There are many types of hair loss, but the most common is androgenic alopecia, which affects an estimated 50 million men and 30 million women in the US. While hair loss is incredibly common, it can still greatly affect an individual’s well-being and self-image.
Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Kathryn Anderson discusses what causes androgenic alopecia and what treatments are most effective for this type of hair loss.
What is androgenic alopecia?
Also referred to as “age-related hair loss,” “male-patterned hair loss”, and “female-patterned hair loss,” androgenic alopecia is a hereditary condition that causes hair loss and thinning as a person ages. While this is typically observed in middle-aged and older patients, genetic hair thinning can start to happen as early as a person’s teenage years.
The condition affects both men and women but typically manifests in different ways for each gender.
- In men, androgenic alopecia usually affects the back of the scalp and bilateral temples and progresses to involve the top of the head. This affects the shape of the hairline, resulting in a characteristic “M” shape. Particularly severe cases in men can manifest in their teens to twenties.
- In women, symptoms of androgenic alopecia most often appear by age 40. Typically, this involves a thinning of the top of the scalp, often noticed by a widened central part and hair loss around the crown. Receding hairlines at the scalp are less common in women.
What causes genetic hair loss?
Androgenic alopecia is caused by several factors. As the condition is hereditary, many patients with androgenic alopecia have a family member—male or female—with hair loss.
It is a condition that is affected by hormones, particularly dihydrotestosterone, a type of androgen. Androgens are hormones that are important for male development, as well as regulating hair growth in both men and women. A high level of androgens in the body can lead to a shorter hair growth cycle, causing hair to fall out faster than it can be replaced.
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Androgenic Alopecia Treatments
There are numerous treatment options for androgenic alopecia, including topical medications, oral prescription medications, oral supplements, and procedural treatments. Most treatment regimens for androgenic alopecia combine several treatments used together to optimize results.
It is recommended to be evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist to discuss the benefits, risks, and potential adverse effects of hair loss treatments to determine what treatment plan is best for you.
Here are some of the most common treatments for genetic hair loss:
- Topical treatments. The most common treatment used for androgenic alopecia is topical minoxidil. This is an over-the-counter product that comes in a foam or a liquid solution at a strength of either 2% or 5%. There are many other over-the-counter topical products that tout the benefit of hair regrowth, but there is little to no scientific evidence behind these claims.
- Oral prescription treatments. There are several prescription medications that are used off-label for the benefit of hair growth. Some of these, such as finasteride or spironolactone, work by decreasing the effects of hormones on the hair follicles that lead to hair thinning and hair loss. Oral minoxidil is a blood pressure medication that has the side effect of increased hair growth and has been used at low doses to treat hair loss.
- Oral supplements. It is important to be cautious when using over-the-counter supplements to treat hair loss. Supplements are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and usually have little scientific evidence to support their use. For example, biotin is commonly marketed to help hair regrowth. Scientific studies have not supported this claim. Additionally, biotin can alter blood work, including thyroid tests and troponin (the blood test performed when evaluating for a heart attack). In contrast to biotin, other ingredients have shown limited efficacy in treating hair loss, including saw palmetto, pumpkin seed oil, and marine complexes. You should always speak to a board-certified dermatologist before starting any supplement.
- Procedural treatments. The “new kid on the block” for the treatment of hair loss is platelet-rich plasma (PRP). Platelet-rich plasma is an in-office procedure where the patient’s own blood is drawn and spun down to isolate the portion of the blood rich in platelets. This portion is then injected back into the scalp. Platelets are rich in growth factors that help to stimulate hair growth. Low-level laser light therapy (LLLT) is another procedural option for androgenic alopecia. There are many of these devices on the market, ranging from combs to helmets, that patients can use at home to stimulate hair growth.
- Surgical treatment. For severe hair loss, hair transplantation surgery is an option that uses one’s own hair from an alternate area of the scalp to replace hair in thinned areas. Hairs are harvested from a hair dense area on the scalp (usually the back) and the individual follicular units are then surgically inserted in the areas of the scalp affected by androgenic alopecia.
Talk to a Dermatologist About Hair Loss Treatments
While there is no magic cure for hair loss, the earlier treatment begins, the easier it is to reverse.
The best way to start treatment for hair loss is to have a formal consultation with a board-certified dermatologist. During your first visit, your dermatologist will examine your scalp, determine if any additional workup is warranted, and start formulating a custom treatment plan for your type of hair loss.
To determine the best course of action for you, schedule an appointment with Dr. Anderson at a Florida Medical Clinic location in Wiregrass or Zephyrhills.
About Kathryn Anderson, MD, FAAD
Born and raised in Florida, Dr. Kathryn Anderson completed her dermatology residency at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she served as Co-Chief Resident and was awarded the Resident Teaching Award. Dr. Anderson has published numerous research studies focused on topics of acne, psoriasis, and complex medical dermatology dealing with rare skin conditions.
As a dermatologist, Dr. Anderson cherishes the relationships she forms with her patients and their families. In her free time, Dr. Anderson enjoys exercising, cooking, watching college football, and spending time with friends and family
Disclaimer: This blog is not intended to substitute professional medical advice. Every patient is different, so talk with your dermatologist to learn what treatment options are best for you.