Nothing is as demoralizing as seeing clumps of your hair go down the shower drain or noticing your part grow wider. Forty percent of American women over fifty (and seventy-five percent over sixty-five) suffer from alopecia, female pattern hair loss. Alopecia does not mean female pattern hair loss. Alopecia means hair loss in general, and it can refer to any number of causes. In response, there is a $3.6 billion hair loss industry, which means you can spend a fortune on remedies. But do they work? We consulted leading experts to find out which hair loss treatments produce the best results.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the most common cause of hair loss, androgenic alopecia, is genetic. “If you have a family history of thinning hair, it’s likely to happen to you,” says Manhattan dermatologist Ellen Gendler, MD. “The loss of estrogen can be a factor as well. Add to that the assortment of medications that can also have an impact on hair growth and loss— anti-depressants, blood pressure meds, etc.— and thinning hair is almost a given over time.”
Regarding the stressors of dyeing, lightening, heated curling irons or hot rollers, Dr. Gendler says, “They contribute to mechanical hair loss, which is more like hair breakage. But if you wear your hair in a tight ponytail your whole adult life or do things that put a constant pull on your hair, it can lead to “traction alopecia,” which is actually a type of scarring hair loss where the hair follicles are gradually destroyed by the pressure applied to them. “
Minoxidil, sold as Rogaine, is the only FDA approved medication for female pattern hair loss. “If you start using Rogaine and get positive results, you might want to stay on it,” says Gendler, because the hair you grow as a result of this treatment will most likely fall out once you discontinue use.
Diet & Supplements
Popeye was onto something. Leafy greens don’t just build muscle; they also build stronger, thicker hair follicles. But if you are a vegetarian, you may lack adequate iron, which is essential for healthy hair. Eat plenty of greens—spinach, kale, chard, beans, and tofu, which are all great sources of iron as well as biotin and zinc, two nutrients that may also play a role in hair growth. Not a vegetarian? Along with leafy greens, increase your intake of fish (Omega 3) and iron-rich lean red meat.
When it comes to dietary supplements, Dr. Gendler says, “buyer beware.” She advises patients to give them a try for four months and see what they think. “These supplements contain an assortment of marine extracts which are thought to help with hair, though there are no definitive studies.” Some women have seen good results from Nutrafol, which contains vitamin E, biotin, keratin, saw palmetto extract and resveratrol. Gendler finds that Lambdapil, which contains its own alphabet soup of vitamins, seems to be helpful, and adds Dr. Gendler, “some of them have palmetto extract, which definitely has some effect, as it mimics the effect of finasteride.” Other popular supplements for hair loss include Viviscal, which contains shark and mollusk powder as well as biotin, zinc, vitamin C, horsetail extract and iron. Phytophanere also claims to produce fuller, thicker, shinier, and healthier-looking hair due to a combination of biotin, essential B vitamins, fatty acids and antioxidants. Bottom line: they might not help but they won’t hurt.
What about PRP injections (platelet-rich plasma), which use your own blood to stimulate new hair growth? “In my experience, it does actually work for some people. We don’t really know why,” says Dr. Gendler. “If you don’t mind spending some money and having injections for three to four months and then playing a bit of a waiting game to see results, it might be worth a try.” Note: PRP is also offered in non-medical settings such as salons and spas. Our take? The withdrawal and injection of blood are safer when done under the supervision of a board-certified physician.
According to the National Institutes of Health, Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), also known as infrared therapy, “appears to be safe and effective” for the treatment of hair loss. These treatments are best administered by a medical professional. However, a plethora of devices are available online, for home use, ranging from laser therapy headgear that resembles baseball caps to an FDA approved iRestore Hair Growth Helmet. Take care to keep these laser devices out of the hands of children, or Elon Musk, who might mistake them for toys.
Following splashy editorials in Vogue and Vanity Fair, Harklinikken (“hair clinic” in Danish) products have recently gained a cult following. This tea-colored tonic derived from plants and cow’s milk promises an increase of thirty to sixty percent in hair growth, however, they do not guarantee results to anyone with alopecia.
“We have fabulous products that help with scalp stimulation and hair growth,” says Svetlana Tsikhun at Rescue Spa in Manhattan. “Complexe Cegaba & Bioproline by Biologique Recherche is an anti-hair loss serum used for prevention which will stimulate growth while preventing hair loss. Rescue Spa also offers a three-week treatment that helps stimulate growth and fullness as well as boosts shine called “Valmont Hair Repair Hair and Scalp Cellular Treatment. “
Too much scalp showing? Tsikhun is enthusiastic about Oribe Touch Up Spray, a quick-drying, micro-fine powder spray that touches up gray roots and scalp. Available in Platinum, Blonde, Red, Light Brown, Dark Brown and Black. “It works wonders!” says Tsikhun, “It also gives some oomph with texture as well.”
When to see a doctor?
If you are distressed about hair loss, talk to your dermatologist to determine the root cause and formulate a treatment plan. Sudden hair loss can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, lupus, hypothyroidism or anemia, which requires attention and treatment.