Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Effective treatments for some types of hair loss are available. But some hair loss is permanent. With some conditions, such as patchy alopecia, hair may regrow without treatment within a year.

Treatments for hair loss include medications, surgery, laser therapy, and wigs or hairpieces. Your doctor may suggest a combination of these approaches in order to get the best results.

The goals of treatment are to promote hair growth, slow hair loss or hide hair loss.

Medication

If your hair loss is caused by an underlying disease, treatment for that disease will be necessary. This may include drugs to reduce inflammation and suppress your immune system, such as prednisone. If a certain medication is causing the hair loss, your doctor may advise you to stop using it for at least three months.

Medications are available to treat pattern baldness. Two medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat hair loss are:

  • Minoxidil (Rogaine). Minoxidil is an over-the-counter liquid or foam that you rub into your scalp twice a day to grow hair and to prevent further hair loss. It may be used by men and women. With this treatment, some people experience hair regrowth, a slower rate of hair loss or both. The effect peaks at 16 weeks and you need to keep applying the medication to retain benefits.

    Possible side effects include scalp irritation, unwanted hair growth on the adjacent skin of the face and hands, and rapid heart rate (tachycardia).

  • Finasteride (Propecia). This prescription drug is available only to men. It's taken daily in pill form. Many men taking finasteride experience a slowing of hair loss, and some may show some new hair growth. You need to keep taking it to retain benefits.

    Rare side effects of finasteride include diminished sex drive and sexual function and an increased risk of prostate cancer. Women who are or may be pregnant need to avoid touching crushed or broken tablets.

Surgery

In the most common type of permanent hair loss, only the top of the head is affected. Hair transplant or restoration surgery can make the most of the hair you have left.

During this procedure, your surgeon removes tiny plugs of skin, each containing a few hairs, from the back or sides of your scalp. He or she then implants the plugs into the bald sections of your scalp. You may be asked to take a hair loss medication before and after surgery to improve results.

Surgical procedures to treat baldness are expensive and can be painful. Possible risks include infection and scarring.

Laser therapy

A low-level laser device is available to treat men and women with pattern baldness. It has been cleared by the FDA. A study of 128 male and 141 female subjects indicated the device resulted in an overall improvement of hair loss condition and thickness among those who used the device. The researchers said no side effects were noted but that further study is needed to consider the long-term effects of this therapy.

Wigs and hairpieces

You may want to try a wig or a hairpiece as an alternative to medical treatment or if you don't respond to treatment. It can be used to cover either permanent or temporary hair loss. Quality, natural-looking wigs and hairpieces are available.

If your hair loss is due to a medical condition, the cost of a wig may be covered by insurance. You'll need a prescription for the wig from your doctor.

March 25, 2015