Hair Loss: What Really Works

Hair Loss: What Really Works

BY: Wendy Korn Heppt

Seeing more scalp lately? Join the club. Over 80 million Americans (60 percent men, 40 percent women) are losing their hair, and hair loss is triggered by age, hormones and genetics. “Most women experience some degree of overall thinning as they age, and men recede at the hairline and the crown,” says Neil Sadick, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. “More extreme thinning or balding, called ‘pattern hair loss,’ is genetic, and there’s currently no cure,” he explains. And yet there is a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry promoting hair growth with promises that don’t work. Here’s what does: 

Get to the root of the problem Temporary hair loss can occur from any number of conditions, including severe stress, anemia, thyroid disease, cigarette smoking and even recent childbirth. Medications, including some antidepressants, blood thinners and chemotherapy drugs, can also cause temporary hair loss. So can severe nutrient deficiencies, especially protein, calcium, iron or biotin (but there is no research showing that supplementing a balanced diet with any of these nutrients will help grow back hair lost for other reasons). So if you’re losing your locks, the first step is to see your doctor to rule out or treat any underlying health issues. “Sometimes a doctor can diagnose the problem as something as simple as a scalp inflammation that clears up with use of an antifungal shampoo,” says Dr. Sadick.

Update your do “Switching a part, doing a zigzag part or going wavy instead of straight shows less scalp and adds volume,” says Thom Priano of the Garren New York Salon. In addition, “hair color plumps the hair shafts, and lightening your shade softens the contrast between hair and scalp.” More trade secrets: A shorter cut makes hair look thicker, long layers add fullness, bangs hide a receding hairline and hair products with “volume” on the label temporarily thicken hair. If styling tricks are insufficient, hair weaving, hair extensions and wigs are currently very hip and flattering.

Consider medication Of all the pills and lotions on the market that claim to grow hair or stop balding, only two have been proven effective: minoxidil (e.g., Rogaine) and finasteride (Propecia). Minoxidil is FDA-approved for both men and women and is available over the counter. When applied topically, it reinvigorates shrunken hair follicles and helps regrow hair. Insider tip: minoxidil for men is a 5 percent solution; the women’s version is 2 percent. Hair restoration experts often recommend that women use the men’s formula for better results. Finasteride is FDA-approved for men only. Available only by prescription, this pill helps block the action of the hormone that causes baldness. With both drugs, the more hair you have to start with, the better the results. The downside: Both stop working if you discontinue use.

Look into lasers Treatments with low laser light and LED light can increase blood flow to hair follicles, stabilizing hair loss in most people and stimulating some regrowth in 50 percent. While treatments are typically performed in office by a dermatologist, the FDA recently approved the HairMax LaserComb, the first drug-free, in-home hair regrowth device to receive such approval. Keep in mind that results vary, and it costs about $545.

Restore your locks There are several methods that a skilled hair restoration surgeon can use to painlessly extract grafts from the back and sides of the scalp and transplant them to grow hair where needed. Unlike “plugs,” these newer procedures transplant individual hairs in a pattern that mimics the direction of surrounding strands for a natural look. Be aware, though, that candidates need a thick enough area of hair from which to extract the grafts, and the procedure costs thousands of dollars.

So, will there ever be a cure for baldness? Maybe one day in the not-so-distant future: Japanese researchers recently isolated a gene that is linked to early hair loss in mice, and studies on cloning to grow hair without the need for transplants are under way. In the meantime, seek out reputable experts who specialize in hair problems. A good place to start is the American Hair Loss Association. And above all, remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Wendy Korn Heppt is a New York City-based health and fitness writer whose work has appeared in numerous publications, including Health online, Prevention, Self, Consumer Reports, Newsday and NY Daily News. Wendy writes frequently for Live Right Live Well.

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