How can you treat hair loss once male pattern baldness inevitably strikes? You've probably seen all the ads in the back of men's magazines, heard all the commercials on the radio and seen all the infomercials promoting miracle treatments for men. But do any actually work? Or is everyone just shilling snake oil?
Amazingly, only two pharmaceutical drugs have been clinically proven to treat hair loss and are currently licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of male pattern baldness. Generically they are known as minoxidil and finasteride.
Marketed as Rogaine, minoxidil was the first drug approved by the FDA for male pattern baldness. Taken orally as a pill or applied directly to the scalp as a cream, minoxidil is available over the counter and thus does not require a prescription. Although it’s not exactly clear how minoxidil improves hair growth, minoxidil, like finasteride, may cause minor side effects in some men. If you're considering Rogaine, be sure to talk to your doctor for help in weighing the potential risks and benefits.
Finasteride is the generic name for the pill commonly marketed as Proscar or Propecia. Finasteride has been available since the late '90s as a treatment for male pattern baldness. Finasteride works by inhibiting an enzyme that converts testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, the androgen hormone that's responsible for shrinking hair follicle cells, leading to male pattern baldness. Although finasteride has been shown to increase hair count and appearance, it does increase the risk of sexual disorders like erectile dysfunction. So buyer beware!
Though it’s not exactly a permanent fix, a hairpiece is still a popular choice among men for managing hair loss. The advantages are clear: It’s fairly inexpensive (at least compared to surgery) and has little to no side effects (although some pieces can cause the hair beneath the piece to shed). However, finding the right hairpiece can be a harrowing experience. Hairpieces vary in their base material, in the hair itself and in way the hairpiece is attached to the scalp. For this reason, many first-time buyers are unhappy with the quality, service or price. If you’re considering a hairpiece, do your homework first to ensure you’re satisfied with your piece.
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For those wishing for a more permanent fix to their hair loss woes, look no further than hair transplantation (also known as surgical hair restoration). The procedure involves taking hair, along with underlying tissue and skin, from other parts of the body, like the back or sides of the scalp, and transplanting it to balding areas on the top of the head. Though the procedure is generally safe, there is always the risk of minor side effects. More important, however, is that some clinics are still carrying out outdated and potentially dangerous techniques that should no longer be performed. If you are considering hair transplantation, you need to be diligent in finding a qualified surgeon. The American Hair Loss Association even goes so far as recommending against accepting a referral from your family physician. Instead, check their website or other online resources for guidance.
Of all the different treatments for hair therapy, who would have thought of equipping a comb with a laser light? Well, someone did, because it led to the development of the HairMax LaserComb and other low-level laser (LLL) devices like it. As of 2011, however, the LaserComb is the only LLL device currently licensed by the FDA for treating male pattern baldness. The best part is that it comes with no side effects. Though it sounds too good to be true, there is room for skepticism. The FDA approval comes on the heels of a single randomized trial. While the trial showed promising results, some future research should help build a stronger case.
Science is moving forward at a blistering pace. While the last few decades didn’t produce a magic bullet for male pattern baldness, the future looks much more promising. With new drugs on the horizon, as well as innovative techniques like gene therapy and hair cloning, it’s only a matter of time before new and exciting therapies can give balding men everywhere the hope of a full head of hair.