It may seem a peculiar American vanity that men have in-boxes full of hair loss treatment offers and spend billions of dollars on hair loss treatments each year. Not so. As Gersh Kuntzman illustrates in his book Hair! Mankind's Historic Quest to End Baldness, chrome-dome anxiety has tormented us for ages. Caesar's laurel wreaths? Classic red herring, Kuntzman says.
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.
Some women find that the minoxidil solution leaves a deposit that dries and irritates their scalp. This irritation, called contact dermatitis, is probably caused not by the minoxidil itself, but rather by the alcohol that is included to facilitate drying. A 5% solution (available only by prescription and approved only for men) is more effective than the 2% formulation and may be prescribed off-label for women. The 5% version comes in a foam, which appears to cause less irritation than the liquid.
Stay away from tightly bound styles, like braids, buns, or ponytails. Resist twisting or rubbing your hair. And gently wash or brush hair, switching to a wide-toothed comb if necessary to prevent too much pulling at the roots. Hot rollers, curling or straightening irons, hot oil treatments, bleaching, and other chemical processes are other things to avoid.
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.
Once male-pattern baldness starts, it’s not going to stop until every last hair on your head has shrunk or shed, though the rate at which this happens differs from person to person and depends on genetics. And since the grind of hair loss is unending, it’s important to start treatment as soon as your hairline starts bothering you. If you’re looking for a more quantitative metric, Dr. Paul McAndrews, clinical professor of dermatology at the USC School of Medicine and member of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, assures me that “you have to lose half your hair before the human eye can tell.” (Of course, if you don’t care about losing your hair and are fine with going full Prince William and shaving your head, go for it. We’ve got some recommendations for razors and hair trimmers to help you out on that front.)
Most women with pattern hair loss don't get a receding hairline or bald spot on top of the scalp as is common in men. Instead, there is visible thinning over the crown. In men and women, hairs are miniaturized because of a shortened growth cycle where the hair stays on the head for a shorter period of time. These wispy hairs, which resemble forearm hairs, do not achieve their usual length.
What should I be using for early stages of hair loss? I have some thinning around my crown. It’s not too bad, but it’s obviously not going to get any better. Should I just be using a shampoo for hairloss, or more serious measures like Reganine or Fin tablets etc? I don’t mind, but I don’t want to use products that could somehow make the situation worse. Thanks.
What is your opinion on laser combs? I went to the Men’s Club yesterday and they recommended I spend ~$800 to buy a laser band, comb or hat. What is your opinion on how those work? Sounds like snake oil to me. They also recommended I go to my dermatologist to get a prescription to reduce sebum in my hair. I have been on Fin for 11 months, Minox foam 1x/day yet hair shed hasn’t stopped. I do have a prescription for Ketoconazole shampoo but rarely use it. I read in your article that this shampoo does help with Sebum build up so I will try that. Any other recommendations for sebum reduction?
There’s no cure for baldness, but there are ways to hold on to what you've got. The six dermatologists and the clinical studies point to three methods: minoxidil, laser treatments, and prescription finasteride. The key is finding the combination and hair loss regimen that works for you. A doctor is your best bet for that kind of guidance — but we found a few trustworthy products that will work for most people.