NEWSWEEK, March 28, 1988
We can grow hair. That's the startling news hair "restoration" firms trumpet regularly in newspaper and magazine advertisements. The claim prompts hoots of derision from many who doubt its veracity but also triggers a shiver of excitement in men. Scientific interest in hair is rising , due mainly to the discovery that the hypertension drug minoxidil can stimulate hair growth on some people. Upjohn Co. wants to sell minoxidil as a treatment for but studies suggesting that it has potential side effects may prevent that from happening.
Amid the flurry of sophisticated and sophisticated approaches to hair growth comes an old fashioned Chinese herbal liniment that many Asians believe is a miracle cure for baldness. According to individual claims, the lotion can grow practically a whole new head of hair in six months (imagine the fun Western advertising copywriters could have with that benefit!) Thousands of Asian men reportedly have used the product and 90 percent are said to have found it effective-so mush so, in fact, that many call it a "magic liquid" for hair.
There are reasons to doubt the benefits of the product, which is called 101 Hair Regeneration Liniment. Chief among them is that scientists apparently have never scrutinized its contents or effects. But there is no questioning its popularity with the 3 million bald men in Japan. Indeed, demand for 101 is so intense in that country that travel agencies are organizing trips to Beijing so men can purchase the product. The first group left Japan two weeks ago. 101 was developed by Zhao Zhangguang, a former Chinese farmer and traditional "barefoot doctor" from Zhejiang Province.
According to a report in The New York Times, Zhao begin experimenting with various traditional medicines in the early 1970s. Mixing traditional oils and herbs, he developed scores of potions over several years. None worked. Finally, he gave a new formula- containing ginseng, root of milk vetch, walnut meat and safflower, among other ingredients - to a patient with a skin rash. The patient complained that his rash wasn't cured but he was sensing success, Zhao established a small production factory in Beijing last February and began selling 101. Since then he has made a profit of $100,000, and last year the product took top prize at the Brussels Eureka World Fair for invention.
Though Tokyo has not authorized the importation of 101, Japanese men are buying it from a Hong Kong dealer for $93 a bottle. Supply is scarce, however, a spokesman for a company that acts as a liaison with the Hong Kong dealer says:" We receive more than 200 phone calls a day Some of the callers are desperate and begin sobbing on the phone." Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo is trying 101 and reporting the results in a weekly magazine. Massahi Sada, a popular Japanese singer, said recently on the radio that the product worked wonders on his head. In China, where 101 is also in short supply, customers pay $12 a bottle regularly and $115 on the black market.
Some who use the liniment say it smells like Chinese wine; others say merely that it stinks. But everyone, it seems, thinks 101 works. Businesses from 16 countries have signed sales and licensing contracts with Zhao. The inventor says he wants to build an international center by 1990, adding :"I want to introduce 101 to every corner of the world".
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