My hair began to thin when I was 28 years old. Now I am 44 and the top of my head is bald. Recently, I considered using medicine to treat my hair loss and see if any hair would regrow. After reading the literature and talking to my doctor, I decided not to take medicine because it is unlikely to make a huge difference in my hair—and I don't want to take medicine forever!
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With those pinned down, it wasn’t hard to determine which don’t actually work. Pretty much all the “active” ingredients listed in ineffective treatments — from biotin and zinc to emu oil and saw palmetto — have never been proven, and are instead marketed based on logical-seeming correlations. It would make sense that biotin, a B vitamin readily found in hair, skin, and nails, could help hair grow more quickly. And caffeine is a stimulant that works in coffee, so rubbing some on your scalp might wake some of those sleepy follicles… right?
And though this treatment appears to be safe and somewhat effective, it’s hard to tell who will react well to this low-level light therapy, which is why the doctors I spoke with were hesitant to fully endorse it. “We’re not sure what the optimal power is, what the optimal wavelength is, we don’t even really know the mechanism of action of how this is working,” says Rieder. Plus, it doesn’t work on everyone. “There are subpopulations of patients who do respond to low-level laser light, but this is not easily predictable,” explains McMichael, though she adds that the risk of using the LaserComb is low.
Medical conditions and medications. A common medical condition that also causes hair loss is hypothyroidism, which can happen in both men and women. Patients suffer from an underactive thyroid gland, which is responsible for producing the hormone, thyroxin, which performs important bodily functions, such as the regulation of body temperature, proper utilization of carbohydrates and fats, and production of protein. Since protein is an important nutrient for the production of keratin, inadequate protein supply in the body due to an underactive thyroid means that hair growth in the follicles is slow. In men especially, hair loss is one of the first signs of hypothyroidism.
Coconut milk / coconut oil. Coconut milk/oil, like aloe vera, is one of the oldest and most common natural ingredients for promoting hair growth and growing healthy, shiny hair. Coconut is rich in protein, iron and other minerals that promote healthy hair and prevent breakage. Apply the coconut milk/oil on your bald spots or all over the scalp, and leave it on overnight. Rinse the next day with cool water. You can do this every time you wash your hair.
People have between 100,000 and 150,000 hairs on their head. The number of strands normally lost in a day varies but on average is 100. In order to maintain a normal volume, hair must be replaced at the same rate at which it is lost. The first signs of hair thinning that people will often notice are more hairs than usual left in the hairbrush after brushing or in the basin after shampooing. Styling can also reveal areas of thinning, such as a wider parting or a thinning crown.
Initially used to treat high blood pressure, minoxidil was the first medication approved by the FDA to treat male pattern baldness. By applying Rogaine (or a generic version) directly to the scalp twice a day, a man in the early stages of hair loss can often stimulate growth. The American Hair Loss Association points out that results of treatment with minoxidil are limited, but it still endorses using it in combination with other treatments or as an alternative if finasteride doesn't work.
Other causes for hair loss or hair thinning can be stress, illness, poor diet, hormone imbalance or your body going into shock. Certain diseases and intensive medical treatment such as chemotherapy are also likely to result in hair loss, but it is best to consult your GP if you go bald at an alarmingly fast rate, especially if you have no family history of male pattern baldness.
Baldness typically refers to excessive hair loss from your scalp. Hereditary hair loss with age is the most common cause of baldness. Some people prefer to let their hair loss run its course untreated and unhidden. Others may cover it up with hairstyles, makeup, hats or scarves. And still others choose one of the treatments available to prevent further hair loss and to restore growth.
A common skin condition, alopecia areata usually starts as a single quarter-sized circle of perfectly smooth bald skin. These patches usually regrow in three to six months without treatment. Sometimes, white hair temporarily regrows and then becomes dark. The most extensive form is alopecia totalis, in which the entire scalp goes bald. It's important to emphasize that patients who have localized hair loss generally don't go on to lose hair all over the scalp. Alopecia areata can affect hair on other parts of the body, too (for example, the beard or eyebrows).
Hair transplantation is usually carried out under local anaesthetic. A surgeon will move healthy hair from the back and sides of the head to areas of thinning. The procedure can take between four and eight hours, and additional sessions can be carried out to make hair even thicker. Transplanted hair falls out within a few weeks, but regrows permanently within months. Hair transplants, takes tiny plugs of skin, each which contains a few hairs, and implants the plugs into bald sections. The plugs are generally taken from the back or sides of the scalp. Several transplant sessions may be necessary.
Why? Unwanted hair growth (sideburns, for example) is a reported side effect of minoxidil. The belief is that a higher concentration of minoxidil would result in more unwanted hair, which is why women are instructed to use it less often. However, the study in Skin Therapy Letter reports that unwanted hair was more common in 2 percent minoxidil solutions than 5 percent, and women are instructed to use Rogaine’s 2 percent solution twice daily — so what gives?
"There's never been a single study to show they work," Bernstein says of the alternative remedies. "It's conceivable that some might have some minor impact. But the real problem is that people waste valuable time experimenting with them when they'd be much better off spending their money on something proven to work. The window for Propecia passes, and if you've spent two years with this herbal thing instead, that can make a big difference in the results you ultimately get."
As a senior writer for Live Science, Laura Geggel covers general science, including the environment and amazing animals. She has written for The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site covering autism research. Laura grew up in Seattle and studied English literature and psychology at Washington University in St. Louis before completing her graduate degree in science writing at NYU. When not writing, you'll find Laura playing Ultimate Frisbee. Follow Laura on Google+.
"Others are taking hair follicles out of human scalp and growing them with dermal papilla cells," Cotsarelis says. "If they grow in culture, you might be able to recombine them with skin cells and form new follicles. This would let you expand the number of follicles you get for a hair transplant. This may not be that far off -- five to 10 years, maybe. There's very good evidence you will be able to do that."
Telogen effluvium - occurs mainly due to the body’s reaction to stress, brought about by, illnesses such as cancer, mental and emotional disturbances, medications such as blood thinners, hormonal imbalances, stress during childbirth and so on. In this condition hair thinning occurs on the scalp. The hair usually regrows after the stress period is over.
"Despite some of the claims, a shampoo or conditioner won’t be able to stop or slow hair loss, nor help with a receding hairline or thicken hair that’s becoming thinner," says trichologist Anabel Kingsley from The Philip Kingsley Trichology Clinic in London. "At best, a thickening shampoo will make hair temporarily thicker for a short period of time, but they certainly won’t help with hair loss or thinning."
Jimenez, J. J., Wikramanayake, T. C., Bergfeld, W., Hordinsky, M., Hickman, J. G., Hamblin, M. R., & Schachner, L. A. (2014). Efficacy and Safety of a Low-level Laser Device in the Treatment of Male and Female Pattern Hair Loss: A Multicenter, Randomized, Sham Device-controlled, Double-blind Study. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 15(2), 115–127.