What Are the Treatments for Hair Loss?
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 (minoxidil). Under certain circumstances, this topical (applied to the skin) preparation 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 (finasteride). 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. A stronger drug in this same class is Avodart (dutasteride).
- Spironolactone. This is also a pill taken once daily to block the male hormones in the skin that can cause hair loss. This is sometimes used for female pattern hair loss.
- 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. In addition to follicule unit transplantation (FUT), follicle unit extraction (FUE), which involves transplanting individual follicle units for less scarring, is also available.
- Corticosteroids. Most cases of alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair to fall out in clumps, resolve spontaneously. Some doctors try to speed recovery with topical corticosteroid drops or steroid shots directly into the areas of hair loss on the scalp. The treatment may be somewhat painful and may cause skin thinning in the injected sites. Prednisone, an oral steroid, may be an effective treatment for alopecia areata, but its potential side effects include weight gain, metabolic abnormalities, acne, and menstrual problems. Its positive effects are often only temporary.
- Anthralin. This is a topical medication used to control inflammation at the base of the hair follicles. It is used in conditions such as alopecia areata.
- Diphencyprone. This is a topical sensitizing agent used occasionally to stimulate hair regrowth in alopecia areata.
- Lasers. Office and home based laser comb devices are sometimes successful in stimulating new hair growth.