Newswise — For people experiencing hair loss, there's a mix of encouraging and discouraging news. No drug treatments have gained FDA approval since 1997, and the most effective therapy, a hair transplant, is expensive. But transplants now offer increasingly satisfying results thanks to improved surgical techniques, and recent biotechnology discoveries may lead to less invasive treatments, reports the August 2008 issue of the Harvard Health Letter.
The FDA has approved two drugs, minoxidil (Rogaine) and finasteride (Propecia), to slow hair loss or regrow hair. Propecia is more effective than Rogaine, but it's more expensive. A major drawback of both is that you need to keep on taking them to sustain the benefits.
Hair transplants involve removing hair follicles from the sides of the head and implanting them in bald or thinning areas. One of the main obstacles is money—surgery costs $8,000 to $12,000. Transplants have improved over the years, making for a more natural hairline by continuing the trend toward smaller and smaller grafts.
Several drugs that preserve the health of hair follicles are in the pipeline. In addition, companies hope to find ways to create new hair follicles from scratch. One potential method involves using an abrasive gel to gently damage the skin and then topical cream to switch on the follicle-generating genes. Another possibility is a technique in which hair-forming cells are extracted, multiplied, and replanted into the scalp.
You can find plenty of treatments for hair loss on the Internet. Some are "specially formulated" shampoos sold along with saw palmetto herbal supplements. But there's not much evidence that these work.
Also in this issue:
"¢ Navigating Medicare
"¢ Vitamin D benefits vs. cancer risks from sun exposure
"¢ By the way, doctor: Breast cancer gene testing
The Harvard Health Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $28 per year. Subscribe at http://www.health.harvard.edu/health or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).