Male Hair Loss Treatments

Facts and Fiction About Male Hair Loss Treatments

Senior man combing his hair
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Male hair loss is something many men secretly fear and hope will never actually occur. After all, a good head of hair is associated with youth, virility and attractiveness, so when hair loss occurs, it can come as something of a shock.

Some very creative but ultimately fruitless concoctions have been devised in an attempt to reverse hair loss. Cleopatra used a mixture of horse teeth, bear grease, burnt mice and deer marrow in her attempt to cure Julius Caesar's baldness (it didn't work).

Hedgehog urine was also thought to be beneficial. The smell in the heat of the Egyptian sun must have been something very special!

There is currently no cure for baldness. However, there are some treatments that can help slow down the process.

Medications for Male Hair Loss

There are two drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration to have a positive effect on male balding -- finasteride and minoxidil.

Finasteride (known by the brand names Proscar and Propecia) is a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor, which works by blocking 5-alpha reductase, preventing the enzyme from converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). It is DHT that causes male pattern baldness. Originally prescribed by doctors for benign prostate hyperplasia (prostate enlargement), finasteride has been shown to stop hair loss and in some cases reverse the balding process.

Finasteride takes about three months to show results, and hair loss typically recurs a year after the drug is stopped.

Side effects are uncommon but can include impotence, reduced libido, ejaculation disorders, breast tenderness and enlargement, and hypersensitivity reactions, such as rashes and lip swelling.

Women of child bearing potential should not touch finasteride, and condoms should be used during sexual intercourse, as the drug is excreted in semen and there is a risk of birth defects.

Minoxidil (Rogaine) is found to be effective in about 25% of men with baldness on the crown. Applied twice a day in a cream, foam, or liquid, the hair growth only occurs as long as it is used. Minoxidil was originally approved to treat high blood pressure. Side effects are uncommon, but Rogaine should not be used by people with a history of heart problems, sudden weight gain, chest pains, fainting, or rapid heartbeat.

Surgical Intervention for Male Hair Loss

There are a few surgical options for treating male hair loss.

Hair transplants involve taking very small plugs of hair from the side or back of the scalp and transplanting them onto the bald patches. The procedure has improved over the years, but it still takes a number of months to give a good effect.

During tissue expansion, tiny balloons are inserted under the scalp between the areas of dense hair and gradually inflated over a number of months. This makes the area up to one third larger and it is this area that is surgically removed and the sides are pulled up to the top of the head.

In scalp reduction for male hair loss, loose skin on the scalp is surgically removed, pulling the hair on the sides of the head up. As the skin on the forehead is also sometimes slightly lifted, it can have the side benefit of lessening wrinkles.

Medically reviewed on 1/19/2012

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