There’s Hope for Hair Loss! We’re Breaking Down the Treatment Options

illustration of a woman losing her hair next to one not losing her hair

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For men and women!

Have you been experiencing thinning hair? You’re not alone: Google searches for hair loss have increased by nearly eight percent just this past year.

But how can you tell the difference between actual hair loss and shedding? The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that the average person loses between 50 and 100 hairs a day out of 100,000. Even though new hair normally replaces the lost hair, this doesn’t always happen — and this could be a gradual change or an abrupt one.

As frustrating as it can be, there could be multiple reasons why hair doesn’t grow back, ranging from genetics to an underlying autoimmune disease like alopecia areata. It could also just be related to stress — a temporary form of hair loss known as telogen effluvium has seen a 400 percent increase since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Michele Green, MD, says she has seen a “huge uptick” of hair loss patients in wake of the pandemic and this includes many more women. 

“I’ve never seen so many hair loss patients in my entire life,” Dr. Green tells us. “It’s to the point where it’s actually a little bit stressful.” 

However, there’s hope: You might be able to reverse hair loss, or at the very least slow it down. While regrowing your hair may take some time and patience, there are a number of treatments that help speed this process up. 

How do you get a hair loss diagnosis? 

In the era of WebMD, we’re all guilty of trying to diagnose ourselves, but to get a clear answer, it’s probably best to seek out professional help. Typically, most people visit their doctor to get an exam, where they might be asked a series of questions about their diet as well as medical and family history. 

Some tests might need to be taken, depending on what’s going on. Dr. Green says most diagnoses can be made by a simple visual inspection, but lab work might need to be done if the hair loss is severe enough. 

In other cases, she may ask her patients to collect some hair so she can send them to the lab. “The hair is a very good marker that can really tell us what’s going on,” she explains. “For some patients, that means that the hair can even tell us if you’re having a reaction to a medication and the medication is causing the hair loss.”

In some cases, it may have to do with an autoimmune disorder like alopecia, where the immune system attacks the hair follicles. 

Once a diagnosis is made, the doctor might write you a prescription — it may be oral or topical, or in some cases a mix of both. 

Are over-the-counter hair loss treatments effective? 

The good news is that many of the treatments that doctors often prescribe are over-the-counter. The most common one is minoxidil — or the generic form of Rogaine — which comes in liquid, foam, and even pill form (though the latter can cause unwanted hair in other parts of the body).

Products with minoxidil help many people regrow their hair or at least slow the rate of it, but Jeff Donovan, MD, of the Donovan Hair Clinic in Canada, emphasizes that its effectiveness can vary from person to person. “It certainly can help,” he told Katie in a recent conversation. “It doesn’t help everyone and it doesn’t help everyone dramatically, but it certainly does help.”

There are also popular hair loss pills like Viviscal and Nutrafol, which both experts agree can be effective, but they’re generally used for excessive shedding or mild hair loss. “I often tell people they can get Nutrafol or Viviscal, especially if they want something natural and they don’t want to take any medications,” Dr. Green says. 

What about prescription treatments for hair loss?

In terms of prescribed medication, both physicians often recommend Propecia, which is the only oral hair loss medication that’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration.  

Dr. Green typically uses Propecia for older patients and men. But she says she also routinely gives it to post-menopausal women who are experiencing hair loss. As for younger patients who are experiencing female pattern hair loss, she often recommends spironolactone, which she says offers “really effective” results.

For those who don’t like to take oral medications, Dr. Green recommends platelet-rich plasma (PRP) via injection or with micro-needling, because it “works amazingly well.” Both of these treatments use a patient’s own blood cells to accelerate healing in a specific area that’s experiencing baldness. 

If the hair loss stems from stress, as seen with telogen effluvium, a more holistic approach may be needed, such as bringing in a mental health professional. “Psychologists are part of the hair loss community, and they can play a valuable role in helping with some of the diagnoses and sometimes the treatments,” Dr. Donovan says.

Are there any side effects that come with hair loss treatment?

Unfortunately, there are side effects when it comes to taking both over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Generally, all forms of these medications are not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. 

While minoxidil is widely considered safe, Dr. Dovovan says some of his patients who have used topical or oral minoxidil have reported feeling dizzy or the occurrence of headaches. In some instances, he adds that it can even affect blood pressure. 

As for other over-the-counter treatments, like Viviscal and Nutrafol, both experts agree that these are safe, but those with fish or shellfish allergies should steer clear of them.

In terms of prescription drugs, Propecia can lead to everything from erectile dysfunction and decreased libido to swelling in your hands and feet. Spironolactone, on the other hand, can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. 

How long does it take for hair loss medications to work?

Dr. Green says it takes at least three and a half to four months to see any actual results when it comes to hair growth. While it’s understandable to be stressed about your hair loss, she emphasizes that it’s in your best interest not to overly worry. “Stress makes everything worse, including your hair loss,” she says. 

Does food play a role in hair loss?

In short, it depends. Dr. Donovan believes that food isn’t a factor for the most part, but there are some exceptions. For instance, if someone has low iron to start with and they aren’t eating enough of this mineral, then he would recommend that the patient adjust their diet or take a supplement to ensure that they aren’t deficient. 

Similarly, Dr. Green thinks a healthy diet is important, saying that people who are obese tend to produce more testosterone, which has long been connected to male or female pattern hair loss. More specifically, high levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that originates from testosterone, causes your hair follicles to become more sensitive and therefore more prone to hair loss

What about hair loss and shampoo?

Hair washing doesn’t cause your hair to fall out, according to Dr. Green. But keep in mind, everyone is different when it comes to how often you should wash your hair: Those with finer hair may need to wash their hair every other day, while those with thicker hair can get away with going four to seven days without a wash. 

Regardless of hair type, Dr. Dovovon says everyone needs to pay attention to the ingredients in shampoos and conditioners because many are packed with chemicals and fragrances that can lead to allergic reactions. He recommends opting for a fragrance-free and hypoallergenic shampoo and conditioner

It’s also best to remain wary of shampoos and conditioners that claim to regrow hair. “It’s arguable whether the shampoos really help,” says Dr. Green. “No one’s really quite sure.”