Here's a hairy tale with a twist
By Jimmy Thornton
Tribune Consumer Writer
People who claim they can grow hair on bare scalps are usually telling baldfaced lies. The customers who buy the pitch - and the product - usually report it doesn't grow hair.
But here's a hairy tale with a difference, a real difference.
Bob Murphy of Sparks, Nev., near Reno, sells a product that doesn't grow hair, according to Murphy - but the people who use it say it does.
Now what does that make Murphy? Is he a shampoo-hair conditioner salesman, as he claims to be, or is he in violation of both state and federal laws, which, in short, say you can't grow hair on baldies and anyone who claims he can hasn't got both oars in the water?
Murphy, a happy-sounding fellow who will tell his tale at the drop of a microphone, peddles a scalp treatment called New Generation.
While he's happy to point out that people tell him it makes their hair stop falling out and, in many instances, bald spots start shrinking amid upshoots of new hair, Murphy said ha makes no claim his shampoo and conditioner will grow hair.
Murphy said he stumbled on the key ingredient for New Generation quite by accident. He said he was a Miami hotel manager, operating while maintaining a base in Sacramento. One Christmas while he visited Sacramento, a friend asked him to tape an interview of a scientist who was to appear on the "Merv Griffin Show."
While Murphy taped the show, scratching his balding head, he heard the scientist talk about a cleanser used in Europe on the heads of cancer patients. He told Griffin that they had noticed the patients in many cases started growing hair where the cleanser was applied.
"I got as excited as hell," Murphy said by phone from Sparks. "I needed something like that!"
He quickly forgot about Miami tourists and enlisted the help of a pharmacist friend. They searched through research compiled by the University of Helsinki, Finland, having to pour over volumes of technical data.
Finally, Murphy said, they got to the root of the cleanser, a simple, safe to use emulsifier found in things like mayonnaise and salad dressing.
Murphy likes to explain why his product just might resore hair growth and stop hair from falling our, although he said he doesn't say it will - and that's official.
He compares a bald head to a flower pot. The head has "holes in it" called follicles, pores or sacs from which hair grows, if it does. Well, he said a combination of cholesterol, sebum (an oily gland secretion) and testosterone (the male sex hormone) clog the follicles the way cement would clog a flower pot.
"Clean out the cement and the water can get through and the flower will grow,: Murphy said.
Dr. Kate Karo, chief resident deratologist at University Hospital, said she was not familiar with New Generation and its contents. However, she said Murphy's comparison of a scalp to a clogged plant pot is an over-simplification.
She said castration is the only cure for male pattern baldness, which is inherited. Male hormones tell the scalp when to stop growing hair.
"Eunuchs never go bald or have acne," she said.
Just about everyone will tell you that you can't grow hair on a bald head, and the Food and Drug Administration was so advised by a research panel of seven scientists, including two dermatologists.
In a rather pithy report, the panel concluded "hair-growing products sold over the counter don't work...Hair grows in cycles. Once growth is reversed, it leaves thoughts of a full head of hair as nothing but a memory."
Murphy said that's basically what a doctor testified during a postal hearing.
Murphy said that when he saw results on his own head, he felt he had something that would sell.
So he went to a Berkely laboratory, whose chief - a doctor - told him to forget it, nothing could grow hair.
Murphy showed his results - thicker hair - to the skeptic. He said the doctor then advised him that the only way Murphy could succeed was to test the product on people with unquestioned reputations - doctors, lawyers, laymen and politicians. Then hecould ask for testimonials based on their experience.
So he did.
The Tribune has interviewed several of the volunteers, all of whom said thay have no financial interest in the product. Also, each said he received the product free for the purposes of the test.
Murphy said at that point, two years ago, he felt it best no to be selling the product.
Tony Russell, presently chief of staff for Sen. ohn Doolittle, R-Sacramento, said he became a test subject in a round-about way. Two years ago he was a news broadcaster for KGNR in the state capital and he had a talk show.
He heard of New Generation and how it was being called a "hair grower."
"Well you can't grow hair, and anyone who does infer you can grow hair and that this New Generation grows hair is out of their gourd and a charlatan," Russell said.
"As a newsman I wanted to knock him down because I felt he was a charlatan - one of those people who want to take the little guy.
"I invited him on the program and said,'I'll try your stuff and do it diligently like you say, which is using it eight to 12 weeks.'
"I warned him,'If you're wrong, you'll wish you were home under the covers!"
Russell took the product hom eand used it as instructed. About eight weeks later, when he had almost given up, he said he scratched his scalp with his fingers.
"Damn it, it felt like dirt on my head," he said. "I said to my wife,'What is it, it feels like sawdust up there. God, I'm going to have to take a shower.'
"Then I thought,'You nitwit, I'll bet that's hair!"
His wife confirmed it.
Russell said that before using the product he was bald on the right side of his head, he had no "widow's peak" and the back of his head was open scalp. He said by phone that he now has hair in the back and on the side as well as a widow's peak.
He said he was among those who volunteered to testify for Murphy in San Francisco.
Besides the new growth, Russell said his hair no longer falls out in the shower.
In San Diego, Ken Schwarz was working as an operations manager for KCOX cable television when television personality Fred Lewis looked at his bald head, shook his own head and asked Schwarz to try New Generation.
Lewis said he himself became a believer when he challenged Murphy to appear on his show (which was recently rebroadcast on Channel 6). Most of the people who called in, who were New Generation customers, said they had had good results, he said. Also, anyone who said otherwise got their money back.
Schwarz said he never thought nuch about his baldness but agreed to try the stuff. As a result, he said he has noticed his hair has grown toward the top of his head, about an inch on each side.
"It's nothing dramatic," he said, "It's very gradual."
Dr. Herbert Tarson, an educator in the human behavior area and a senior vice president of National University, San Diego, said he started using the mixture last year at the age of 70.
Both he and his wife said they have noticed new growth and less fallout.
"I've been very happy with it. IT's not a rapid thing, it's very gradual, but we've noticed a difference since I've been using it."
Then he added, "Please don't construe this as a commercial endorsement of the product. I couldn't give you a ny medical or scientific explanation, but it is working in my particular case."
Dr. E.L. Smith, a Sacramento dentist, said that in the late 1960s he had attempted to have hair transplanted onto his scalp but it kept falling out.
He said he began using New Generation in July of 1980 and he's had some growth of hair.
Murphy said that if anyone using it fails to see better-looking hair after three months, he will refund their money.
Fred Lewis said he has fairly thick hair but it was thinning out in the front and a bit around the crown. Now , he said, "people may scoff, but I have noticed thicker and healthier hair since I have used the formula."