Hair loss is a common and often debilitating issue for guys. Roughly half of men will experience noticeable hair loss by 35, and 85% by 50. And it’s not just men. Fifty per cent of women will lose hair by age 60, though rarely as severe.
In a way, dealing with hair loss is a good news, bad news scenario. The good news is that hair loss treatment is available for both sexes, and it’s improving every year. The bad news is that some of the more effective solutions come with side effects that make the solution worse than the problem. In some cases, the side effects linger.
This article outlines side effects associated with two of the most common hair loss treatments, Rogaine and Propecia, and introduces alternatives that might be safer, and just as effective.
Minoxidil, or Rogaine, is an over-the-counter hair loss treatment, originally developed to treat high blood pressure. Today it’s one of the best known medical treatments to male pattern baldness, and it remains the only FDA-approved hair loss solution for women.
How Rogaine grows hair isn’t fully understood. Some speculate that it widens blood vessels within the scalp and encourags blood and nutrients to interact with shrinking hair follicles. Rogaine needs to be applied to the scalp twice a day to be effective, and works best for hair loss on top of the head.
Rogaine has been studied primarily in younger men, age 18-41. While it doesn’t address the main cause of genetic hair loss in men – excessive levels of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) – it appears reasonably effective at preserving existing hair in areas prone to hair loss.
Rogaine comes with side effects that may include burning, or itching of the eye, irritation, allergic reactions, breathing problems, chest pain, fainting, and unexplained weight loss. The fact that Rogaine does not inhibit DHT probably spares it from the more serious and lingering side effects of its prescription cousin Propecia, which we’ll review shortly.
Finasteride, or Propecia, is another common hair loss treatment. Originally developed as a treatment for enlarged prostate, the FDA approved Propecia to treat male pattern balding in 1997.
Based on evidence of hair preservation and regrowth, Propecia works. In a five year study, 48% of men using Propecia experienced visible hair regrowth, and 42% halted further hair loss. Unlike Rogaine, Propecia inhibits production of DHT and thereby prevents, or at least, severely limits, the main culprit of hair loss in men.
Propecia is not recommended for women with hair loss.
New studies link Propecia with alarming and, in some cases irreversible side effects. Users of Propecia report anxiety, depression, gynecomastia (male breasts), reduced sex drive, less semen production (and related loss of fertility) and erectile dysfunction.
According to its website, the sexual side effects occur in less than two per cent of users and reverse upon discontinued use.
But an independent study by the Boston University School of Medicine puts those numbers higher, between four and eight per cent, and suggests the effects are permanent – a conclusion supported by the Swedish Medical Product agency. Propecia, though an effective hair loss treatment, could make a man’s already fragile self-image a whole lot worse.
Remember that hair loss treatment is a developing field. New products and technologies continue to emerge that could make it safer and more effective in the future.
Profollica is one of the newer products, and while it is new, shows potential. Recent studies show that 90% of men using Profollica report less hair loss, without side effects.
In addition, hair transplants, though expensive and somewhat intrusive, are a permanent and generally effective way to treat hair loss in affected areas. Hair transplants don’t grow new hair, rather, they relocate existing hair, from a donor site (typically above the neck) to the recipient area. The technology continues to evolve, and if you have the time and funds, typically $4,000-$20,000, might warrant further consideration.