Although remedies promising to restore hair to balding heads have been around since ancient times, most men and women with thinning hair can do little to reverse the process. For cosmetic purposes, or after hair loss from surgical or drug treatments, many people turn to wigs, hairpieces, and hair weaving. Some people get tattoos to simulate lost eyebrows and eyelashes. Certain drugs may slow hair loss, and alternative treatments may bolster the health of remaining hair, but no treatment is likely to replace a full head of hair.
Some people may benefit from the following hair loss treatments:
Rogaine. Under certain circumstances, a topical (applied to the skin) preparation containing the drug minoxidil appears to provide modest regrowth of hair on areas of the scalp that have gone bald. Rogaine works on hair follicles to reverse their shrinking process to stimulate new hair growth. The effects are most promising in younger people who are just beginning to show signs of balding or who have small bald patches. The medication is a solution that is applied to balding spots twice a day and must be continued indefinitely; hair loss will recur if the application is stopped. More than 50% of users claim that it can thicken hair and slow hair loss, but it is not considered effective in men who already have extensive male pattern baldness. Side effects appear to be minimal, but in some users the medication may cause skin irritation. The drug is approved for use in men and women. It's available over-the-counter at a pharmacy or drug store.
Propecia. Originally used in higher doses for the treatment of prostate problems, Propecia is now being used for male pattern baldness. Propecia works by blocking the formation of the male hormones in the skin that can cause hair loss. Propecia is available by prescription and is taken once a day in pill form. As with most drugs, there are side effects. Be sure to talk to your doctor about Propecia to see if it is right for you. Propecia cannot be used by women of childbearing potential because the drug can cause birth defects. Also, it may not be effective in older women.
Hair transplantation. Hair transplantation involves the relocation of plugs of skin from parts of the scalp containing active hair follicles to bald areas. A person may need several hundred plugs -- implanted 10 to 60 per session. The transplanted hair may drop out, but new hair usually begins to grow from the transplanted follicles within several months. Newer hair transplantation procedures called follicular unit hair transplants can transplant one to four hair follicles very close together, for a more natural look.
Skin lifts and grafts. A "flap" of hair-bearing skin is created by making surgical cuts near the balding area. The flap is then rotated onto the balding section.
Scalp reduction. A form of cosmetic surgery, scalp reduction involves tightening the scalp so that hair-bearing skin from the back and sides of the head is pulled toward the crown. Hair may then be transplanted to the remaining bald area at the top of the head. This procedure is rarely done any more.