What You Need To Know About Hair-Growth Treatments

Toss your stereotypical notion of the balding middle-aged man out the window. According to the American Hair Loss Association, about 40% of hair-loss sufferers are women. And many different factors can contribute to female hair loss, such as extreme stress, inflammation, menopause, and chronic conditions.

To help, brands have been developing treatments that stimulate hair growth. You've probably heard of Rogaine (yes, there's a product for women), and it's possible your hairstylist has mentioned Biotin supplements. But how effective are these treatments? And who should be using them? Ahead, we ask experts to shed some light on the subject.

Before scrolling, an important note: Charlene Deegan-Calello, executive director of new product development for Keranique, stresses that you should always first identify the kind of hair loss you have before choosing a course of treatment. "There's a multitude of reasons for hair loss. If you have a stressful event in your life — and it can even be a hormonal fluctuation — or your diet's poor, that will mitigate itself," she says. "None of the follicles will shut down and your hair will regrow in the same manner that it grew prior to that event. So, for that type of hair loss, you don't need treatment at all."

This kind of transient hair loss, Deegan-Calello explains, is most prevalent in younger women in their 20s and 30s. Older women, however, might have to adopt a more proactive approach. "Post-menopausal [hair loss] is different. Your hormone levels have modified and, in fact, you're producing far less estrogen," she says. "So, in that circumstance, that's when you start to see diffused hair loss — where you'll have thinning patches. It's not regrowing, typically, once you're in that stage." And then there are those with hair loss on the clinical end of the spectrum, who have a diagnostic or chronic condition.

Overall word to the wise: "If you are experiencing hair loss for more than a month, go see a professional," says New York dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD. "Anything that's going wrong can typically be corrected, [and] you want to do it before you've lost 10, 20, or 30% of the hair on your head." It's worth noting that for all of the treatments, results differ from person to person. So, whichever hair-growth path you choose to go down, get informed first.

According to Dr. Fusco, the two treatments that almost all ladies turn to for help with hair growth are biotin and prenatal vitamins. But if you're not deficient in biotin (also known as vitamin H, coenzyme R, and vitamin B7), iron, or protein, and that isn't the cause of your hair loss, taking them isn't going to make a difference as far as hair growth goes.

What these supplements are great for is strengthening weak hair, Deegan-Calello says. "Biotin has absolutely been shown to make hair thicker, to make hair stronger. In terms of a vitamin for hair, it's fantastic," she says. But when it comes to encouraging longer locks, that's a pretty tricky — and often controversial — claim. There's evidence that it helps with nail growth, but it's inconclusive as far as hair goes.

Now, what about side effects? While there's no scientific evidence that points to specific drawbacks, Dr. Fusco has heard some anecdotal claims that suggest supplements aren't all they're cracked up to be. She has had patients who have taken mega doses on their own and complained simply of not feeling well. One even mentioned they noticed an increase in hair loss.

Natrol Biotin, $6.99, available at Drugstore.com.
Minoxidil, the drug that Dr. Fusco refers to as the gold standard for hair growth treatments, has an interesting backstory. "Long story short — doctors started noticing that patients who were using it to correct blood pressure problems were growing hair all over their body," she explains. "Eventually, somebody said: 'Well, what if we make it in topical form?' And that's how cosmetic minoxidil was born."

You're probably more familiar with minoxidil as being the star ingredient in products like Rogaine, Keranique, and other hair growth-focused brands. As Deegan-Calello explains, it's one of only three methods approved by the FDA (one of which we will get to later, the other being Propecia, which is solely used by men) to combat or abate hair loss. What it does, she says, is work as a reboot for your hair follicles. "Minoxidil opens up the capillary system. It augments the blood flow to the follicle...it provides nutrients to the hair and it will reactivate [it]," she says. "So, a follicle that was poorly producing, or on the verge of not producing, will reactivate."

It's often used in conjunction with nutrients in products, like shampoos and conditioners, but it's most commonly used topically — and applied directly onto the scalp. One point worth noting about this particular treatment is that you have to apply it every day...like, forever, says Dr. Fusco. "A lot of women get upset that they have to do this for the rest of their life, and they say to me, 'Well, what happens when I stop using it?'" she says. "Well, what will happen is your hair will revert to looking the way it did before. So, if you've been using it for a year, you will lose any hair growth you might've observed."

Keranique Hair Regrowth Treatment, $30, available at Ulta Beauty.
Think of nanoxidil as a laser beam version of minoxidil. "It's a smaller molecule, so these products promise better penetration through the scalp to the hair follicle," explains Dr. Fusco.

On top of that, whenever nanoxidil is used, it's compounded with a lot of other ingredients, she says. Some of which include: amino acids, proteins, zinc, copper, retinol — ingredients that target inflammation. "What they're doing is combining a lot of ingredients that will target the hair follicle to slow down that female-pattern hair loss or shedding, but also nourish the hair follicle and decrease inflammation," she says.

But she also adds that this pro can also turn into a con, depending on the person using it. "Depending on what it's compounded with, somebody could react poorly to an amino acid, to a preservative...Theoretically, they could be allergic to something."

Spectral DNC-N with Nanoxidil, $24.99, available at The Vitamin Shoppe.
Laser Treatment
Laser treatment (think: hair caps, hats, and the headband, seen here) is the other FDA-approved hair-growth treatment, and it works like this: "Different lights or diodes light up at a specific wavelength," Dr. Fusco explains. "The bottom line is, supposedly, the energy of the wave length stimulates the hair follicle — the dermal papillae, which is where hair grows from. It grows and is formed from there." It's very low-light therapy, easy to use, and, as Deegan-Calello explains, is approved for women with allergenic alopecia.

Dr. Fusco says that most physicians recommend using it in conjunction with a host of other therapies, which might include pills or topical lotions. It's also important to remember that if you're going to use a laser treatment, patience is key. "I believe the recommended wait period is about 26 weeks before you can expect to see some results," she says. "Remember that hair only grows half an inch a month, so it's not that you're going to notice longer hair, but a decreased amount of shedding, if that's what you're experiencing, and maybe thickness or more density at the roots near the scalp."

But when it comes to suggesting laser treatment as a viable option, both experts are hesitant. Mainly because it hasn't been on the market very long. "There are very mixed reviews out there," says Deegan-Calello. "It's fairly new, so there are reservations because we don't know the side effects. I think, for me, if I was suffering from hair loss, I'm not sure that I would run to this right now. It's approved by the FDA, so it completely works, but on how many people? And to what degree? And what long-term side effects — if any — exist? I just don't know that this therapy has been used long enough."

Hairmax LaserBand 82 Laser Hair Regrowth System, $795, available at Nordstrom.
Au Naturel
For those looking for something a little more natural, Dr. Fusco says rosemary oil is an option. "They did a head-to-head study [in Iran] recently, where they compared the efficacy of minoxidil versus rosemary oil," she explains. "And in these studies, the rosemary oil worked as effectively as the Rogaine."

Castor oil, which includes ricinoleic acid and omega-6 essential fatty acids, is also rumored to help hair growth, as well.

Now Essential Oils Rosemary Oil, $7.99, available at Drugstore.com.
Preventative Measures
Both experts stress that, despite the treatment you might use, if you don't take good care of your hair — particularly your scalp — it's all null and void. Deegan-Calello shares that a lot of female hair loss is linked to inflammation. "If you think about the process, what happens with inflammation is, a tissue swells. And when a tissue swells, the blood supply gets choked off. Hair loss is no different," she explains. "Think about your follicle, if there's inflammation on your scalp, your blood supply is being impacted and your blood supply is linked to your follicle...If your scalp is healthy, it will produce far better hair."

And a healthy scalp starts with picking the proper cleansing agents. Dr. Fusco advises looking for a shampoo product with zinc pyrithione. This ingredient helps control dandruff, which helps reduce inflammation and the shedding that comes with it. But she also says using a conditioner is important — on both the ends of the hair and the scalp. "It turns out that not a lot of women use conditioner on their scalp...they worry that their scalp is going to get oily and weigh down their hair," she says. "They should look for a product that is formulated specifically for hair and scalp.

"The biggest takeaway: You should be taking care of the hair on your head just as diligently as you take care of the skin on your face. "We're putting on SPF every day to keep our skin healthy and disease-free; why wouldn't we do the same for our scalp?" asks Deegan-Calello.

Clear 24/7 Total Care Shampoo, $3.74, available at Target.
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