Hair loss can be devastating for both men and women, even more so when there are loads of products on the market that don't work. According to the American Hair Loss Association (AHLA), two thirds of American men experience some degree of hair loss by the age of 35. By the age of 50, approximately 85 percent experience significantly thinning hair. Balding is commonly associated with aging, but for 25 percent of men the process begins before the age of 21. What's more, hair loss is not limited to men: The American Hair Loss Association reports that women make up about 40 percent of hair-loss sufferers in the United States.
The majority of American men and women are affected by hair loss, known as alopecia, at some point in their lives, according to experts. Androgenetic alopecia (AGA), commonly referred to as male- or female-pattern baldness, accounts for about 95 percent of hair loss in the U.S., according to Better Nutrition magazine. Experts say pattern baldness is genetic and inherited equally in men and women. However, the hair-loss gene can only express itself when dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a male hormone, is present. Because estrogen usually suppresses male-hormone production, women don't typically experience pattern baldness until after menopause has begun; although, even the slightest hormone shift can cause hair loss in women.
The causes behind other types of hair loss -- including alopecia areata, telogen effluvium, anagen effluvium and traction alopecia -- and their treatment can be dramatically different. Hair loss is best treated in association with its underlying cause; therefore, it's recommend to seek medical help. Abnormal hair loss can also be a symptom of a more serious disease -- early diagnosis is strongly suggested in these cases.
For the past two decades, scientists have made strides in developing hair loss treatments that are both safe and effective. However, the market is inundated with ineffective products; "99 percent of all products being marketed in the less than ethical hair loss treatment industry are completely ineffective for the majority of those who use them," according to the AHLA.
Topical treatments like Rogaine use the active ingredient minoxidil -- originally used to treat high blood pressure. After researchers discovered that it also promoted hair growth, it was the first drug approved by the FDA to treat male pattern baldness. It is used topically on the scalp, and the success of treatment is dependent on the user's extent of hair loss. Researchers at the AHLA find its efficacy to be marginal in the long run since it has no effect on the hormonal process.
Like minoxidil, finasteride, the active ingredient in Propecia, was originally created with a different purpose in mind -- to treat enlarged prostate glands -- and researchers observed it came with a side effect of hair growth. Unlike topical minoxidil, finasteride requires a prescription, is taken orally and addresses hormonal causes of hair loss. It inhibits the enzyme type II 5-alpha reductase, which converts testosterone into DHT. As it was the first truly effective treatment for hair loss that provided nearly guaranteed results, finasteride revolutionized the hair-loss-treatment industry.
Both minoxidil and finasteride require a lifelong commitment, but for users looking for a treatment with permanent results, hair transplant surgery may be the solution. Over the years, surgeons have developed techniques to deliver natural-looking results that are a far cry from early hair transplants, which had a cornrow-like appearance. These procedures are costly and may require multiple sessions depending on the patient.
To select the best hair-loss treatments on the market, we turned to the experts. Medical studies and clinical trials test various treatments, pointing out which are more effective than others. The AHLA also proved to be very informative. User reviews from Amazon.com and Drugstore.com offered helpful feedback on long-term use of these treatments.
We detail proven hair-loss treatments that offer good performance by promoting the growth of natural-looking hair, and we take a hard look at all possible side effects associated with the treatments.