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There was a time when if you were balding the only options open to you were wigs, toupees or an evil smelling brew from the local witchdoctor. These days, modern medicine is bristling with options for replenishing your thinning crop, ranging from pills and creams to direct injections.
In fact, the sheer number of different opinions, advice and hair loss products can be mind-boggling; there are literally hundreds of different treatments on the market, all claiming to be the secret to a luxurious, lion-like mane. When it comes to finding reputable, tried-and-tested treatments, though, it’s best to stick to those that have the approval of a body like the NHS or the FDA.
The human body does a lot of things we often wish it wouldn’t – it gets wrinkly, it stores up fat and it produces dihydrotestosterone or DHT. DHT is a male hormone found in both men and women that causes hair loss by shrinking the hair follicles. This puts the squeeze on your hairs, meaning that they grow a bit thin and weedy – like a plant in a too-small pot – and eventually fall out altogether.
Finasteride (also known as Propecia) blocks the production of DHT in your body. This will stop the shrinkage and prevent any further hair loss. Studies approved by the NHS suggest that about two thirds of people using finasteride will find that over time the hair follicles return to their original size, allowing enough growing space for hair to become thicker and healthier again.
Finasteride is taken as a once-a-day tablet. In about four months you should start noticing less of your precious tresses washing down the plughole and more staying hale and hearty on your head.
The only officially recognised side-effect of finasteride is a loss of sex drive, which is thought to affect about 2% of men who use it.
Minoxidil (also known as Rogaine and Regaine) is a bit of a mystery to the medics. No-one seems to know exactly why it works, but studies suggest that about half of men and the majority of women who use it for four months will notice the rate of their hair loss slowing. Better still, about 15% of men and 20-25% of women who use it for a longer period will notice their beloved locks re-growing.
It comes in the form of an over-the-counter lotion or foam that you rub into your scalp every day. Watch out for the different ladies and gents versions, because men need a stronger solution for it to work its magic. Once you stop using minoxidil your hair will start thinning again so to get the best results you need to stick at it.
There are no officially recognised side-effects of minoxidil, though some people using it find it gives them an itchy scalp.
Steroids might make you think of super-sized bodybuilders, but in a roundabout way they can also beef up your barnet. Some types of hair loss, such as alopecia areata (random bald patches on the scalp or beard) or severe female pattern hair loss can be caused by an immune system reaction in the scalp. In these cases, steroid injections or creams can be prescribed. Rather than actually making your hair thicker, they act like a peacekeeping force, stopping your rioting immune system from causing trouble for your poor follicles.
Injecting steroids directly into the scalp is thought to be the most effective treatment, but it’s a real no-pain-no-gain situation and because only a small amount can be injected each time, you’ll have to cope with a very sore head once every 4 to 6 weeks until the treatment is completed. On the plus side, though, this one of the fastest hair loss treatments, with only a couple of months before the average person’s scalp starts sprouting again.
Massaging steroids into the scalp is not as effective or as speedy as injections, but it’s much less painful and can be used when injections aren’t recommended (for example if your bald patches are too big). If steroid creams work out for you, you could be running your fingers through a thicker crop of hair within 3 to 6 months.