Drug May Fight Women's Hair Loss, Too

Due to Birth Defects Risk, Women in Study Taking Propecia Also Took Oral Contraceptives

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on March 20, 2006

March 20, 2006 -- Propecia, a drug used to treat male hair loss, may help fix women's hair loss when taken with birth control pills, a new study shows.

The study included 37 premenopausal women with female-pattern hair loss (thinning hair) who took Propecia and birth control pills for a year. Hair loss improved for most women, mainly with "slight" or "moderate" gains, the researchers write.

The women saw things a bit differently, and the researchers say more work needs to be done before drawing any conclusions.

Up to half of all women experience female-pattern hair loss at some point in their lives, write Matilde lorizzo, MD, and colleagues. The scientists work at Italy's University of Bologna. Their study appears in the Archives of Dermatology.

About the Drugs

Originally used for the treatment of prostate problems, Propecia is now being used for male-pattern hair loss. Propecia works by blocking the formation of the male hormones that can cause hair loss.

Propecia is a prescription pill taken once daily, but it's not approved for use by women due to the risk of birth defects.

The women in Iorizzo's study took the same type of birth control pill, which contains an ingredient that curbs male hormones. That ingredient might also curb the women's hair loss, the researchers write.

None of the women had abnormal hormone levels, the study shows.

Before and After

Iorizzo's team photographed the women's scalps before and after treatment, using a high-tech camera to spot any hair changes.

After checking those photos, the researchers saw "slight" improvements in 12 women, "moderate" improvements in eight women, "great" improvements in three women, no improvement in 13 women, and worsened hair loss in one woman. The researchers used a measurement called the "hair density score" and found that 12 women had a significant increase in their scores.

Then, the researchers showed the photos to the women and gave them a questionnaire for feedback. Most women -- 29 out of 37 -- noted improvements in their condition. The others replied that their hair looked about the same as before.

Improvement in the Eye of the Beholder

No side effects were reported. "This treatment was well accepted by the patients, who judged the results to be even better than did the investigators," the researchers write.

The study didn't include a comparison group of women who unknowingly got a fake drug (placebo). Iorizzo's team says their study is "a basis for future work," but not the final word on the topic.

More work is needed to see if Propecia was responsible for the improvements, if the birth control pills also played a role, and what doses of Propecia work best, note Iorizzo and colleagues.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Iorizzo, M. Archives of Dermatology, March 2006; vol 142: pp 298-302. WebMD Medical Reference: "Understanding Hair Loss -- Treatments." News release, JAMA/Archives.
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