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.
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.
Studies show that Propecia is effective for 86 percent of men who use it, but doctors interviewed by USA Today say that "anyone who expects miracles will be disappointed." They explain: Only about one-third of men in the early stages of hair loss will regrow some with Propecia. These doctors say that it "primarily slow(s) down hair loss and improve(s) hair quality." As reported at HairLossHelp.com, a five-year study published in 2001 found that Propecia continued to prevent hair loss but there was a "progressive decrease in the amount of hair grown over the five-year period." Experts say that it is effective at growing back more hair than minoxidil (Rogaine) but that it can take up to a year to see results.
2. Oil-rich conditioner. “Oils improve hair’s tensile strength,” says Paradi Mirmirani, a hair-loss specialist and dermatologist in Vallejo, California. In other words, oils make hair less likely to break under pressure, which is especially important for thinning hair that’s prone to snapping when brushed or styled. Mirmirani recommends using a conditioner fortified with natural oils, like Burt’s Bees Very Volumizing Pomegranate Conditioner, which contains avocado oil ($8), or Honest Company Conditioner with coconut oil ($10). That one’s got an added benefit: “Coconut oil has been shown to penetrate hair,” says cosmetic chemist Randy Schueller, so it makes your hair stronger from the inside out. (Just don’t load up on pure coconut oil. “You might overshampoo your hair to get it out, and then you’ll end up drying your hair and undoing any benefit,” says Fusco.)
1. Minoxidil. It’s the only FDA-approved topical nonprescription medication that can claim to regrow hair — and it should be part of any hair-loss plan if you have serious thinning, says Rogers. Minoxidil has loads of research to back it, but it requires commitment. If you quit using it, your hair will start to lose ground again. Use a 5 percent strength, like Women’s Rogaine 5% Minoxidil Foam ($30), once daily to see results in three to four months, says Rogers.
When it comes to a hair growth shampoo, you have two options: prescriptions or over-the-counter treatments. Prescription shampoos like ketoconazole are anti-androgenetic, meaning they prevent testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT), two hormones associated with hair loss by targeting hair growth at the site of the follicle and helping to interrupt the hormone cycle locally that causes thinning,” explains Dr. Schweiger. “Over-the-counter growth shampoos typically contain amino acids and antioxidants to provide the components to rebuild hair as well as reduce damage and inflammation.”
The truth is, the amount of propylene glycol in hair loss treatments is not likely to cause any real harm and the FDA has given the chemical approval for many uses. But even though it is safe, we wanted to ensure that our top picks would be as comfortable to use as possible. So when Dr. Khadavi told us that “a third of my patients get irritated from minoxidil products because of propylene glycol,” we decided to cut any treatments with it. In any case, it’s the minoxidil that helps curb hair loss and not the propylene glycol.
According to practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, hair health is tied to two things: kidney energy and the blood, which nourish the hair. The solution: acupuncture and Chinese herbs. While there isn't a lot of hard science to back this up, Maureen Conant, a TCM practitioner at Full Bloom Acupuncture in Seattle, says that she's seen women's hair stop falling out and then gradually regenerate after a few months of weekly treatments.
"This is an oral, prescription-only medication with the brand name Propecia that’s also FDA approved to treat hair loss," says Spencer. Male pattern hair loss occurs when a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) prevents hair follicles from getting the nutrients they need. Finasteride works by blocking the production of DHT, which protects the follicles.
Viviscal is a natural hair-growth supplement that promotes hair growth in people with thinning hair. It contains a marine complex known as AminoMar C. This is made of minerals, vitamins, and shark and mollusk powder. These ingredients help to regenerate new cells and strengthen existing cells. You have to take the pills twice a day for at least six months in order to see results. Viviscal also makes a shampoo and conditioner.