ANNOUNCER: Millions of people would like to have more hair. But only two medications have proven safe and effective in treating hair loss.
KEN WASHENIK, MD, PhD: Minoxidil has been around as a hair growth medication for coming up on the end of the second decade.
MICHAEL L. REED, MD: The latest research shows that minoxidil typically increases the weight of the average hair in the treated area about 30 percent. It also increases the numbers of hairs in the treatment area about 30 percent, but the main thing it does is make the hair better. It gives you heavier, coarser hair.
ANNOUNCER: Although it's been around for years, doctors are still finding new ways to make minoxidil easier to use and more effective.
KEN WASHENIK, MD, PhD: Currently it has propylene glycol in the formulation and some people over a period of time cannot tolerate propylene glycol. So some doctors will compound for their patients minoxidil in a solution that doesn't contain the propylene glycol.
ANNOUNCER: The other medication often used to treat baldness is finasteride. Finasteride is a once-a-day pill that has been helping men with prostate problems since 1992. After additional research, the FDA approved it for hair loss treatment in 1997.
MICHAEL L. REED, MD: We've had finasteride on the market now for over five years and the long-term results seem to show that it maintains its effect. It helps people keep their hair or it dramatically slows hair loss.
In about two-thirds of the men who are treated, it seems to increase hair growth in the back of the head and the top of the head.
Finasteride works by blocking an enzyme in the skin called Type 2, 5-alpha reductase. This enzyme which is inside the cells of the scalp, converts male hormone which is testosterone to an active form called dihydrotestosterone which is abbreviated DHT.
KEN WASHENIK, MD, PhD: If you have the genes that make you susceptible to hair loss then normal levels of DHT (dihydrotestosterone) can miniaturize your hairs-take big fat hairs and gradually make them smaller and skinnier.
KEN WASHENIK, MD, PhD: DHT is really the bad actor causing the hair loss. If you can lower DHT by 60 or 70%, you will by definition help salvage or resurrect some of the hairs that have been miniaturized.
ANNOUNCER: More recently, doctors have started combining different medications or using medications along with hair transplantation to give patients the best results.
KEN WASHENIK, MD, PhD: You take the pill finasteride once a day to lower your DHT levels, now add to it the growth factor effect of minoxidil, and it makes for a nice combination.
MICHAEL L. REED, MD: Nowadays along with the hair transplantation we're advising the patient use topical minoxidil postoperatively and also to take Propecia to help the hairs grow back better basically and to help prevent further hair loss. So that maybe over a person's lifetime, we only have to do one or two transplants, not ten transplant to chase baldness.
ANNOUNCER: In the lab, scientists are looking for new drugs to help people fight hair loss.
They're optimistic that breakthroughs lie ahead that will make bald heads a thing of the past.