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Many things can cause women to lose more hair than normal: genetics, illness, stress, and even what you eat. The first step is to work with your doctor to find out what's causing the problem. There may be treatments that can help restore your locks.

Minoxidil: No Prescription Needed

Pros: Minoxidil (Rogaine, Ronoxidil) can stop hairs from getting thinner. It also can help some women regrow hair on the top of their head, says Paradi Mirmirani, MD. She's a dermatologist with the Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, Calif.. “Very good studies show that it’s effective and gets the hair root or follicle to become larger.”

Minoxidil is considered safe for most women, and you can buy it without a prescription. It's the only hair loss treatment for women approved by the FDA. You put it on your scalp two times each day. A 3-month supply is about $50.

Cons: It doesn’t work for everybody. “About half of the people who use it do well and see new hair growth,” says Mirmirani. “Another 40% or so hold steady, not growing new hair but not losing more either. And about 10% find that it doesn’t help at all.”

Regrowth can take a while. It may be 12 weeks or longer before new hair starts growing, says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD. She's a clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, and a dermatologist who specializes in hair loss. She suggests using Minoxidil for 6 months and seeing what happens.

The most common side effect is scalp irritation. Some women may have unwanted hair growth on their forehead or face. The other downside: You have to keep using it or your hair will start thinning again.

Prescription Possibilities

Two drugs aren't approved to treat women's hair loss, but doctors sometimes prescribe them "off label." Finasteride (Propecia, Proscar) is an oral medication approved for hair loss in men, but not for women. That, says Mirmirani, is because it affects the hormone testosterone.

If a woman takes it and gets pregnant, it can cause birth defects in male children. The risk is so high that women of childbearing age aren't even supposed to touch the drug. But some doctors do prescribe it to women when minoxidil doesn’t work or when they are past menopause. 

Spironolactone (Aldactone) is used to treat high blood pressure, and some women take it to stop hair loss. It can cause high levels of potassium to build up in the body, so it's not the first thing a doctor would use for hair loss.

Like Propecia, spironolactone can cause birth defects in male children. Women of childbearing age either shouldn't take it or must use birth control.

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