In a conversation with Radio Free Asia (RFA), they suggested that the cause could be multifaceted, including infections leading to hair loss and the use of soap and laundry detergent with harsh chemical ingredients.
Dr. Choi Jeong Hoon, a North Korean defector who now serves as a senior researcher at the Public Policy Research Institute at Korea University in Seoul, stated that North Koreans struggle to find mild chemical products. "Ordinary residents cannot afford to worry about hair loss," he told RFA, noting that the cost of treatment is often prohibitive and typically ineffective for the average citizen.
The treatments available are either pharmaceutical or cosmetic, both of which can potentially exacerbate hair loss. The ingredients, often touted as beneficial for hair or skin, lack verified efficacy due to the country's opaque regulatory environment.
Ahn Kyung Soo, who runs DPRKHealth.org, a blog tracking health issues in North Korea, wrote that many treatments resemble "oriental medicines," which are topical tonics based on medicinal herbs with likely minimal effects. These treatments often involve dipping a needle-like hairbrush into a glass bottle and then rubbing it on the scalp to stimulate it.
Another expert suggested that the caps worn by the military could also contribute to hair loss due to poor ventilation, leading to bacterial buildup and clogged pores. In North Korea, all able-bodied men are typically required to serve a decade in the armed forces.
However, the issue of hair loss is not exclusive to North Korea. South Korea has also experienced a sudden and widespread hair loss problem in recent years, to the extent that it influenced last year's presidential election.
Presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung, who is not bald, gained voter support after proposing that the government should fund hair-loss treatments. This proposal resonated with online communities for bald people, as South Korea only covers treatments for baldness caused by certain diseases. Reports indicate that one in every five South Koreans suffers from hair loss.