Side effects and concerns: Minoxidil is safe, but it can have unpleasant side effects even apart from the alcohol-related skin irritation. Sometimes the new hair differs in color and texture from surrounding hair. Another risk is hypertrichosis — excessive hair growth in the wrong places, such as the cheeks or forehead. (This problem is more likely with the stronger 5% solution.) Because the patent on Rogaine (the brand-name version of minoxidil) has expired, many generic products are available. They all contain the same amount of minoxidil, but some include additional ingredients, such as herbal extracts, which might trigger allergic reactions.
The main type of hair loss in both sexes — and the subject of this article — is androgenetic alopecia, or female (or male) pattern hair loss. In men, hair loss usually begins above the temples, and the receding hairline eventually forms a characteristic "M" shape; hair at the top of the head also thins, often progressing to baldness. In women, androgenetic alopecia begins with gradual thinning at the part line, followed by increasing diffuse hair loss radiating from the top of the head. A woman's hairline rarely recedes, and women rarely become bald.
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Not surprisingly, treatments with 5 percent minoxidil work better than treatments with 2 percent minoxidil. A randomized clinical trial published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology in 2002 found that, in men with androgenetic alopecia, “5 percent topical minoxidil was clearly superior to 2 percent topical minoxidil and placebo in increasing hair growth.” The difference was actually pretty astounding — after 48 weeks, the men who used 5 percent minoxidil experienced 45 percent more hair growth than the men who used the 2 percent treatment.
Both minoxidil and finasteride require a lifelong commitment, but for users looking for a treatment with permanent results, hair transplant surgery may be the solution. Over the years, surgeons have developed techniques to deliver natural-looking results that are a far cry from early hair transplants, which had a cornrow-like appearance. These procedures are costly and may require multiple sessions depending on the patient.
If you do decide to start treatment to save your hair, a good place to start is with minoxidil, more commonly known as Rogaine. Don’t expect this hair-loss treatment to create luscious locks; minoxidil is better at slowing down or preventing more loss rather than promoting hair growth. But, according to Dr. Amy McMichael, professor and chair of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology, it is effective “if used as recommended, with evidence of improvement seen around six to nine months.” Simply massage the foam or solution into your scalp once or twice daily, and for best results, use a formula with 5 percent concentration.
The other main hair-loss treatment that was recommended by all four dermatologists I interviewed is finasteride, often called by its brand name Propecia. This FDA-approved medication is only available with a prescription, but these days, it’s found as a generic and ordered online after a virtual consultation, through start-ups like Hims, Keeps, and Lemonaid.