Hair loss or thinning can be distressing for women, and it’s a more common problem than you might think: an estimated 30 million American women experience hereditary hair loss, which often starts during or after menopause. Many other women experience hair loss due to stress, certain medical conditions, or even hormone changes during pregnancy.
Fortunately, there are several treatment options that have been proven effective in stopping hair loss —or even promoting new hair growth—in women. Four potential treatments are highlighted below.
Although Rogaine is best known as a treatment for male pattern baldness, there is also a formulation of Rogaine for women. At this time, it is the only medication that the FDA has approved for the treatment of female hair loss. Like Rogaine for men, it comes as a foam that is massaged into the scalp, and it is available over the counter. Minoxidil, the active ingredient in this medication, helps reinvigorate hair follicles that have shrunken due to a hereditary condition, leading to renewed hair growth after about 4 months in some people. Rogaine only works for hereditary hair loss and should not be used to treat balding caused by other conditions.
Finasteride (Propecia, Proscar)
Finasteride, which comes as a pill that is taken once daily, is sometimes used to treat hair loss in men. It works by inhibiting a specific enzyme, which in turn reduces the production of the androgenic hormone that is causing hair loss. The FDA has not approved this medication for use in women, but some doctors will prescribe it off-label for women with hair loss. Results in women are mixed; one study found that of the 40 women in their trial who used finasteride, 16 saw significant improvement in hair growth, 16 saw moderate improvement, and 8 saw no improvement.
HairMax Laser Comb
The HairMax Laser Comb, which is available without a prescription, is the only handheld laser treatment that the FDA has approved for treating hair loss in women. Women are instructed to glide the device, which is a low-level laser, over their scalp for 15 minutes three times a week. Most of the people who benefit from this treatment begin seeing results in about 12-16 weeks, but a dermatologist who performed a small trial with the Laser Comb cautioned that he only saw results in about 25% of his patients.
Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy
Platelet rich plasma (PRP) therapy is one of the newest methods of treating female hair loss and may be effective for many women. The process involves extracting blood from the patient, placing the blood in a centrifuge to extract the plasma, and adding nutrients (including protein). The blood is then injected back into the patient’s scalp, which is numbed using a local anesthetic. One doctor who was interviewed in The New York Times claims he sees results in about 80% of the women he treats with this therapy, and many people like this treatment because there is a low risk of side effects and no downtime after the procedure. However, this type of therapy is currently very expensive (typically $3,000 or more) and is not covered by insurance.
There are obviously pros and cons to all the treatment methods described above, so the best thing you can do if you have been experiencing hair loss is to talk to a doctor. He or she can help you determine a safe treatment method to minimize hair loss or even promote new growth.