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Getting to the Root of Things continued...

For Tracy, it was a co-worker's casual comment that finally spurred her to take action. Ten years after her hair began to fall out, a male co-worker with thinning hair asked what she did about her hair loss. "Suddenly it felt like someone had ripped my clothes off, and I was standing there in public, naked," she says. "But he did me the biggest favor."

That conversation signaled a turning point for Tracy. The energy she directed toward denying her problem fueled a quest for answers. Tracy's search led to a clinical trial in San Francisco for the then-unreleased drug Rogaine.

When Tracy started using the drug, not only did her hair stop falling out, it started growing back. "While it wasn't a lot, maybe 20%, it meant the world to me," she says. "More important, the drug stopped any further loss."

Treating Female Pattern Baldness

While many products promise to restore lost hair, only two are FDA-approved drugs that have been shown to do so: Rogaine and Propecia. Both interfere with the follicle destruction triggered by DHT. However, these androgen-blocking drugs cannot be used during pregnancy, and for this reason, says Kobren, drug companies are reluctant to market them to women.

A 2% minoxidil solution is approved for use in women by the FDA and is available in drugstores without a prescription. It's a liquid that must be applied to the scalp twice daily. A 5% solution is also available for men but is neither approved for use in women, nor proven to be more effective for them. Therefore, women should likely resist the temptation to buy the stronger formula thinking that more is better.

Keep in mind, too, that if you take the minoxidil route, you'll have to stick with it. "The biggest reason women fail with this treatment is because they stop using it too soon," says Marty Sawaya, MD, PhD, dermatologist and principal investigator of clinical research at Alopecia Research and Associated Technologies in Ocala, Fla. "Women need to adjust their expectations -- they aren't going to look like Lady Godiva in two weeks." Sawaya says women may see some improvement in three months but will need to use the drug for an entire year for full results to show. And to maintain whatever improvement occurs, women need to continue to use minoxidil once a day for life, or the new growth will fall out.

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