Early stages of hair loss can be slowed or reversed with medication.
FDA-approved drugs includeminoxidil and finasteride.
Finasteride is an oral medication taken for hair loss, and it works by reducing the level of DHT produced by the 5-alpha reductase type 2 enzyme by 85-90%, thereby reducing total serum DHT by 65-70% and protecting the hair follicles from further DHT damage. Dutasteride, a similar drug, is used off-label as a hair loss treatment. Dutasteride lowers DHT levels more potently than finasteride by inhibiting the production of DHT by the 5-alpha reductase type 1 in addition to type 2 enzyme, and is, therefore, in theory, more effective.
However, it is not FDA-approved as a hair loss treatment, and its long-term side effects (including possible neurological damage) are unknown. Minoxidil is a growth stimulant that stimulates already-damaged hair follicles to artificially produce normal hair. Minoxidil does not, however, provide any protection to the follicles from further DHT damage, and when a follicle eventually becomes completely destroyed by DHT, minoxidil will no longer be able to have any more regrowth effects on that follicle. Topical formulations of finasteride have been argued to be of similar efficacy to systemic, though prostate weight and serum PSA levels were not measured to exclude systemic absorption of topical application as the cause of hair growth.
Other treatment options not already mentioned include tretinoin combined with minoxidil, ketoconazole shampoo, and spironolactone. More advanced cases may be resistant or unresponsive to medical therapy, and require hair transplantation. Naturally occurring units of one to four hairs, called follicular units, are excised and moved to areas of hair restoration. These follicular units are surgically implanted in the scalp in close proximity and in large numbers.
Thinning Hair: Can Medications Help?
Many things can cause women to lose more hair than normal: genetics, illness, stress, medical conditions or hormonal imbalance, aging, and even what you eat. The first step is to work with your doctor to find out what's causing the problem. There may be treatments that can help restore your locks.
Minoxidil: No Prescription Needed
Pros: Minoxidil (Rogaine, Ronoxidil) can stop hairs from getting thinner. It also can help some women regrow hair on the top of their head, says Paradi Mirmirani, MD. She's a dermatologist with the Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, Calif.. “Very good studies show that it’s effective and gets the hair root or follicle to become larger.”
Minoxidil OTC come in 5% and 2% solutions and are considered safe for most women. The 2% solution is the only hair loss treatment for women approved by the FDA. Depending on which solution you use you put it on your scalp once daily.
Cons: It doesn’t work for everybody. “About half of the people who use it do well and see new hair growth,” says Mirmirani. “Another 40% or so hold steady, not growing new hair but not losing more either. And about 10% find that it doesn’t help at all.”
Regrowth can take a while. It may be 12 weeks or longer before new hair starts growing, says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD. She's a clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, and a dermatologist who specializes in hair loss. She suggests using Minoxidil for 6 months and seeing what happens.
The most common side effect is scalp irritation. Some women may have unwanted hair growth on their forehead or face. The other downside: You have to keep using it or your hair will start thinning again.
Could Latisse Work?
Women who want longer, thicker eyelashes may get a prescription for Latisse, a drug that's approved by the FDA to grow lashes. Researchers are studying whether it can also grow hair on your head. The studies haven't finished yet, but some doctors are already prescribing Latisse to women with thinning hair.
The Facts About Vitamins
Although your mom might tell you otherwise, Mirmirani says there's no proof that taking a daily multivitamin improves hair growth. Not getting enough of some vitamins can cause hair loss, though, so eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Avoid the Snake Oil
Watch out for products claiming to re-grow hair, especially expensive ones available in salons.
“There is a lot of snake oil out there marketed on the Internet or in hair salons, steering people away from spending money on the one product that does work,” Mirmirani says. “So far, the only product for women with proven hair re-growth capabilities is minoxidil.”