Medications for hair loss
Choosing a hair restoration medication can appear to be a forbidding task. Hundreds of cures are advertised on the internet and in magazines or other print media. Some are “herbal”, some are “all natural”, some are pharmaceutical agents, and most are “proven effective”.
A product that stimulates the growth of hair is a product with a potent physiologic effect. What you should want to know is
- Does the product actually stimulate hair growth in a majority of persons who use it, and
- If so, does it do so safely with minimal side effects?
FDA approval assures you that both product effectiveness and product safety have been rigorously investigated in clinical trials.
Clinical trials are (1) medical investigative studies in which human beings are the test subjects, and (2) required by the FDA for the approval of a new drug or new uses of an existing drug. Before clinical trials are undertaken, a product has usually been studied in laboratory tests and in animals to determine mechanism of action, efficacy and safety. There are several types of clinical trials but the "gold standard" for unbiased study results is the randomized, double-blind controlled trial (RCT).
FDA-approved clinical trials include study of product safety and side effects. It would be unusual to find that a product with a potent physiologic effect--such as stimulating of hair growth--had no side effects. While side effects may be minimal and may be experienced by relatively small numbers of people, potential users of the product should be aware of the potential for side effects. If product advertising fails to mention side effects or claims no side effects, be skeptical.
Surgical or non-surgical hair restoration should not be undertaken prior to examination by a physician specializing in hair loss and restoration. Be skeptical of a product claim that (1) omits recommendation for use under medical supervision, or (2) says you can use the product without medical supervision.
Treatment for hair loss is not necessary if you are comfortable with your appearance. Hair weaving, hairpieces, or change of hairstyle may disguise the hair loss.
When your criterion for product choice is FDA approval, your choice is made clear. Just two products have been approved for halting hair loss and stimulating hair regrowth:
- Minoxidil, a topical agent a solution that is applied directly to the scalp to stimulate the hair follicles. It slows hair loss for many men and women. Hair loss returns when you stop using this medicine.
- Finasteride, a drug taken by mouth, available only by prescription, is a pill that interferes with the production of a highly active form of testosterone that is linked to baldness. It slows hair loss. It works slightly better than minoxidil. Hair loss returns when you stop using this medicine.
A third drug, dutasteride, is in clinical trials. Similar to finasteride in action, it has been approved in Europe for use in hair restoration and is sometimes prescribed “off-label” for that purpose in the U.S. Under the brand name Avodart, dutasteride is approved in the U.S. for treatment of benign prostatic hypertrophy (prostate enlargement) in men.