A receding hairline. A bald spot spreading on the top of head. Painfully thin hair that is especially noticeable where the hair parts. Some 90% of men will suffer some form of hair loss during their lifetime, often leading to symptoms of low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.
Studies on which nonsurgical treatments work best for male-pattern baldness have been limited, leaving men at a loss as to the most effective solution.
Causes of hair loss
It’s normal to lose hair. We can lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day, often without noticing.
Hair loss is not usually anything to be worried about, but occasionally it can be a sign of a medical condition.
Some types of hair loss are permanent, like male and female pattern baldness. This type of hair loss usually runs in the family.
Other types of hair loss may be temporary. They can be caused by:
- an illness
- cancer treatment
- weight loss
- iron deficiency
Before making a diagnosis, your doctor will likely give you a physical exam and ask about your diet, your hair care routine, and your medical and family history. You might also have tests, such as the following:
- Blood test. This might help uncover medical conditions that can cause hair loss.
- Pull test. Your doctor gently pulls several dozen hairs to see how many come out. This helps determine the stage of the shedding process.
- Scalp biopsy. Your doctor scrapes samples from the skin or from a few hairs plucked from the scalp to examine the hair roots under a microscope. This can help determine whether an infection is causing hair loss.
- Light microscopy. Your doctor uses a special instrument to examine hairs trimmed at their bases. Microscopy helps uncover possible disorders of the hair shaft.
The two most popular hair transplant procedures are follicular unit transplantation and follicular unit extraction.
Keep in mind that both hair transplant procedures are considered surgery, so they can be expensive and may cause some level of discomfort.
There are also certain risks, including infections and scarring. You may need to do multiple hair transplant treatments to get the desired outcome.
Follicular unit transplantation (FUT)
FUT is the more “classic” method. It involves removing some skin, typically from the back of your scalp, where there’s an abundance of hair. Then, a surgeon removes the follicles from that strip of skin. Finally, they reinsert the hair follicles into the part of the scalp where you’re experiencing hair loss.
Follicular unit extraction (FUE)
In FUE, a surgeon removes hair follicles directly from the scalp and transplants them to the bald parts of the scalp. Direct hair implantation (DHI) is a modified version of this technique in which a specialized tool is used to complete the procedure.
Laser treatment is thought to reduce the inflammation in follicles that keeps them from regrowth for some types of hair loss, like alopecia areata. For other types of hair loss, a 2014 reviewTrusted Source suggests that treatment from low-level laser therapy (LLLT) may increase hair growth through other mechanisms.
There are limited studies to support the effectiveness of laser treatments for hair loss. But a 2016 reviewTrusted Source determined that LLLT is safe and effective when used to treat male pattern hair loss.
About laser devices for male-pattern hair loss
Several laser devices are now available to treat hair loss at home. The FDA has cleared some. If you see “FDA cleared” on the packaging or within information about the laser, this means the FDA recognizes the laser as a safe treatment.
The requirements for getting FDA cleared are much less stringent than for getting FDA approved.
FDA-approved medications for male-pattern hair loss
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the following medications to treat male-pattern hair loss. Here’s the lowdown on each.
Topical minoxidil (available without a prescription)
Widely available at stores and online, this is the most commonly used treatment for male-pattern hair loss.
What studies show: In clinical trials, minoxidil has been shown to reduce hair loss, stimulate hair growth, and strengthen existing strands of hair. While minoxidil can help, you’re unlikely to see full regrowth.
How to use: Apply to your scalp.
When to use: Minoxidil is applied twice a day, every day.
How long it takes to see results: Some men respond to minoxidil better than others, and some men fail to see any difference. If minoxidil works for you, it can take up to six months to see results. It’s important to follow directions, applying minoxidil twice a day every day.
Possible side effects: When using minoxidil, some men develop an irritated scalp. The newer formulation, which is a foam, seems to reduce this risk. Other possible side effects include an itchy scalp or headaches.
Can be used alone: Many men see results when they use only minoxidil. If you see a dermatologist, your dermatologist may add a prescription medication to your treatment plan. This can improve results.
If you stop using minoxidil: The new hair that grew will fall out. This usually happens within three to four months. Dermatologists report that some men say their hair loss looks worse than before they started applying minoxidil. What’s happening is that you’re seeing the hair loss that would have occurred had you never treated it.