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We’re not here to scare you, but if you’re reading this you’re probably going to experience hair loss at some point in your life. Maybe you already have. When you do, remember that it’s not just you–hair loss is extremely common. In fact, by the age of 35, around two-thirds of men notice some form of hair loss and that number climbs to 85 percent by age 50. So yeah, it’s definitely not just you.
When it happens, the question isn’t why is this happening to me?, it’s what am I going to do about it? Truthfully, there is no right answer. Dealing with hair thinning issues is a personal decision. There’s no shame in cutting to the chase and choosing to shave your head. There’s also no shame in trying to minimize or curb the loss using hair loss treatments. Which leads to another question: which product do you try? The world of hair loss treatments is vast and confusing, with a healthy dose of snake oil salesmen that are going to try to dupe you into wasting your money on stuff that doesn’t work. So we asked board-certified dermatologists–Natalie Kash, MD; Barry Goldman, MD; and Dhaval Bhanusali, MD–which products are worth your time and effort–and tips on how to use them.
Read more: How to Stop Hair Loss
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5% Minoxidil Foam
- FDA-approved and doctor recommended
- If you stop using it, hair loss will come back–so be sure before you start
Overwhelmingly, all our experts recommended 5% minoxidil as the best treatment for Male Pattern Hair Loss. It’s FDA-approved and clinically-proven to stop shedding and help regrow hair. Rogaine, the original minoxidil treatment, remains the go-to especially because it’s widely available at most drug stores. Pick up the foam, says Dr. Kash, because it’s easier to control and less likely to drip onto your face (if it does, wash it off quickly to avoid weird hair patches). Unlike the solution, the foam doesn’t contain propylene glycol, which can cause an allergic reaction for some people.
Read more: Reason for Hair Loss
The Pill Finasteride
- Can cause side effects and should always be used under the care of a doctor
Apart from minoxidil, finasteride is the other gold standard in hair loss treatment and can be “more effective,” says Dr. Goldman. It’s also highly studied, including actual hair count studies and studies showing the increased hair count was maintained after two years, he says. The downside is that it’s only available by prescription and should always be used under the care of a doctor, as there can be side effects like bloating, chills, and decreased sex drive among others. Hims allows you to consult with a doctor online and order finasteride right to your door, without killing time in a waiting room or trekking to the pharmacy.
Read more: Best Hair Products for Men
Best Double Whammy
- Multiple treatment options in one place
- Medical consultations for the prescription products are not available in all states
If you’re looking for a double whammy of both minoxidil and finasteride, Keeps has you covered. They offer both as a combo and you can even add on other products like thickening or dandruff-controlling shampoo. They only offer FDA-approved hair loss medications (no snake oil here) and an easy consultation with a doctor is necessary before purchasing finasteride since it’s prescription only. The only downside is that for regulatory reasons, the medical consultation may not be available in your states, in which case you’d only be able to purchase minoxidil. Overall, however, the products are easy to use and even easier to get.
- Finasteride: $25/month
- Minoxidil: $10
- Doctor Consultation: First visit free. $5/visit thereafter.
Best Cover-Your-Bases Kit
Hair Regrowth Treatment
- Customizable with FDA-approved medications and supplements
Take a quick quiz about your hair and lifestyle and MDHair customizes a treatment kit for you using their dermatologist-developed products based on your answers. Taking into account not only your genetics, but also lifestyle factors that could be contributing to hair loss, they provide a well-rounded approach that other similar companies don’t. There’s the classic minoxidil serum, but also medicated shampoo and hair supporting supplements using natural ingredients. Used together, they can address multiple hair loss factors, which a single product usually can’t. You can also add more products to your kit as needed or buy them individually.
- Minoxidil Serum: $24
- Haircare Shampoo: $22
- Regrowth Supplements: $42
Read more: Best Shampoos for Thinning Hair
Best Natural Hair Loss Supplement
- Naturally derived ingredients
- May need to be combined with other treatments
Since it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of hair loss you have, especially if your thinning doesn’t follow the typical Male Pattern Hair Loss patterns, it can be hard to figure out what to do about it. An ingestible supplement like this works from the inside to target common factors that could contribute to hair loss like inflammation, environmental factors and stress. Using naturally-derived ingredients, Nutrafol targets these underlying issues to help keep the hair you have and potentially get back the hair you’ve lost. Just remember, you may need to pair it with something like minoxidil for best results.
Best Supplement with Collagen
Men’s Hair Growth Supplement
- Easy, ingestible supplement
- Recommended to be used with another treatment
“There is more evidence that supplements like Viviscal seem to stop hair loss,” says Dr. Goldman, but he’s quick to note that more research needs to be done on what particular ingredients are actually responsible. Viviscal is packed with collagen and other hair friendly ingredients like vitamin C, zinc and flax seed which help to regulate the hair life cycle. Take a pill morning and night to help support growth. Supplements like this “can be a good supporting player,” says dermatologist Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, but are best used in combination with another treatment.
Read more: Best Supplements for Men
Best Cheaper LED System
Essential Laser Hair Growth System
- Less expensive than comparable LED caps
There are a lot of LED systems out there that target hair growth, but Dr. Kash recommends a helmet because it’s way easier to use than other devices like combs. Just put it on your head, power it on, and you’re good to go. Like other LED devices, the red lights inside the cap stimulate blood flow to the scalp and reduce inflammation, both of which help to support hair growth. Dr. Kash recommends this FDA-cleared cap specifically because it’s high quality for a relatively low price (compared to other similar models). Her biggest tip: you have to really commit to using it every day to see the best results.
Before you can treat hair loss, you have to know what’s causing it. Overwhelmingly, the most common type of hair loss in men is androgenetic alopecia, also known as Male Pattern Hair Loss (MPHL) and is “primarily driven by genetics and hormones,” says dermatologist Natalie Kash, MD. MPHL happens when a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) causes the life cycle of your hair to shorten, leading to increased shedding and loss. There is also increasing evidence that factors like inflammation and oxidative stress can contribute to MPHL, according to Dr. Kash. Identifying MPHL is relatively simple – hair loss is typically concentrated in “certain parts of the scalp like the hair line, top of the head and the crown,” she says, whereas hair on the lower part of the scalp and around your ears is usually less affected.
There are other forms of hair loss to complicate things, though. Telogen effluvium is hair loss caused by high stress, surgeries or other internal issues like thyroid problems or vitamin D deficiency. There’s also alopecia areata, “caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the hair follicles causing smooth circles of hair loss on the scalp and sometimes it the beard area,” says dermatologist Barry Goldman, MD. These and other types of hair loss are harder to treat, and if you aren’t sure what’s causing your thinning, it’s best to consult a dermatologist who can help identify it and formulate the best treatment plan with you.
Do Hair Loss Products Work?
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? The fact of the matter is, not all of them do. All our experts recommend focusing on tried and true, FDA-approved ingredients minoxidil and finasteride, both of which haven been shown through years of study to help control MPHL. For the record, these are the only two ingredients FDA-approved for hair loss. That’s not to say that other treatments, like supplements, natural remedies, and gadgets won’t work at all, it’s just that the science supporting them isn’t as robust (or doesn’t exist at all). There is also something to be said about a multi-pronged approach, like using minoxidil and a supplement. “The more ways you can act on the pathways contributing to hair loss the better and I often see patients on multiple types of therapy have better results,” says Dr. Kash. But if you’re using something and your hair loss isn’t getting better or, yikes, getting worse, head to the dermatologist for an evaluation.
If you want to hedge your bets, look for tried and true minoxidil. Dr. Kash recommends products with 5% minoxidil—the maximum amount available over the counter. She also says there isn’t much difference in the efficacy between name brand and generic products, as long as they all contain 5% minoxidil. Finasteride, the other FDA-approved medication, is usually taken orally, so you’re less likely to find it in topical products. Any other ingredients, like collagen and antioxidants found in supplements, can be helpful to support hair health, but won’t replace these two hair-loss all stars.
It should go without saying, but if you’re going to use a product, make sure you’re using it correctly. Before applying anything to your head, make sure you know how much to put on, how and when to apply it (and how often), and how long to leave it on your hair or if you need to wash it out. It’s safe to say you definitely won’t see any difference if you’re not using a product correctly, no matter what it is.
Consider Your Hair Type and Texture
The good news is that “we haven’t seen a difference in efficacy between patients with fine or textured hair,” says Dr. Goldman. However, “more research needs to be done.” And while medications like minoxidil will work on all hair types, how you use it may differ. The biggest rule of thumb, according to Dr. Kash, is to make sure you “apply the products to the scalp where the hair follicles are” and not only on the hair shaft itself. Additionally, if you have fine hair, apply the product at night, let it dry overnight, and then brush it through, she says. Applying it in the morning may weight down fine hair and make it look greasy. On the flip side, if you have textured hair, make sure to really massage it into your scalp, since some products like minoxidil can leave textured hair dry.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when using hair loss treatments is to be patient. “You can have increased shedding for up to six weeks after starting minoxidil,” says Dr. Kash. That shedding is temporary (if it doesn’t stop, see a dermatologist). Additionally, “it often takes three months to start to see an improvement and six months for significant improvement,” she says. If you give up before then, you likely won’t see any improvement at all. The one exception: if you notice any redness, itching, swelling, or irritation, stop using it and head to your dermatologist.
Barry Goldman, MD is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and a clinical assistant professor at New York University Medical Center.
Dhaval Bhanusali, MD is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and founder of Hudson Dermatology and Laser Surgery. He also
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