This is Part 1 of a 3 part series about treatment options for hair loss. Check back for guest posts soon where 2 other women from the hair loss community share their experiences with medical management of thinning hair!
Chances are, if you are early on in your hair loss journey, you have treatment on your mind. You will want to see your qualified medical professional for proper evaluation before starting any treatments. Start by visiting your GP or nurse practitioner and request to see a dermatologist. I have also heard of other women speaking with their endocrinologist and/or OBGYN about hair loss so these are also appropriate starting points and they will help you decide what, if any, other evaluation is necessary. Do your research to better understand what medical tests and labs should be completed.
There are a number of treatments that are available for female pattern hair loss. I am less familiar with treatments for other types of Alopecia, so this post will focus on my experience with treatment and management of Androgenetic Alopecia. Like any medical intervention, there will need to be a risk/benefit analysis done to understand the implications of treatment. Be sure to thoroughly discuss this with your doctor.
After I was diagnosed with Androgenetic Alopecia, I made the decision to begin treatment that was recommended by my dermatologist. This included iron supplements and topical Minoxidil. The diagnosis was made by visual inspection of the hair and scalp and from taking a medical history. At the time, I was not aware to ask for things like a scalp biopsy (I was only 19 when I saw the dermatologist) but I did complete a series of lab work to check hormone function and iron levels. I have spoken about my experience with treatment in a previous post so I will give you a quick synopsis: I started with Minoxidil 5% topical liquid applied to the scalp twice daily and over-the-counter iron supplements as I was borderline anemic. I maintained this treatment for some time despite having an allergic reaction to the liquid solution (my dermatologist suspected that propylene glycol was the culprit). I have been a long-time eczema sufferer so my skin has been known to flare often, but it was unusual for my scalp to flare. I briefly stopped minoxidil use to treat my scalp inflammation with a medicated shampoo and switched to minoxidil foam once this was cleared. Even with switching to the foam, I noticed an increase in eczema on my hands and fingers and ongoing scalp itchiness that was impacting my quality of life. It also made my hair look a greasy mess all the time which did nothing for the appearance of my thinning. I was needing to wash more frequently to manage the greasiness which made my hair dry and brittle.
I continued on for about 2 years with the minoxidil, but upon follow-up with my dermatologist, it did not appear to be regrowing any hair so I decided to stop treatment. I now understand that minoxidil isn’t always meant to grow back hair you have already lost, but to slow the rate at which thinning occurs but I did not know this at the time. I was given minimal information about treatment/prognosis at the time of diagnosis, and I was so young that I did not understand the implications of a lifelong commitment to the topical remedy. The counsel I received from my GP was “well at least you will never be completely bald” which was, obviously, unhelpful. My iron stores are a bit better more recently and I continue to take iron supplements occasionally.
I knew that having a family was a priority so this contributed to my decision to halt treatment since minoxidil is not recommended for use during pregnancy/breastfeeling. Following my discontinuation of minoxidil, I tried various other remedies including: Nioxin; castor oil; various other shampoos; the “no ‘poo” method; scalp massage; essential oils; Nizoral (meant to be a DHT blocker); vitamins (biotin, B3 complex, collagen, Hair Skin and Nails formulation, iron), and derma rolling. Nothing was improving the density or quality of my hair, so I opted to get it chopped very short and grew out my hair colour.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the hair care industry is rife with claims that products will grow back your hair. You should be looking for products that can demonstrate unbiased, clinically proven results. PLEASE don’t look at the claims on the label and get your hopes up about it growing back your hair!!!!!!!!! Just because Suzie’s sister’s friend’s mother grew her hair back with a magic potion, it doesn’t mean you should buy it.
There are some other factors that influenced my decision to stop treatments. It was very costly to continue purchasing new products to try. Minoxidil is expensive and is a lifetime commitment so this is something to bear in mind when making your decision. Lifestyle factors also matter when it comes to making the decision about treatment. If you plan to become pregnant and/or breastfeed, there are some types of treatments that are counter-indicated. Treatments require you to be very consistent and are a long-term commitment so if your lifestyle does not permit you to do this, it is unlikely to be effective. There are no guarantees that the treatment will be effective! There can be side effects and some people have concerns about using chemicals on their skin and/or orally to treat hair loss.
To sum up, these are the considerations you need to make before making a decision:
-Your type of hair loss, proper diagnosis, and treatment options recommended by your practitioner to meet your individual needs
-The management of other health conditions and management of side effects of any treatments
-Is the treatment supported by unbiased clinical research?
-The financial cost of treatment knowing that it is an ongoing commitment in order to see and maintain results
-The understanding that stopping treatment can undo any progress seen
-The chance that it may not work/chance that it will slow the progress of your thinning
What I will say is that I try to maintain good overall health, take vitamins, take iron, try to eat well and exercise, and I opt to wear hair full-time (mostly). I treat my bio hair as gently as I can and use products with fewer harsh ingredients. I am not anti-treatment, but I am anti-treatment for me and my hair loss. For this reason, I have 2 contributors who have chosen to treat their respective hair loss situations, so check back soon for those posts to hear about their experiences!