By Alan J. Bauman, M.D. –
New Year’s is a time when many of us focus on self-improvement. We resolve to lose weight, drink less, quit smoking, find a better way to manage our stress, etc. But for some, the quest for self-improvement may also be the result of seeing more hair in our brush, looking into the mirror to see a more receded hairline, or simply seeing more scalp shining through our once ‘crowning glory.’
While hair loss is often falsely thought of as merely a cosmetic problem, studies have proven that hair loss can have wide-ranging psychological effects on men and women, including loss of confidence and self-esteem, and in some cases, depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and more. Which means treating your hair loss can help you restore a feeling of vitality, youth and confidence – and shouldn’t that be what New Year’s resolutions are all about?
But unfortunately, as the demand for hair loss treatments continues to grow, some companies are promising more than they can deliver! Here are five hair loss treatments/trends to avoid.
Hair Loss Brushes – One persistent hair loss myth is that stimulating the scalp with magnets, brushes and massagers can improve blood circulation to the hair follicles and therefore reduce hair loss and improve new hair growth. There is no reliable medical evidence to support this claim. While there are real medical treatments to stimulate hair follicles and help improve blood circulation – like minoxidil, low level laser therapy and platelet-rich plasma – this can’t effectively be done via a special hair brush or scalp massager. Don’t get fooled!
Herbal Supplements – Good nutrition and certain supplements like biotin and marinederived proteins and polysaccharides can help support hair quality. However, it’s important to keep expectations realistic. A vitamin isn’t going to stop hereditary hair loss or regrow hair from scalp where follicles are already dead and gone. Only FDA-approved medical treatments like minoxidil and finasteride have been extensively proven to slow, stop and reverse hereditary hair loss. And only surgical hair transplantation can regrow hair where severe depletion of hair follicles has occurred.
Minoxidil – Speaking of minoxidil, this treatment also requires a disclaimer. Although it is FDA-approved and has proven science behind it, the catch is that minoxidil doesn’t work for everyone. In fact, over-the-counter minoxidil like Rogaine and similar generic products may only work well in about 38.3 percent of patients, according to some medical studies. Studies suggest that a patient has to have an active enzyme called “sulfotransferase” in order for their hair follicles to respond to minoxidil treatments. It is this enzyme that converts topically applied minoxidil into the active chemical (called minoxidil sulfate) that stimulates the follicles. Not everyone has enough sulfotransferase to “activate” minoxidil. There may be other biological roadblocks too — like inflammation at or around hair follicles in the scalp and other factors, which can also affect minoxidil’s action. The bottom line for patients is that there’s a huge chance that standard, over-the-counter minoxidil won’t help you or simply be too messy or irritating to use. Instead, you may require a prescription for a specially formulated, compounded minoxidil solution like Formula 82M for optimal results. A new “minoxidil sensitivity” test will be available soon in the US, which can pre-determine if a patient is likely to respond to minoxidil before they start the treatment.
Hair Transplants – Thankfully, “hair plugs” are a thing of the past, but it’s important for patients to realize that today’s hair transplants still don’t always turn out the way they should. The biggest challenge is that an increasing number of underqualified and/or “part-time” hair doctors (many of which are not certified by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery) are offering this procedure. The risks for hair transplant patients include surgical complications, infections, scarring, poor density and unnatural looking results. Another concern is that many doctors and large national clinics still mostly perform the traditional type of transplant called the “strip” or “linear” harvest technique instead of the less invasive “follicular-unit extraction,” also called NeoGraft FUE. With a strip-harvest procedure, a long linear strip of the scalp is removed (“harvested”) from the back of the head in order to supply the permanent follicles for redistribution. Patients are left with a permanent linear scar to hide. This procedure can be painful and requires considerable downtime and activity restrictions during healing. Performed without stitches or staples, NeoGraft FUE procedures heal more quickly and comfortably with less activity restrictions—and, best of all, leave absolutely no linear scar.
Discount Treatments – Groupon and other discount sites are great for some things, but not when it comes to our health! The next few months you’ll see an increase in ads for personal services, cosmetic procedures, and even hair transplants, as these practices try to cash in on those looking to better themselves this year by offering deep discounts or free consultations. In medicine, like electronics and many other things in life, you get what you pay for so, “Buyer Beware!” It is important to do your research when searching for a potential hair restoration surgeon. Surgical artistry, precision and experience are all required to create a permanent result that looks natural and not artificial – so make sure to ask for references, before-and-after-photos, etc. Do your due diligence and be prepared to travel if necessary. First and foremost, make sure the doctor you choose is board-certified in hair restoration and recommended by the American Hair Loss Association.
Remember, there are a number of medical conditions and other factors that can affect hair loss, so it’s important to determine all of your risk factors to be sure you are receiving proper treatment and ruling out more sinister problems. If you’re worried about hair loss, it is important to consult not only your primary doctor but also an experienced hair restoration physician—someone who specializes exclusively in the medical diagnosis, treatment and tracking of hair loss as well as its prevention and treatment. Only a qualified and experienced hair restoration physician can prescribe the most effective multi-therapy treatment options, including the latest available products. The good news is that there has never been a better time in history for effective hair loss treatments and procedures. If you’ve resolved to have a better head of hair in 2014, “Hair’s to You!”