Lots of products claim to help guys bring back the shiny mane of their younger days. But only a handful of those seem to work. And you don’t need to lighten your wallet on worthless shampoos and supplements in the quest for a fuller head of hair.
There’s no cure for baldness, but these options may help you keep it at bay if you’re gradually losing hair. The best time to use them is before you’ve lost a lot. So when you start to notice thinning locks, check in with your doctor about what you can do.
Popping a pill to thwart thinning hair may sound too good to be true, but it’s possible with finasteride (Propecia). The drug works by lowering levels of a hormone that shrinks hair follicles, called dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
It slows hair loss in about 88% of men and helps hair regrow in about 66%. You need a doctor’s prescription to get finasteride, which you take every day. Be patient, though: It can take 6 months to see results, because hair loss and growth happen slowly.
In clinical trials for the drug, about 3% of men had some side effects, including a lower sex drive and other sexual problems. It’s possible that these issues can continue after you stop taking the drug. Keep in mind, too, that pregnant women shouldn’t handle the pills -- touching broken or crushed tablets can cause birth defects in babies.
It’s not as easy to use as a daily pill, but minoxidil (Rogaine), a liquid that you rub into your scalp, is another option. It’s FDA-approved to make hair grow, but doctors think it may be better at helping you hold on to the strands you already have.
Minoxidil works best for men under 40 who’ve started losing hair recently. You have to use it for at least 4 months, and possibly for up to a year, before you can see if it’s working. While many experts don’t recommend minoxidil as the first treatment to try, it’s an option for guys who haven’t gotten help from finasteride or who would like to add another product to their regimen.
You apply the medicine twice a day to dry hair. Applicators make the process less messy. You can buy it over the counter and in stronger prescription versions. The main side effect is scalp irritation.
What about the brushes, combs, and other laser-like devices that you can get in a salon or at home? Doctors disagree on how well these work.
The FDA classifies them as medical devices, so they don’t have to have the same thorough testing that medicines do. That means scientists don’t really know how safe and effective they are.
Once you decide to try some hair loss treatments, it may take a while before you find whether they work for you or not. The best way to know is to use the medicines exactly as the instructions tell you. If you don’t get the results you’re after, you can talk with a dermatologist about other procedures that can help, like a hair transplant.