Men and women have battled hair loss for millennia. Today’s sensational methods – from prescription lotions to spray-on fake hair – are mere cover-ups and do nothing to regrow hair.
Is there any truly effective way to stop hair loss and regain your glorious locks?
Causes of Hair Loss
By age 50, hair loss affects over half of all men and a quarter of all women. Most of them have what’s known as androgenic alopecia. In men, this hereditary condition (also know as male pattern baldness) causes hair to recede from the forehead back to the crown. In women, it causes the hair to thin all over the head. At the root of the problem, literally, are the male hormones testosterone and dihydrotestosterone. Present in both men and women, these androgens cause hair growth to “switch off.”
The second leading cause of hair loss is alopecia areata. This poorly understood autoimmune disorder inflames hair follicles and causes bald patches on the scalp – and sometimes on other parts of the body as well.
Hair loss can also be caused by thyroid troubles, pregnancy and other medical conditions that upset the balance of hormones in the body.
Some cases of hair loss are caused by “cornrows” and other hairstyles that pull the hair too tight. Such hairstyles cut off blood flow to the follicles, causing the hairline to recede.
Some diuretics, antidepressants and cancer chemotherapy agents can cause temporary hair loss. Sometimes even discontinuing birth-control pills causes sudden shedding of hair.
Best Treatments for Hair Loss
Depending on what’s causing your hair loss, the best treatment for you could be as simple as changing a prescription or hairstyle – or getting treatment for an underlying medical condition. If the culprit is alopecia areata, injections of the anti-inflammatory drug cortisone often help.
A dermatologist simply injects tiny amounts of cortisone in a grid pattern on the scalp, blocking the immune reaction underlying the hair loss and allowing hair to regrow. If you’re afraid of shots, cortisone lotion – 100 to 1,000 times more concentrated than what’s sold over the counter – may work.
There is no cure for androgenic alopecia. Most of the time, however, aggressive treatment can keep the problem from getting worse. The hair loss drug minoxidil (Rogaine), which boosts blood flow to the follicles, is not a miracle cure. Minoxidil lotion often works at first, but it soon loses its effectiveness, because poor blood flow to the follicles is only one piece of the puzzle.
The real problem is the presence of androgens. For that, you need an androgen-blocking drug like finasteride (Propecia), a medication originally developed to treat prostate enlargement. Hair loss can also be stopped on a long-term basis by mixing minoxidil with finasteride and thyroid hormone or another drug that stimulates hair metabolism. The patient would simply need to rub this 3-drug combination into his/her scalp daily.
If a dermatologist has advised you to use minoxidil alone, ask about using it with these other drugs. Finasteride should not be used by men who are trying to father a child, or by women who are pregnant or trying to conceive.
If hair loss is caught early enough, the 3-drug combination may regrow enough hair that the problem is less noticeable. This is especially true for women; since their androgen levels are just 10% those of men, it’s easier for finasteride to do its job.
When it comes to men who have been balding for more than 10 years, topical therapy is rarely enough. Oral finasteride is probably their best option, though it doesn’t work in all cases. When it does work, 100% regrowth is not promised.
Another option is a hair transplant, in which healthy hairs (micrografts) are harvested from the back of the head and transplanted to the bare areas up top or in front. It only requires a few 2 to 4-hour procedures, which cost between $1,000 and $6,000 per procedure.