This FAQ represents the views of the author and is presented for
informational purposes only. The author is not a physician and this information should not be construed as medical advice.
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Copyright © 1999-2000 by Michael A. Leake. All rights reserved.
What causes hair loss?
A: There is much debate on this topic. While the link between certain forms of hair loss and the immune system is well-accepted,
there is also evidence for a connection between the immune system and pattern loss (androgenic or androgenetic alopecia). In line with this, it appears that male hormones--especially DHT--trigger an autoimmune response in pattern loss, initiating an attack on the hair follicle that can be observed
microscopically. This results in destructive
inflammation that gradually destroys the follicle's ability to produce
terminal hair. The reason for this could be that androgens
somehow alter the follicle, causing it to be labeled as a foreign body.
A possibly related factor is that elevated androgens also trigger
increased sebum production, which can favor an excessive microbial
and parasitic population, also leading to inflammation. In any case,
hair progressively miniaturizes under the withering autoimmune
attack, so that with each successive growth cycle it gets shorter and
thinner until it finally turns into tiny unpigmented vellus hair (peach fuzz).
The story of balding is not the story of androgens alone, however.
Rather pattern loss appears to have multiple causes. For instance,
damage to blood vessel linings can inhibit a growth factor they
ordinarily produce: endothelium-derived relaxing factor (EDRF) or
nitric oxide (NO). Minoxidil probably works in part by mimicking
this growth factor. Similarly it has been noted that severe baldness is
strongly correlated with heart disease and even diabetes, so there
appears to be some common etiology outside of the strictly androgen
paradigm for pattern loss. There are likely other factors as well.
Q: Is stress a factor in hair loss?
A: Sometimes stress can play a role in diffuse loss.
Stress-induced loss ordinarily regrows within a year of eliminating the cause.
What's the best hair loss treatment?
A: There is no simple answer to this. No one treatment is spectacular for
the average individual. However, there are a few treatments that yield
decent results for a majority of people. (Decent is defined as cessation
of further hair thinning and perhaps some regrowth, ranging from a little
to moderate.) Some people do respond unusually well--but then some don't
respond at all. Most people fall somewhere in between.
Since pattern loss is multifactorial, it is probably wisest to approach
the problem from several angles to maximize results, as some treatments
are complementary and address different underlying causes. A common
fundamental approach is to use an "antiandrogen" of some kind,
whether systemic (such as Finasteride) or topical (such as
or Spironolactone), and a growth stimulant such as
Minoxidil. To this basic
program many add a topical SOD. Other options include therapeutic
shampoos, such as the antimicrobial and growth stimulant shampoos. Still
other approaches that may help include dietary and nutritional
considerations and even lifestyle modifications. There are many adherents
to such a "kitchen sink" approach.
You can also start with a single treatment, though due to the long lag
time before you can actually verify efficacy, this can be very hit and
miss and may bring less than optimal results by only addressing one aspect
of a larger problem.
How long does it take to see results from any treatment program?
A: At least 2 months, though usually significantly longer. Many do not
notice any apparent improvements until well after a year. Best results are
often seen after the two-year mark. This is because hair follicles undergo
a relatively long dormancy period in between growth cycles (usually about
3 months). In addition, hair only grows about ½ inch per month in
non-thinning areas and usually considerably slower in thinning areas.
Since it generally takes several cycles of growth/fallout/regrowth, with
the hair getting thicker and longer each time, it can take a great deal of
time to see noticeable improvement. Note that best regrowth results are
seen with hair that was lost within the last five years and in areas of
the scalp in which there is still some fine hair.
Rogaine / Minoxidil /
Are there topical antiandrogens I can use instead of taking something
internally such as Finasteride?
A: Yes. Some things have been used topically to either bind up receptors
(Spironolactone or estrogens) or reduce androgens or diminish hormonal impact (Azelaic Acid, pyridoxal B6,
Zinc). There is much debate about the efficacy of these agents. The problem is a lack of study data regarding their use in pattern loss, though there are studies suggesting why these agents may help.
What's the difference between Rogaine and Minoxidil and are these actually
helpful for thinning hair?
A: Rogaine is just a brand name for Minoxidil. Minoxidil can be purchased
from numerous sources and in varying strengths from 2% to 5% liquid and
even in a 12.5% micronized lotion. It also comes combined with Retin-A,
which improves results by increasing the absorption of Minoxidil and also
by exerting some antiandrogenic effects. MiNOxidil's name betrays its
relationship to nitric oxide, an important hair growing agent that appears
to be diminished in balding scalp. Minoxidil can be helpful in pattern
loss, but it is not a panacea. It is best used as part of an overall
program that attacks the problem from different angles.
Is it OK to apply Minoxidil after shampooing?
A: Yes, in fact you will have enhanced absorption after shampooing, as a
well-hydrated scalp is more permeable and will better absorb topical
agents. Just be sure to towel dry the hair first to remove standing water.
The only precaution is to be attentive to signs of excessive absorption,
such as a racing heart.
Is oral Minoxidil safe and is it effective in MPB?
A: Some people have used oral Minoxidil (Loniten), but this is a much more
risky treatment than topical application. Use at your own risk. Side
effects of excessive Minoxidil intake (either orally or topically) include
racing heart and salt and water retention. Oral Minoxidil in any
significant quantity ordinarily has to be taken with a loop diuretic and
is best done under a physician's care.
A: Superoxide dismutase. This is an enzyme produced by the body to neutralize the superoxide radical. Superoxide is a messenger of inflammation and is involved in the body's autoimmune response. It exists in a yin-yang relationship with nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that appears to be important for hair growth, while superoxide is a vasoconstrictor that may be part of the signaling mechanism that tells hair to stop growing. Superoxide can also interact with nitric oxide to form a highly destructive free radical called peroxynitrite, which causes protein and lipid oxidation.
A few hair products contain copper peptides, which are SOD mimetics; i.e., mimic the effects of the body's SOD enzyme.
SOD-containing products have been noted a number of times by researchers to stimulate hair growth and block hair loss in mice. Recent study data on Tricomin, a copper peptide SOD, indicates increased hair growth in MPB. Among other beneficial things,
SOD's appear to help spare growth-stimulating nitric oxide, reduce damaging inflammation, and help reverse fibrosis (follicular scarring). There are a few patents for
SOD's as hair growth stimulators and even one for an SOD inhibitor that blocks hair growth by increasing superoxide.
Q: Are higher
strength Minoxidil formula's better than lower strength ones?
A: To a degree, Minoxidil response is dosage dependent. For example, 5%
Minoxidil generally grows more hair than 2%. But you can also apply 2% more liberally, or more frequently, and deliver a comparable daily dosage of
Minoxidil. While more Minoxidil sometimes helps, beyond a certain threshold, additional
Minoxidil makes little if any difference.
Q: What can I do about the flaking I've noticed since I started using Minoxidil?
A: Occasionally people will notice flaking with minoxidil. This can be due to the minoxidil itself flaking off, or it can be contact
dermatitis if it seems like bad dandruff or the scalp feels irritated. If your minoxidil also contains Retin-A, the flaking may be due to increased skin cell turnover induced by that agent. Nizoral shampoo often helps with flaking. If it's contact dermatitis, though, you may need to discontinue or lessen the frequency of minoxidil applications, or you can also have a compounding pharmacy make a minoxidil formula using glycerol instead of propylene glycol, which is usually the problem ingredient. If irritation persists when using minoxidil or any topical, it is probably best to discontinue usage.
Propecia / Proscar /
What's the difference between Propecia and Proscar?
A: Both medications contain Finasteride and are made by the same company.
The only difference between them is strength. Propecia has 1 mg of Finasteride, while Proscar has 5 mg. Proscar has been around for awhile
for the treatment of prostate enlargement, which, like pattern loss, has
been linked to DHT. Because of the price disparity between the two
medications, some people procure Proscar and divide the tablets into
smaller dosages instead of buying Propecia.
How do people divide Proscar tablets?
A: Some people section them with a pill splitter (available at any
pharmacy), some crush and dissolve them in alcohol (such as Everclear,
whiskey or others), and some crush and encapsulate them along with a
filler to remove the air from the capsule.
What if I split Proscar but don't section it perfectly. Will this slightly
varied daily dosage cause a problem?
A: No. Subtle daily variations will not diminish Finasteride's
effectiveness. Some people even have good results by taking a larger
dosage only once every few days.
Where do you get Proscar? Do you need a prescription?
A: Proscar is a
prescription medication in the US. Some doctors will write a prescription
for Proscar for hair loss patients wishing to avoid the greater expense of
Propecia; others won't. You can order Proscar from overseas from numerous
sources without prescription. FDA regulations allow the importation of a
3-month supply of medication for personal use. The company selling the
medication typically requires that you sign a form indicating that you are
using the medication under the guidance of a physician.
How come some people take less than the standard 1 mg dosage of Finasteride?
A: Early dose ranging studies showed that much smaller dosages, such as 0.5 mg and even less, inhibited DHT on average almost as well as much higher dosages, such as 5 mg. One 6-month study
(You can see this study by going to the HairlossSucks Document Resource
and looking in the
"Propecia Related" section) comparing a placebo group, which lost hair, to users taking differing dosages of finasteride found that 0.2 mg of finasteride increased hair counts about 81% as much as 1 mg when compared to the placebo. Similarly, 1 mg increased hair counts 82% as much as a full 5 mg compared to placebo. The tiny 0.2 mg dosage did about 66% as well at regrowth and retention as 5 mg. Accordingly, the 1 mg dosage was probably a compromise designed to be high enough to pick up those who may not respond as well to the lower dosages, but low
enough to minimize side effects. Many of those who take less than 1 mg opt for either 0.5 mg or 0.625 mg (1/8th of a Proscar tablet). Some people also skip days periodically based on the fact that finasteride suppresses DHT for up to several days and also on the old pharmacological rationale that it may help preclude any possible tendencies toward tolerance, which sometimes happens with continuous long-term use of medications.
Is there a problem if my wife gets pregnant while I'm taking Finasteride?
Originally Merck decided to err on the side of caution and warned against
the possible problem of Finasteride transfer in semen. This warning has
since been removed. At issue is the theoretical danger that there could be
genital birth defects in the male fetus. This is one reason Finasteride
tablets are coated, and women who are or could get pregnant should
ingestion and the handling of broken
How effective is Finasteride?
is not a miracle treatment, but it works reasonably well for many people.
Results tend to be slow, and it appears to be better at retaining than
regrowing hair. But as treatments go, it's fairly effective. Like all
treatments discussed here, it is typically best used as part of a
What kind of side effects can you get with Finasteride or other systemic
A: Finasteride is the best documented of the DHT inhibitors and most people notice no side effects from it. Some people do, however, experience a reduction in libido or notice more watery semen. Some get some noticeable hyperandrogenicity, as evidenced by increased facial oil, pimples or unusually high libido. Testicular ache is occasionally noted, probably due to increased testosterone output, and the body takes time to adjust to this. (Increased T levels--15% on average in
Finasteride users--are likely in large part a compensatory response to reduced DHT.) Most often any side effects dissipate within 2 or 3 months. If they do not, things should return to normal after discontinuing
Finasteride, although this may take a couple of weeks, as Finasteride has a relatively long biological effect, although a short serum half-life.
Specifics Treatment Questions
Six weeks ago I started using X and now my hair is shedding like crazy.
What's going on?
treatments will cause follicles to "wake up" a few weeks early
in initiating hair growth. This causes the old dormant hair that's still
present to suddenly be ejected prematurely. Thus you may see a temporary
wave of increased loss. It's only an apparent increase in actual loss,
however, as this falling hair had stopped its growth cycle many weeks
earlier and was just waiting to drop out. Increased fallout of this sort
should normalize within a few weeks. If it continues over a prolonged
period of time (several months) it may be that the treatment is
Note that the majority of people do not notice any increased shedding with
various treatments. Increased shedding is most often a positive sign, but
its absence is not a negative sign. Note also that hair fallout is not
perfectly uniform throughout the year, so sometimes increased or decreased
shedding is simply coincidental with normal hair cycles. Also bear in mind
that it is perfectly normal to lose hair every day. The problem with
pattern loss is primarily one of having insufficient regrowth.
A few days ago I began using X and now I'm losing a lot of hair. How come?
A: Unless you're experiencing incredible irritation and redness, acute inflammation, or are undergoing an extremely toxic medical
treatment, this week's loss has nothing to do with what you've been doing the last few days. The hair fallout you see this week is actually of hair that ended its growth cycle many weeks ago. Thus today's loss is a picture of the state of your scalp from at least 2 - 4 weeks (and probably more like 6 -12 weeks) ago. This hair was already in the loss phase, in other words, before you even started your recent treatment. Thus, short of mechanically pulling hair out prematurely or undergoing a course of chemotherapy or radiation, this week's falling hair is completely uninfluenced by what you're doing this week. Any loss you're seeing now is coincidental to other events. Similarly, what you're doing treatment-wise today won't be reflected in your hair fallout until several weeks from now.
I heard that treatment X helps grow hair. Is this true?
A: Many agents
grow some hair in some people. The question is whether or not a given
treatment will grow a significant amount of hair in a significant
percentage of people. Personal experimentation will provide the only sure
answer for any given individual. On the other hand, there clearly are
"snake oil" treatments that only make the seller's bank account
grow, so be wary.
Can shampoo make a difference in MPB?
A: Sometimes, as a percentage of the active ingredients gets absorbed into the scalp and left behind after rinsing. For instance,
seborrheic dermatitis ("seb derm," a bad case of dandruff) is now thought to play a minor role in pattern loss. In the Propecia trials, researchers had test subjects use T/Gel shampoo (one of the many treatments for seb derm) as a means of leveling the field and cutting out this factor as a variable in determining results. Also, 2% prescription strength Nizoral shampoo used 2 - 4 times weekly was shown in one study to produce hair growth results comparable to 2% minoxidil used once daily in a small group of group of test subjects. It was also shown in a larger group to increase the number of hairs in the anagen (growth) phase and to increase average hair shaft diameter. There are almost certainly other shampoos that can positively influence hair growth, as medication can reach the hair follicle fairly easily when the scalp is in a well-hydrated state. Water is a superb penetration enhancer that is, in fact, added liberally to many medicated penetrating creams.
Do any treatments work in the frontal area or are they only effective in
A: All treatments that work on the crown also work to some degree in the
front--just not as well. Treatments are generally more effective the
further back you go. Confusion arises because of the way some studies were
conducted. With Minoxidil, for instance, studies only measured vertex
balding; i.e., the traditional bald spot. Accordingly, the only hair
growth results that the manufacturer--Upjohn--is allowed to claim pertain
to the vertex.
What's this I keep hearing about a dual 5AR inhibitor?
A: DHT is produced from testosterone by two 5-alpha reductase isoenzymes, called Type I and Type II. Type I 5AR is much more
prominent in the scalp than Type II. However, immunostaining techniques reveal that Type I is abundant in sebaceous glands, while significant Type II is present in the dermal papilla itself. Glaxo Wellcome is currently testing a medication (Dutasteride) that inhibits Both isoenzymes. It is noteworthy that Dutasteride also inhibits more Type II 5AR than finasteride does. What remains to be seen is whether the incidence of side effects will increase with the dual inhibitor above the level seen with finasteride and whether results will be greater or not.
What is DHT
A: Dihydrotestosterone, which is produced from testosterone by the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. DHT is the androgen thought to be most responsible for male pattern baldness. DHT has a very high affinity for the androgen receptor and is estimated to be five to ten times more potent than testosterone. Other androgens that may be significant in pattern loss include androstenedione, androstanedione and DHEA (especially in women). All of these fall into hormonal pathways that can potentially result in elevation of DHT downstream via various enzymes. It is possible that certain DHT metabolites may play a role in pattern loss as well.
Q: Can shampoo make a difference in MPB?
A: Sometimes. For instance,
Seborrheaic dermatitis ("seb derm," a bad case of dandruff) is now thought to play a minor role in pattern loss. In the Propecia trials, researchers had test subjects use T/Gel shampoo (one of the many treatments for seb derm) as a means of leveling the field and cutting out this factor as a variable in determining results. Also, 2% prescription strength Nizoral shampoo was shown in one study to produce hair growth results comparable to 2% Minoxidil when used 2 - 4 times weekly. There are almost certainly other shampoos that can positively influence hair growth, as medication can reach the hair follicle fairly easily when the scalp is in a well-hydrated state.
Q: Is it true that the herb saw palmetto is better than Finasteride
(Proscar/Propecia) and has no side effects?
A: Saw palmetto has been used successfully in prostate enlargement. Accordingly it may have utility in pattern loss, though it has not been formally tested for this. Saw palmetto and
Finasteride are not really equivalent, since saw palmetto has a much broader range of anti-hormonal activity than Finasteride. As for side effects, these are certainly possible with saw palmetto, though everyone will respond uniquely. It must be borne in mind that saw palmetto is as much a chemical concoction as Finasteride; it was merely produced in Nature's laboratory instead of a conventional one. Like anything, if it's potent enough to cause a biochemical change in the body--especially involving hormones--it's potent enough to cause side effects in some people. Saw palmetto may be useful topically.
What's reflex hyperandrogenicity?
A: When the effects
of androgens in the body are lessened, e.g. through lowering DHT or by
blockading hormone receptors systemically, the body seeks equilibrium
through a process called upregulation. This can take the form of
increased hormone production and/or increased tissue sensitivity to the
remaining hormones. The reason side effects usually gradually
disappear with Finasteride is probably due to such upregulation. In
a small percentage of individuals, it may be that this process overshoots
the mark, resulting in significant hyperandrogenicity. This is
marked by such signs as greatly increased facial oil, increased pimples,
and greatly elevated libido. It's possible that in certain cases
such hyperandrogenicity overcomes the hair-protective effect of, say,
Finasteride, though this does not appear to be the case for the vast
majority of people.