THERE ARE LEGITIMATE, EFFECTIVE THERAPIES — LASER HAIR THERAPY, PLUS MEDICATIONS SUCH AS ROGAINE AND PROPECIA — THAT ENABLE MEN TO STOP SOME HAIR LOSS.
Yes, it’s true. In the case of androgenic alopecia, also known as androgenetic alopecia or male pattern baldness (MPB), many of us begin to look like our fathers and grandfathers sometime after our 20th birthdays. Time marches on, but with modern hair loss medications and therapies, it need not travel so quickly. Male pattern baldness affects 25 percent of men by age 30 and 66 percent by age 60.
At a time when the shaved head may appeal to many, there still are millions of men who would rather have the choice between having hair and being left with no hair. For some of them — primarily individuals in the earlier phases of hair loss — there are several courses of legitimate, proven-effective hair regrowth therapies to choose from. We break that down into three categories: topical treatments, medications taken internally and laser hair therapy.
One point needs to be made upfront: The sooner you notice the hair loss, the sooner you’ll need to get to work on stopping it. If most of a man’s hair has left his head, it’s gone for good.
Topical treatments to halt male balding
When it was first released to the marketplace in 1986, minoxidil was available by prescription only. It is now available over the counter under the brand name Rogaine and several other trademarks from various manufacturers. It is applied topically in liquid and foam versions in 2 percent and 5 percent solutions, with the latter found to be more effective. Some choose the 2 percent solution because the stronger formulation can irritate the skin. Users are also encouraged to avoid sun exposure on the crown of the head, since that can add to skin irritation as well.
Rogaine’s manufacturer, Merck & Co., claims an 86 percent success rate in halting hair loss and a 48 percent success rate in regenerating hair growth (i.e., some “lost” hair grows back; however, it should be noted that the rejuvenated hair follicles, while still alive, generally produce thinner, weaker hair). The earlier an individual sees his hair is thinning, the greater success he will have with minoxidil.
Hair regrowth therapy: Internal medications to stop hair loss
Finasteride (brand name Propecia) is the internal medication of choice by men — and men only — to halt hair loss. According to the website of the manufacturer (also Merck & Co.), 66 percent of men taking finasteride experience hair regrowth after two years, but that effectiveness tapers off to 48 percent after five years. Another 33 percent of men simply halt their hair loss over two years, a number that rises to 42 percent over five years. What’s impressive in the end is that only 10 percent of users continue to lose hair after five years’ use of finasteride.
Women are strongly warned not to take finasteride or to even touch a broken tablet when pregnant. Casual contact “may cause abnormalities of a male baby’s sex organs,” according to the Merck website document on potential side effects.
A 1999 study published by the American Academy of Family Physicians (Dean Thomas Scow et al., “Medical Treatments for Balding in Men,” April 15, 1999) reported negative sexual side effects in about 3.8 percent of men. These effects included decreased libido and volume of ejaculate, as well as erectile dysfunction and adverse effects on prostate-specific antigen (PSA) tests.
However, a subsequent 2011 survey of 71 men using finasteride, which was conducted jointly by George Washington University and the Greater Baltimore Medical Center (Michael S. Irwig, Swapna Kolukula), found a much larger percentage of men experiencing these sexual side effects. Fully 94 percent reported low libido, and 92 percent had decreased arousal and erectile dysfunction. Survey respondents all used finasteride and were between the ages of 21 and 46.
We note that the 2011 study was a survey of users, not a clinical test. Nor has it yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Further research will be necessary to confirm its veracity, but the high degree of reported adverse effects is certainly due to attention.
“Before finasteride use, the men experienced average sexual activity of approximately 26 episodes per month,” says Dr. Irwig. “But after use, it came down to approximately eight per month — an almost two-thirds reduction.”
Hair regrowth therapy: Laser hair therapy stimulates hair follicle vitality
Photobiostimulation has been used medically to relieve pain for many years. Commonly referred to as laser light therapy, it is also used extensively to stimulate hair growth in follicles that have declined. The simple mechanics are that it stimulates blood flow to the scalp, which has the effect of producing thicker and stronger hair.
Ed Gawarecki, who manages the Hans Wiemann Hair Replacement facility near St. Louis, Missouri, shares that men make up about 40 percent of their hair laser regrowth therapy clientele. “Most of them are 35 to 55 years old,” he says. “A lot of guys are seeing a lot of stress in their jobs, maybe looking for a new job.” In some cases, the patient’s wife may be encouraging him to get the treatment, which Gawarecki says is met with little to no resistance.
Does it work? Both Gawarecki and Melissa Green, a laser hair regrowth specialist who works at Transitions of Indiana (in Indianapolis), say that in almost all patients hair loss is halted. Existing hair fibers often thicken, and in some cases undetectable hair shafts are restored.
“It takes commitment,” says Gawarecki. “They need to come in twice a week for a 20-minute treatment for a full year. Every fourth appointment also involves a 40-minute scalp treatment, which uses a high-frequency apparatus to clean the scalp, and a scalp massage.” Although prices vary from one city to the next, a yearlong cycle of this treatment costs $4,200 to $6,200. The effects after that year is completed are said to be long lasting.
Hair regrowth therapy: A multi-therapeutic approach to hair loss
As both Gawarecki and Green report, it’s the rare patient who uses just one therapy alone. Green explains that they work “globally” with their clients to ensure every avenue is pursued and that therapies are complementary. Nutrition and exercise play a role in hair restoration and health as well, since each improves the circulation of vital nutrients to the scalp.
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