Shining a Light on 9 Hair Loss Treatments

While many men are fine with hair loss, for others baldness demands a remedy, which they seek in a variety of ways.

Over the years, the number of treatments that have been claimed to cure baldness has been exceeded, perhaps, only by the number of jokes about the condition. But since baldness -- as unappealing a prospect as it may be for many men -- is not an illness, procedures and drugs to treat it may not get the scrutiny given those for genuine medical conditions.

"Things have gotten better, so there's some of the older techniques and older treatments ... and there are newer ones, so it's a work in progress, fortunately," said Dr. Walter Unger, a clinical professor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "We're constantly doing new things and getting better in medicine; when we don't, we're all going to be in trouble."

But while treatments have come along that have not worked well, there are things available for men who are losing or have lost their hair and would like to cover their pates.

"There are a variety of medical and surgical options, as well as things that are completely noninvasive," said Dr. Nicole Rogers, a hair loss specialist with Old Metairie Dermatology in Metairie, La.

Male pattern baldness is typically associated with the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Over time, the presence of this hormone has been linked to the thinning or "miniaturization" of hairs.

"The new hair that grows grows thinner and less pigmented," said Dr. Amy Newburger of Dermatology Consultants of Westchester, N.Y. "It just comes back as a shadow of its former self."

For most men, noticeable hair loss begins in their 20s or 30s, but some see it even younger.

"The youngest case of male pattern hair loss I have ever seen is age 8," said Dr. Jerry Shapiro, a dermatologist affiliated with New York University's Langone Medical Center and the University of British Columbia.

However, male pattern baldness tends to start later, affecting, to some degree, 20 percent of men by the time they reach the age of 20.

But for most of these men, there are a lot of options to stop, reverse or delay hair loss.

In the ensuing pages we will look at a number of treatment options that have been tried and the pros and cons of trying them out.

Follicular Unit Transplant

Performed in two different ways, follicular unit transplantation remains the best surgical option for men seeking to counter their hair loss.

"This is an extraordinary reproducible procedure," said Dr. Robert Bernstein, a clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University. "Hair transplant is the gold standard. It's 100 percent. The body doesn't reject its own hair."

Follicular transplant is a difficult procedure, but Bernstein noted, "[it] may not be done well, but if done well, it's "bulletproof."

As the name suggests, follicular unit transplant involves removing hair follicles from the patient's own head and transplanting them to other areas of the scalp that are losing or have lost hair.

The follicles are removed either in a strip -- which leaves a very thin but long (4-8 inch) scar -- or individually, the latter of which is a newer procedure known as follicular unit extraction.

While follicular unit extraction leaves only small scars (ideal for men who plan to possibly shave their heads) it takes longer and is more expensive.

Obviously the procedure does have some drawbacks.

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