Though many topical medications and natural treatments promise to cure thinning hair and reverse hair loss, they are simply no match for male-pattern baldness. There are, however, other options to treat this common genetic condition.
What Is Androgenetic Alopecia?
Androgenetic alopecia, also known as male-pattern baldness, is the most common cause of hair loss in men — accounting for more than 90% of all hair loss among males and affecting almost 50 million men in the U.S. alone. It is also the leading cause of female hair loss.
In addition to the physical symptoms, hair loss can also cause feelings of unattractiveness, low self-esteem and even depression.
How Androgenetic Alopecia Occurs
For men, the condition occurs gradually and follows a predictable pattern of receding hair and growing bald spots. For women, it typically exhibits as significant thinning of the hair all over the scalp.
Male-pattern baldness begins with minor recession at the front of the hairline combined with some recession at the temples and thinning hair on the crown. This recession and thinning deepens until two bald patches emerge on the crown and at the front of the scalp. The two bald patches grow until they ultimately fuse into one large bald patch.
The final stage of the process is extensive baldness with just a rim of hair remaining at the back and sides of the scalp. For some men, the process can lead to complete baldness, though this is not always the case.
The Role of Genetics
The age at which you begin to lose your hair depends on your genetics. If you have a family history of early onset hair loss, you are more likely to experience hair loss at a younger age.
Genetic male-pattern baldness is typically triggered by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone critical to male sexual development. DHT regulates all kinds of things in the body, from sex drive to hair growth. Some men’s hair follicles are genetically sensitive to DHT, and after years of exposure, the hormone causes the follicles to shrink and stop producing hair.
Unlike other conditions that can cause hair to thin and fall out, male-pattern or female-pattern baldness is heredity and cannot be reversed with topical creams, medications or natural topical treatments — despite those products' promises.
So what are the millions of sufferers to do? There are effective treatment options available.
Treating Male-Pattern Baldness
First, determine whether your hair loss is due to androgenetic alopecia or some other condition. Your doctor will assess your scalp, hair loss pattern, family history and other factors to make a diagnosis.
If androgenetic alopecia is the cause and the hair follicle's exposure to DHT can be slowed or stopped, the progression of hair loss can often be contained.
Topical medicines like Minoxidil (loniten), applied directly to the scalp, have been approved by the FDA to treat male-pattern baldness. These drugs have proven to slow the progression of hair loss and regrow some hair. However, they have no effect on the hormonal aspect of hair loss, so their effects are temporary. Hair loss typically continues to progress if the medication is stopped.
Finasteride (the generic name for Propecia and Proscar) is an FDA-approved prescription oral medication used to treat male-pattern baldness. This drug — originally developed to treat enlarged prostate glands — inhibits the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT.
Finasteride has proven to effectively lower DHT levels and stop the progression of hair loss in men with male-pattern baldness. If taken daily, it can lower DHT levels in the scalp by as much as 60%. The American Hair Loss Association recommends finasteride as the best first line of defense against androgenetic alopecia.
Similar to minoxidil, finasteride slows hair loss as long as you continue to take the medication. Once patients discontinue the drug, most see their hair loss return within 12 months.
Hair Restoration Treatments
For those who want faster, more permanent results, there are many surgical and non-surgical treatment options to replace lost hair.
Traditional follicular unit transfer (FUT) hair transplant techniques successfully harvest a large strip from the scalp and implant healthy hair follicles in areas where hair is thin, but removing the strip and suturing the scalp after surgery can cause ugly linear scaring.
Other transplant techniques — like NeoGraft’s follicular unit extraction (FUE) — have been successful at stimulating new hair growth with a less invasive process. During NeoGraft, single hair follicles are extracted one by one with gentle pneumatic pressure and transplanted to areas where you want more hair. The results are permanent and there is no incision, suturing or scars. The hair you'll grow looks completely natural because it is your natural hair.
Remember: If you are suffering from hair loss, early intervention is key. Don’t give up! There are many options available to stop genetic male-pattern baldness in its tracks.
To learn more, contact a certified NeoGraft physician in your area to discuss treatment options and find the best hair restoration solution for you.