Although humans do just fine without their locks, hair possesses an essential social function. Many men report lowered self-confidence and social anxiety due to hair loss. It is no wonder hair restoration has become a multibillion-dollar industry. Fighting nature can be challenging, but fortunately, most men will see some improvement with treatment.
See a doctor before starting any hair restoration therapies or if the cause of your thinning hair is unknown. When hair loss is due to an underlying ailment, treating the condition should improve your symptoms. If your doctor determines you have male pattern baldness, there are widely used remedies that can help you hold onto your hair and slow down the balding process.
There are currently two hair loss treatments approved by the FDA: minoxidil and finasteride. Neither is a permanent solution. If either medication works for you, it will require consistent, daily use to maintain results. Once you stop the therapy, you will resume losing your hair. For best results, begin using minoxidil or finasteride at the first sign of hair loss. You cannot restore a hair follicle after it has miniaturized and died.
Minoxidil is a common over-the-counter medication and the only one approved to treat both male and female pattern baldness. It comes in two and five percent strengths and is most effective when started under the age of 40 and with new hair loss.iv Minoxidil was initially developed and used as an anti-hypertensive (blood pressure) drug. When patients reported excess hair growth as a side effect, the company developed a topical formula and marketed the new product for hair restoration.v
The mechanism by which minoxidil treats hypertension is through vasodilation. Minoxidil causes blood vessels to dilate, or enlarge, to facilitate improved blood flow. It is unknown exactly how minoxidil stimulates hair growth, but researchers theorize that increased blood flow enhances hair follicle health and allows for better growth. In one study, investigators reported that 87% of participants had visible hair growth after 12 months of using minoxidil.vi
Talk to a doctor if you are interested in this medication to treat your male pattern baldness. It can take up to one full year to see results, and this product does not work for everyone. The adverse side effects could outweigh the benefits of using minoxidil. You may find the side effects of itching, burning, or dry scalp too challenging to tolerate.
Contact your doctor right away if you are using minoxidil and experience any of the following serious side effects:
• Rapid weight gain
• Swelling in your hands, feet, ankles, or stomach
• Chest pain
• Abnormally fast heartbeat
• Severe headache
• Difficulty breathing
Because the androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT) contributes to hair follicle miniaturization, DHT reduction can prevent hair follicles from becoming inactive. Finasteride is an oral prescription that reduces your body's active levels of circulating DHT. This drug has two uses, to treat enlarged prostates and improve hair growth in men with male pattern baldness. When used to treat enlarged prostates, doctors usually combine it with other medications. This drug is not approved to treat hair loss in women.
Although finasteride does not work on all men, it does stimulate scalp hair growth and prevent additional hair loss in most men. One study showed that 66% of men had improved hair growth after two years of use relative to just 7% of men in the placebo group.vii Another study reported that 83% of men who took finasteride had no additional hair loss after two years, while 72% of men in the placebo group had continued to lose their hair.viii
Before starting any hair restoration regimen, contact a physician to determine if you are a suitable candidate. As with all medications, you should evaluate the risks of side effects against the benefits. Talk to your doctor if you take finasteride and experience any of the following side effects: erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, testicular pain or discomfort, and depression.
More serious side effects include:
• Increased breast tissue
• Lump or pain in the breast area
• Nipple discharge
• Facial swelling
• Difficulty breathing
Cosmetic Treatment Options
Cosmetic hair restoration of today is nothing like treatments of the past. Older techniques involve taking large clusters of hair and transplanting them together in a single clump, which led to an unnatural look that deterred many balding men from the procedure. They preferred their hairless heads over the speckled appearance of hair transplants.
Today, abundant tiny holes are created rather than the larger holes made in outdated practices, and fewer hair strands are transplanted to each location. Surgeons now perform the procedure without a scalpel and no sutures. The outcome is less scarring, quicker recovery, and a more realistic appearance.