A strange illness is afflicting residents of North Korea. The condition is causing people’s hair to thin or fall out altogether, and experts are unclear about its source. South Korean scientists spoke to Radio Free Asia (RFA) and said the source of the phenomenon could be soap or laundry detergent containing harsh chemicals.
Dr. Choi Jeong Hoon, who fled North Korea and now works in research at the Public Policy Research Institute at Korea University in Seoul, said it is difficult for people in North Korea to find quality products, and they “cannot afford to worry about hair loss.” He added that medical treatment is financially out of reach for most of the country’s residents.
Cosmetic products in North Korea rarely come with accurate ingredient details, and production is mired in irregularity. Ahn Kyung Soo, who runs a blog on health issues in the communist state, said many skin or hair products are similar to “oriental medicines,” which are unlikely to be fit for purpose.
Another expert suggested that the phenomenon could be caused by the military headwear worn in North Korea, which does not allow for ventilation and could cause a bacterial buildup capable of blocking pores and causing hair to fall out. In North Korea, all able-bodied men must serve a 10-year term in the country’s armed forces.
Hair loss also affects South Korea, and around 20% of its citizens suffer from baldness to some extent. A candidate in an election last year won public support by campaigning for the government to pay to treat hair loss conditions.
In the North, like all other aspects of life, matters involving hair are tightly controlled by the state. All haircuts need to be approved, and King Jong Un’s government has issued a list of 28 haircuts citizens may have. Men can pick from 10 different styles, but all are similar. Women have 18 approved styles, but no citizen is permitted the same haircut as the nation’s leader.