Study Weighs In on Hair Growth Remedy
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 19, 1999 (Atlanta) -- It's always been the big question behind hair
loss remedies -- prescription and otherwise -- do they really work?
In the past, that assessment was made by the rather painstaking process of
counting hairs. But a new study finds there may be a more reliable way to check
for regrowth: weighing the hair. And doing that, researchers have found one
hair loss product that has a significant and possibly long-term effect on hair
loss -- minoxidil.
The study, which appears in the latest issue of The Journal of the
American Academy of Dermatology, was supported by a grant from Pharmacia
& Upjohn, makers of the Rogaine brand of minoxidil.
Three groups of men aged 18-40 were assigned to use a minoxidil 2% solution,
a 5% solution, or a placebo. A fourth group used no treatment whatsoever.
Beginning at week six and continuing every six weeks thereafter, the
researchers used a piece of plastic with a hole in the center, laid over the
thinning spot, to sort out new growth. The growth was then carefully cut and
weighed. This continued for another 90 weeks, at which point all the men
stopped using the treatments.
The results prove two things about minoxidil: It regrows hair, and the 5%
solution works better than the 2%. In fact, the researchers found a 35% gain in
hair, by weight, in the 5% treatment group, and a 25% gain in the 2% group.
The bad news is, as soon as the minoxidil treatments were stopped hair loss
accelerated -- and within six months the treated men were about on par with
those using a placebo or nothing at all.
And more bad news: The effect of minoxidil apparently dulls over time. The
researchers found a slight but steady drop-off in hair weight as the minoxidil
treatments continued past a year -- though they still remained well above what
was achieved with placebo or no treatment at all.
Still, one clinician says the study brings up a key point often obscured by
hair-loss remedy advertising: the importance of volume over number of hairs.
"The most important part of this study is that it finally addresses that
hair weight is more important than hair content," says Gary Hitzig, MD, the
author of Help and Hope for Hair Loss. "The best way of comparing it
is like having 130 twigs or 100 trees. They're all trees -- but which is going
to give you more volume in the forest?"
"The bottom line with minoxidil is, it does work -- but it only works in
the minority of people, and it probably doesn't work forever," says
Jean-Claude Bystryn, MD, professor of dermatology at New York University's
School of Medicine. "It does help. Are you going to get a permanent effect
-- are you gonna keep the hair forever -- probably not. But if you're 20%
better than you would have been, are you better off? For some guys,