Choosing a hair regrowth treatment

Published on May 21, 2021
Updated on May 21, 2021
A man in a bathrobe applying liquid minoxidil to his scalp with a dropper
Minoxidil is a topical hair loss treatment that's available as a liquid and foam solution.

If you’re experiencing hair loss caused by androgenic alopecia, you’re in luck. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved several treatments that can help stop hair loss and regrow hair.

If these treatments don’t float your boat, there are a variety of alternative hair loss treatments currently being researched. A handful of them are already being tested in clinical trials. 

What is androgenic alopecia?

Androgenic alopecia is a condition that’s commonly referred to as pattern hair loss. It’s caused by a mixture of genetic and hormonal factors. Although this type of hair loss is often associated with older men, pattern hair loss can actually affect young people, too — even those as young as 18. 

Is it possible to prevent hair loss?

A number of genetic markers have been associated with androgenic alopecia, but there’s still no way to completely prevent this condition from occurring. However, since doctors can identify these markers, people can get tested to determine whether or not they’ll experience pattern hair loss at some point in their life. 

Alternatively, if you suspect you’re likely to experience pattern hair loss because you have family members with the condition, you can potentially wait until you start experiencing symptoms to start a hair loss treatment. If you can identify the very first signs of androgenic alopecia, it’s actually possible to stop its progression and keep your hair.

How to prevent hair loss 

If you’ve opted to undergo genetic testing for androgenic alopecia, your doctor will likely talk to you about your options. If you haven’t started seeing many symptoms and you’re still young, they’ll likely start by talking to you about dietary and lifestyle changes that can influence the progression of pattern hair loss. There’s a good chance you’ll also be asked to modify your hair care routine.

For example, if you often bleach, dye, or chemically straighten your hair, they’ll probably ask you to stop — at least for a bit. Frequently dyeing or chemically processing your hair can be damaging. When done too frequently, these treatments can make hair weaker and more prone to breakage. Since one of the first signs of androgenic alopecia is thin, weak hair, your doctor will need to make sure your hair is still healthy and strong. If not, they’ll help you determine how quickly you’ll need to start a hair loss or thinning hair treatment.  

Doctors might also suggest certain products, like nutrient supplements or shampoos, that can help strengthen hair and reduce the amount of sebum your scalp produces. Their exact recommendations will be completely dependent on a variety of factors, from your test results to your age and the condition your hair is in. 

Regardless of all of these variables, you’ll be told about the FDA-approved treatment options for androgenic alopecia: minoxidil, finasteride, and low level laser therapy. If you’re not starting one of these treatments right away, you’ll also be told about the first signs of pattern hair loss and symptoms you need to keep an eye out for. 

Androgenic alopecia signs and symptoms

Changes to hair texture are one of the first indicators that androgenic alopecia has started to affect your hair. You might feel like your hair is weaker, thinner, or feels strangely brittle. These changes can lead to hair shedding and permanent hair loss.

Thinning, weak, or brittle hair

If you find that hair strands are snapping off more easily when you run a comb through your hair, you’ll likely see a large amount of shorter-than-average hairs on your head. These short, broken hairs can look like frizz or flyaways.

Sometimes, it’s even easier to see textural changes because the affected hairs frame your face. Rather than looking like flyaways, these might look like an increased number of fragile baby hairs. 

These thinning hairs are being affected underneath your skin, at their hair follicles. The hair follicles are undergoing miniaturization, which means they’re getting smaller and producing thinner and finer hairs. But eventually, the affected hair follicles stop producing hairs completely. This is what eventually causes hairline changes and a receding hairline.

Widening partitions 

How is the volume of your hair? If you feel like your hair seems flatter or less voluminous than it used to be, that can also be a sign your hair is thinner. If you tend to part your hair to one side and feel like the partition is wider or seems to be widening, that may also be an indication of hair thinning and hair shedding. 

Excess hair shedding

If you haven’t seen a ton of short or thin hairs on your head, you might still notice a bunch of hairs coming out after brushing or washing. This increase in hair shedding is also a sign of androgenic alopecia. Of course, keep in mind that some hair shedding is perfectly normal. It’s only when you see an increase or simultaneously feel like your hair is thinning that there’s cause for concern. 

Itchy scalps and dandruff

Do you feel like your scalp is itchier, greasier, or producing more dandruff than normal? Scalps affected by androgenic alopecia tend to produce more sebum, which can affect how your skin feels and cause it to produce dandruff. According to a study in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, this may be because the sebaceous glands of people with androgenic alopecia get too large. 

According to a study in the Skin Appendage Disorders journal, skin conditions also tend to affect the scalps of people with pattern hair loss. The two most commonly associated conditions are seborrheic dermatitis, which essentially manifests as irritated, itchy, flaky skin, and red scalp syndrome, which is an itchy, burning rash accompanied by bumps, pustules, and spider veins.

If you haven’t chosen to undergo genetic testing for androgenic alopecia, keeping an eye out for these different signs and symptoms is crucial. Hair loss is much harder to grow back once it stops growing back. If you really want to prevent hair loss, you need to begin a treatment as soon as you start to see the first few symptoms, like thinning hair or hair shedding. 

Hair regrowth products and FDA-approved treatments

If your hair loss has progressed past these initial signs and symptoms, the first thing you’ll likely want to know is if it is possible to regrow hair. The good news is that yes, you can! The best hair regrowth treatments are able to stop the progression of androgenic alopecia and restore hair growth. 

That being said, there are limits to this statement. If you’ve allowed hair loss to progress for years or decades, you likely have much more severe hair loss symptoms. If you have a large bald spot at the crown or a hairline that has significantly receded, you may need a surgical procedure, like follicular unit extraction (FUE) or follicular unit transplantation (FUT), in addition to a hair loss treatment. 

Minoxidil: A hair regrowth serum

Minoxidil is a hair loss treatment available as both a liquid and a foam. This medication has actually been around for nearly half a century. But according to StatPearls Publishing, it was initially developed as an oral peripheral vasodilator to help lower blood pressure. It was only in the late 1980s that the FDA approved it as the first topical treatment for pattern hair loss.

Nowadays, you can buy minoxidil in a range of concentrations, usually between 1 and 10 percent. Despite this, you should be aware that the FDA has only approved concentrations of 2 and 5 percent for the treatment of androgenic alopecia. 

In minoxidil’s case, less can be more. According to a study in the Journal of Dermatological Treatment, higher concentration products like 10 percent minoxidil work, but they’re likely to cause a large amount of unpleasant side effects. As long as you’re using one of the FDA-approved concentrations, minoxidil is affordable, easy to use, and causes only mild side effects. 

Currently, 5 percent minoxidil is considered to be the best option men can choose. It needs to be applied twice a day, in the morning and the evening, in order to stop the progression of androgenic alopecia and stimulate hair regrowth.

Finasteride: A hair regrowth pill

Finasteride is a medication that counteracts the hormonal component of pattern hair loss. It works by preventing the hormone testosterone from being converted to another hormone called  dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This type of drug is known as a DHT blocker.  

A study in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology reported that finasteride was the first oral treatment approved by the FDA for androgenic alopecia. This treatment has been around since 1997. Men need just one pill a day to prevent the progression of pattern hair loss.  

Finasteride is definitely one of the most convenient and effective hair loss treatments. But not everyone can tolerate it. It’s known to cause a variety of sexual side effects, including erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, and changes to breast tissue. 

FDA-approved treatments for hair regrowth: laser therapy

Laser therapy treatments for hair loss (commonly referred to as LLLT or low level laser therapy) use devices to deliver light therapy to your scalp. This is the most recent treatment the FDA has approved for pattern hair loss. According to a review in the Dermatology Online Journal, it was approved in 2007.

A study in the Lasers in Medical Science journal says that there are three major types of LLLT devices: hoods, brush-based tools, and hat-like devices. These LLLT devices are usually sold for people to use at home. Although this is obviously convenient, these devices often come with a substantial price tag.  

Alternatively, it’s also possible to receive LLLT treatments in clinics. LLLT isn’t  like minoxidil and finasteride, which need to be administered daily. The book Minimally Invasive Aesthetic Procedures says that LLLT treatments are usually administered every other day or as little as three times a week. 

If you’re short on time and don’t mind the hefty up-front cost of a device, LLLT might be the ideal treatment for you. According to a different article in the Lasers in Medical Science journal, LLLT works best when used for less than 60 minutes per week.  

Natural hair regrowth products: Shampoos, lotions, and supplements

If you’re looking for a way to stop hair loss and regrow hair naturally, your options are quite a bit more limited. There are no completely natural FDA-approved treatments for hair loss… at least, not yet. 

That being said, according to a study in the journal Andrologia, a variety of fungi, herbs, and plants are considered to be natural DHT blockers. They essentially act a lot like the DHT-blocking medication finasteride, but are a lot less potent. You can find these natural DHT-blockers infused into shampoos, lotions, and nutrient supplements. 

According to a study in the journal Natural Product Radiance, saw palmetto berries are particularly potent natural DHT blockers that can be used to help counteract androgenic alopecia. Although they’re not yet FDA-approved, they’re particularly promising since this natural DHT blocker lacks finasteride’s unpleasant side effects. 

Technically, a lot of natural DHT blockers are perfectly edible and in a way, could be considered to be hair regrowth foods. Unfortunately, in edible form, they’re usually not potent enough to have a major influence on your hair. This is why they’re usually turned into extracts and infused into supplements and topical solutions. Otherwise, you’d have to eat a ton in order for them to have an effect comparable to a DHT-blocking medication, like finasteride.

Hair regrowth for men

Preventing hair loss is hard. If you really want to stop hair loss before it starts, take a genetic test to determine your likelihood of having androgenic alopecia. Or alternatively, keep an eye out for hair loss symptoms. You’ll need to start a treatment as soon as you start seeing the first signs of hair loss.

Choosing a hair regrowth treatment can be daunting, especially if you’re suddenly experiencing multiple androgenic alopecia symptoms. But choosing the best hair loss treatment is a lot easier than you might think. It’s really about finding the option or options that are right for you based on your needs. 

The best products for hair loss are objectively the three FDA-approved treatments as they’ve undergone extensive testing. Finasteride, minoxidil, and low-level laser therapy have all successfully completed countless clinical trials.  

That being said, make sure you address all your symptoms. For instance, if you’ve been experiencing a particular hair loss symptom, like an itchy scalp, there’s a good chance that you’ll also want to combine one of the FDA-approved treatments with a dandruff-reducing shampoo or similar product.

You can also combine natural options with an FDA-approved treatment. Whether you want to make some dietary changes, try out a supplement, or simply use a topical product, nutraceuticals can be powerful and help support your hair regrowth. 

 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

HAIR LOSS

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