Let’s face it: we’re all pretty sensitive about our hair. That stands for both men and women. Sure, you might not be equally invested in your ‘do as that friend who spends a hefty amount of cash and time at the hair salon. But when it comes to hair loss, we all stand equal – concerned, hopeful, and utterly vain. Whether it’s a head full of luscious locks or a modest growth of naturally thin hair, we hold on dearly to what we have. It’s just a matter of psychology – we associate hair with youth and health, and seeing it shed away uncontrollably is, for the majority of people, a serious punch to the gut.
Hair loss to varying extents is incredibly common, as a result of different causes. The vast majority of us are bound to experience it at some point. It’s enough to know that the hair loss treatment industry is worth billions of dollars to understand the extent to which we’re collectively invested in the search for a cure. In light of that, we’ve gathered here the key points of this ongoing quest.
Looking for the Wrong Cure
You’ll find on your local drugstore shelves rows of lotions, shampoos, and other treatments with bold promises. It’s all pretty wishy-washy, great marketing that largely relies on the desperation of its vast target audience. Essentially, it has led many people only further away from looking for the right treatment. As with numerous other conditions that are seen through a filter of aesthetics, most people search for a quick and easy fix to their problem, hoping for salvation in these concoctions.
In the meantime, their problem lies entirely elsewhere, and hair loss is only a symptom. In order to find appropriate treatment, we need to know the root cause of the condition.
Hair loss can occur as a result of various scalp conditions (such as psoriasis), hormonal imbalances, stress, and emotional shock, physical stresses (such as weight loss, pregnancy, or major illnesses), hairstyles that pull the hair, nutritional deficiencies, as a side effect of certain drugs, etc. For example, many women experience hair thinning and eventually loss as a result of aggressive treatment with hair dyes, perms, and regular styling.
In other words, when we experience hair loss, it could be our body telling us something’s not right. Everything in our bodies is closely intertwined, which is why we need to rely on a healthy diet, visits to the doctor, natural remedies, and an overall holistic approach to wellbeing rather than the promises on shiny shampoo bottles.
Most often, however, permanent hair loss (alopecia) is hereditary, and millions of people worldwide are anxiously hoping its cure will be found in their lifetime.
What We Have So Far
Androgenetic alopecia, commonly known as male/female pattern baldness, affects approximately 50 million men and 30 million women in the US. Male pattern baldness is hereditary and linked to male sex hormones, whereas the causes of female pattern baldness still remain unclear. It occurs most frequently to women after menopause, making it most likely associated with the decrease of female sex hormones.
Through decades of research, scientists have learned more about the mechanism which leads to androgenetic alopecia, and that it is not a result of testosterone alone. An enzyme which appears in the hair follicle’s oil glands converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a substance which causes progressive shrinking of those follicles that are genetically sensitive to its actions. As the follicles shrink, they produce thinner hairs which have a shorter growth period. Eventually, they stop producing hair altogether, leaving the affected area bald.
So far, there are only two commercial hair-loss treatments that have been FDA-approved and proven to work: Minoxidil and Finasteride, known by their commercial names as Rogaine and Propecia. They were both discovered by accident – Minoxidil was originally used to treat high blood pressure, whereas Finasteride was being developed as a drug for treating enlarged prostate glands when researchers noticed unexpected hair growth as a side effect.
However, they don’t promote new hair growth and their effects are only temporary, lasting only as long as the drugs are taken. Plus, Finasteride doesn’t work on women.
There is also the option of hair transplantation, where a patient won’t have new hair after the procedure but rather hair from their scalp distributed more evenly to cover the balding area. It’s a possible aesthetic solution, albeit painful and expensive, but it’s far from a cure for hair loss.
Low-Level Laser Therapy
Research shows that low-level laser therapy (LLT) has been effective in stimulating hair growth in both men and women. However, scientists are still not certain of the mechanisms behind it, hypothesizing that the effect of the light and heat treatment is due to the stimulation of epidermal stem cells in the follicle and shifting the follicles back into the growth phase.
With advancing methods of research, we’re inching closer to the Holy Grail. Scientists continually learn more about controlling the hair growth cycle and the underlying mechanisms of hair loss. It involves stem cell research, research on anti-inflammatory immune cells, and other studies that closely investigate proteins and enzymes which affect follicle growth.
Earlier this year, researchers stumbled upon amazing growth-stimulating effects as they tested a new drug for osteoporosis. Excitement is in the air, lauding it a possible cure for baldness, but we have yet to see.
We still don’t have a permanent solution or a miracle cure, but laboratories worldwide are progressing forward. Amidst all the hope, I’m wondering– if someone finds a cure for pattern baldness, just how expensive is it going to be? Not only will it be a “cosmetic cure” coveted by millions of men and women worldwide, but it will pose a threat to a multi-billion dollar industry. That’s surely got an impressive price to it.