that is not taught in many colleges. That is the link Perfect Ten College is delivering.
Trichologists are hair and scalp specialists that work with hair loss patients to restore their hair using hair replacements or hair transplants.
When not in class, Mburu is a natural hair loss treatment specialist in a Thika town based clinic where he treats different types of hair loses and scalp conditions.
“The cost for professional hair loss treatment depends on whether it is being done using clinical treatments or natural treatments. Natural treatments are way more affordable, comfortable and more effective.
In clinical hair loss interventions, PRP (platelet-Rich Plasma) is used on hair that needs rejuvenation and costs between Sh8,000 to Sh20,000 per session, depending on the specific clinical facility - PRP is rich in growth factors, so when injected into scalp, the hair root gets fully nourished, boosting hair growth.
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Scientific tests such as scalp biopsies range from Sh10, 000 to Sh30, 000. The price changes according to a particular patient’s treatment plan.
“Before transplant, the trichologist examines the donor’s site where hair is harvested, specifically at the back of the head, as it has the most resistant hairs to most bodily influences such as hormones,” he says, and adds,
“The hair is plucked one by one, using the Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) method. Where there is a group of live strands of hair, we pluck one then transfer it to the bald area and plug it in,” he explains.
Mburu says that the transplant is done once, but the first few days of management of the new hair is key until the hair ‘locks’ in the tissues.
After that the hair will shed, then new shoots will emerge on the third month.
“We focus on treating the affected part of the scalp or hair root with herbal extracts that we formulate. Most scalp conditions are accompanied by factors such as dandruff, pain, itchiness, sensitivity, tenderness, wounds and infections.”
These becomes the specific target of natural treatment, which involves healing the specific scalp condition.