It is difficult to understate the amount of emotional suffering a hair loss sufferer goes through and the lengths they will go to restore their hair1. For example, despite recent concerns about the negative sexual side effects of finasteride (Propecia), up to 30% of men said they’d risk some degree of their sexual function to restore their hair. And more than half have reported they’d empty their retirement accounts to have a full set of hair again2.
Given that over 50 million adult men and women in the United States suffer from noticeable hair loss, and given the emotional distress it causes, it should come as no surprise that what Bloomberg news calls “The Bald Economy”3collects over $2 billion from Americans anxious to restore their hair.
But if after spending over $2 billion each year, if we still have over 50 million Americans losing their hair, does this suggest we’re throwing our money away?
Not in all cases but it certainly does suggests we could be more informed about what to do when we first start to see that we’re losing our hair.
The Top Mistake People Make is Failing Immediately to See a Hair Loss Specialist
It is easy to panic when you first notice significant hair loss. Failing to see a qualified hair specialist right off the bat is potentially a big mistake because you could be in the early stages of progressive permanent loss.
One of reasons people fail to consult with a doctor at the first sign of trouble is that they believe there exist a drug or non-prescription product that can reverse the loss.
Is There Really Nothing I can Take or Apply to My Head to Reverse Hair Loss?
In a word — no. To successfully deal with hair loss, you need to make correct decisions early on; it is critical that you do not waste your money, and — more importantly — your time, on products that will not only fail to reverse your hair loss, they will also be ineffective in slowing and stopping it.
Two Drugs That Can Slow & Possible Stop Progressive Permanent Hair Loss
There are two drugs that can slow and even stop the progression of permanent hair loss. The two most commonly-known, FDA-approved drugs are Propecia (Finasteride) and Rogaine (Minoxidil).
Propecia is a potent agent that can protect hair follicles from DHT, a type of testosterone that kills off hair follicles in men who have the “male pattern baldness” gene.
An early National Institute of Health Study found that Propecia was highly effective in arresting loss in men especially if started at the first signs of the loss.
Minoxidil is also effective for arresting permanent hair loss, though exactly how it does this isn’t known. Additionally minoxidil can, in a few cases (20%), cause new hair growth, but this type of hair is so small (vellus hair) that it is barely noticeable4. Nevertheless, collectively, 1000s of these vellus hairs can contribute to a fuller look.
Few studies have compared the effectiveness of minoxidil and finasteride (Propecia)5 so doctors cannot predict which treatment is better, but studies show that both are most effective for loss on top of the head (the vertex or crown); Both can take up to 6 months to produce results, and results continue only as long as patients continue to take them; Both are most effective when used at the first sign of hair loss – their effectiveness decreases the longer one waits. Finally, because of the potential for birth defects, women should not use Propecia, but minoxidil is effective for both men and women.
A relative new comer on the scene of hair growth drugs is a non-steroidal antiandrogen called Ru58841. One study did find evidence of hair growth – but only on mice6. Results in humans have been mixed. If this were a potent new hair growth stimulate, it probably would have made headline news by now.
In the end, the only known way to replace permanently lost hair is through surgical hair restoration.
Stem Cells Treatments May Hold a Cure but They’re Not Ready Yet
If you’re disappointed that there are no non-surgical remedies for reversing baldness – never fear because science continually marches on. In March of 2012 researchers discovered abnormal amounts of a protein called Prostaglandin D2 in men with androgenetic alopecia7. This protein acts as a potent hair growth suppressor. However, different types of prostaglandins work in opposition, and other types are known to stimulate hair growth.
By showing that Prostaglandin D2 plays a role in balding, and coupled with a recent finding that hair follicles killed off by DHT still had their stem cells intact8, researchers suggest a new treatment based on prostaglandins could stimulate hair follicle stem cells in both men and women. This type of treatment, while holding tremendous promise, is likely many years off into the future.
To sum up, there is today no non-surgical cure for male (or female) pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) and minoxidil and Propecia (and maybe Ru58841) can only slow and maybe stop this type of permanent hair loss under limited conditions and only if used as early as possible. All other hair loss restoration products (e.g., shampoos, lotions, or pills) are a waste of time and money. At best they might help thicken your hair (to help hide the loss), but that’s about it.
If you’re just starting to lose your hair, skip all the hair loss products in your local drugstore or pharmacy and make an appointment to consult with a doctor as soon as possible. The sooner you act, the better, and know that even the most effective FDA approved drugs out there cannot under any circumstances replace lost hair.
© 2012, Anapelli Hair Clinic
1. Coping with Hair Loss in Everyday Life discussion group. Baldtruthtalk.com
2. Hair Loss Statistics. StatisticBrain.com, July 26, 2012.
3. The Bald Economy: The Big Business of Hair Loss. Bloomberg.com
4. Savin RC. Use of topical minoxidil in the treatment of male pattern baldness. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1987;16(3 pt 2):696–704.
5. Dean Thomas Scow, M.D., Robert S. Nolte, D.O., And Allen F. Shaughnessy, Pharm.D. Medical Treatments for Balding in Men. Am Fam Physician. 1999 Apr 15;59(8):2189-2194
6. De Brouwer B, Tételin C, Leroy T, Bonfils A, Van Neste D. A controlled study of the effects of RU58841, a non-steroidal antiandrogen, on human hair production by balding scalp grafts maintained on testosterone-conditioned nude mice. Br J Dermatol. 1997 Nov;137(5):699-702. “The Bald Talk Truth” Forum has a few threads from those who have tried Ru58841 here, here and here.
7. Luis A. Garza et al. Hair Loss Prostaglandin D2 Inhibits Hair Growth and Is Elevated in Bald Scalp of Men with Androgenetic Alopecia. Science Translational Medicine, 2012; Vol. 4, Issue 126, p. 126ra34 DOI.
8. Luis A. Garza, Chao-Chun Yang, Tailun Zhao, Hanz B. Blatt, Michelle Lee, Helen He, David C. Stanton, Lee Carrasco, Jeffrey H. Spiegel, John W. Tobias, George Cotsarelis. Bald scalp in men with androgenetic alopecia retains hair follicle stem cells but lacks CD200-rich and CD34-positive hair follicle progenitor cells. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 2011; DOI
- Mens Rogaine Drug Information, DailyMed.nlm.nih.gov
- Womens Rogaine Drug Information, DailyMed.nlm.nih.gov
- Propecia and Minoxidil can be expensive. PharmacyChecker.com lists prices (as of December 2012) for one 1mg Propecia in the range of $1.46 to $5.43. 2% minoxidil can run over $50. To find the best price for hair loss drugs, both brand name and generic, check out these online drug price comparison sites: PharmacyChecker.com, Consumer Reports Best Buy Drugs, Rxaminer, & GoodRx.