As far as hair loss goes, it can be really debilitating for self-esteem and even cause a lot of grief. While the specter of thinning or shedding hair can send folks scrambling for a solution, only some remedies have proved to be helpful. Adding further to the complications, hair loss remedies come with their own side effects. Hair loss, in itself, is a very distressing phenomenon socially and changes the social identity of the person. For this reason, it is important to have open communication about treatment options.
There are, essentially, 2 different types of hair loss. Non-scarring hair loss is when the hair follicles are still present. When hair follicles are destroyed, scarring results. While hair loss is typically treatable when follicles are present, the other type of hair loss where the follicles are destroyed cannot be treated. There are many different forms and reasons for loss of hair or alopecia.
The right treatment is based on the kind of hair loss problem you have. The most common type is androgenic alopecia or male/female pattern hair loss. This is generally what is referred to when hair loss is diagnosed. Then, there is telogen effluvium or hair shedding due to physical or mental stress. There is also alopecia area, an autoimmune disease characterized by patches of baldness or total baldness resulting from the inflammation of hair follicles.
Getting the correct diagnosis is essential, as all forms of alopecia are not the same. The course of treatment chosen will depend on the hair loss type. Here are the popular hair loss treatments and their side effects.
Side Effects of Hair Loss Treatments
Table of Contents
Rogaine or Minoxidil is for curing female or male pattern hair loss/baldness. The precise way it works is not known, but this medicine can stimulate hair follicles to make an entry into the growth cycle or even grow for longer periods of time. One of the side effects of this hair loss treatment is scalp irritation. It also may cause the growth of facial hair in women. Androgenetic alopecia is a progressive disorder which does not disappear.
Rogaine slows or stops hair loss and results in regrowth, but if one stops using it, hair loss starts right away. Some of the side effects of Minoxidil include dizziness, fatigue, drowsiness, and temporary edema or swelling while taking the medication, more so in the first few weeks. Other side effects include nausea, vomiting, breast pain or tenderness in women and changes in the body or facial hair color, thickness or length. Consult your doctor before taking it if you are nursing.
An OTC liquid or foam, it is rubbed into the scalp twice a day for growing hair and preventing further loss. It is available for men and women and takes about sixteen weeks to work. This medication can be continually applied for retaining benefits. This is the first FDA approved drug for male pattern baldness. Minoxidil works by reactivating the hair follicles and rejuvenating the hair’s natural growth cycle shrunken across time due to hereditary hair loss. Over time, the product looks to reduce hair loss and regrow natural, thicker looking hair.
In a sixteen week, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of minoxidil, there was a significant improvement in increasing hair growth. But experts consider this hair loss treatment to be a temporary fix as it does not act directly on hair loss hormonal processes. Possible side effects of this drug include not just irritation in the scalp, or unwanted hair growth close to the hands and the face, but also a rapid heart rate.
This medication is also known by the brand name Propecia. This is an FDA approved oral medication used for treating male pattern hair loss. It blocks the conversion to dihydrotestosterone from testosterone, and DHT is a hormone that moves hair follicles into the rest phase. So, this drug works by preventing hair follicles from going into the resting phase. It blocks testosterone, and therefore, gives rise to sexual issues like erectile dysfunction, impacting over 1-6 percent of the users. Also called Proscar, Finasteride can trigger allergic reactions in those prone to it. This includes hives, problems in breathing and inflammation of lips, throat, tongue or face.
You need to check with your doctor if signs of male breast cancer like breast lumps, breast tenderness or pain, nipple discharge or other breast-related changes take place. Common side effects of finasteride include loss of interest in sex, impotence, trouble having an orgasm and abnormal ejaculation.
Sexual side effects of this medication may persist even after one stops taking the medicine. Additionally, finasteride should never be taken by a child or woman. It causes birth defects if women are exposed to it at the time of giving birth. Therefore, these tablets are not recommended for women expecting or looking to get pregnant. Finasteride should never be handled by hand, as it can be absorbed through the skin, for those allergic to this drug, or women and children. Using finasteride increases the risk of developing prostate cancer. Check with your doctor if there are concerns about this risk.
Before taking finasteride, your doctor needs to check if you have liver disease or abnormal liver enzyme, prostate cancer, bladder muscle disorder, urethral stricture, inability to urinate and allergic reactions to similar medications called dutasteride. This medication is only available for men and users may suffer side effects like lack of sexual functioning or diminished sex drive, increased chances of prostate cancer. Women who can or may become pregnant should not touch these tablets either. In men who experience the side effects, the stoppage of medication does not mean side effects will go away.
If hair loss is caused due to inflammation, steroids are the right option for treating it. Steroids can either be applied topically or injected to reduce the inflammation leading to hair loss in alopecia areata. If overused, steroids can cause the skin to become thinner. Additionally, there can also be a problem if steroids are injected at too high a dose. It is vital to see a board certified dermatologist to discuss how steroids can be used at the time of treatment
Numerous steroid-based treatments can be used for curing hair loss. These medications are recommended for treating Alopecia Areata along with the more severe forms, Alopecia totalis, and alopecia universalis. Steroid injections prevent the immune system from attacking hair follicles. This triggers the regrowth of hair in alopecia patients. This treatment works best for those with small patches of hair loss. Every steroid treatment involves injections which ensure the scalp comes into contact with corticosteroid solutions. It is necessary to repeat this treatment every couple of months. Along with being an uncomfortable and painful experience, steroid injections can ironically trigger premature balding, serving to be a problem where they should have been the solutions.
Topically, steroid cream formulations can be directly applied to the scalp. These are widely prescribed for treating alopecia. These come in different forms such as gel, foam or lotion and the main corticosteroids delivered through this method include betamethasone, mometasone, hydrocortisone, and others. While topical steroids can easily be applied to the area impacted by alopecia and patients may see regrowth as a result, making them a popular option, their long-term benefits are not known. Side effects associated with the use include acne and skin thinning.
Steroid tablets, on the other hand, are not recommended for treating alopecia as they cause serious side effects like stomach ulcers and diabetes. While doctors use steroid injections to speed up the recovery of hair loss on account of alopecia, this involves the administration of oral steroids like prednisone and scalp injections using corticosteroids. This treatment is not used for baldness linked with aging; it is only suited for individuals who have been diagnosed with alopecia. Steroid injections into the bald patches in the scalp suppress the local immune reaction occurring in autoimmune disease alopecia areata, which causes hair loss. This permits the hair follicles to function normally for the regrowth of hair. These injections also allow hair follicles to function normally for the regrowth of hair. The injection leads to temporary skin thinning and prednisone leads to metabolic rate issues, gaining weight and the onset of hormonal/menstrual problems. Positive effects are temporary.
Hair Transplant Restoration Surgery
This surgical technique involves repositioning the hair follicles from the donor site to the thinning area of the scalp. This form of surgery involves removing plugs of skin containing a few hairs from the donor site and implanting the plugs onto the scalp’s bald sections. Hair transplant restoration surgery is primarily used to treat male pattern baldness as most hair transplants result in excellent hair growth within several months. More than one treatment may be required, based on the number of hair follicles remaining healthy post the transplant. Possible side effects include scarring and infection.
This FDA approved low-level laser is used for treating male as well as female pattern baldness. It works in a simple way. The low laser light is absorbed by the scalp’s cells, which repairs and encourages regrowth. According to experts, while laser hair restoration does not revive dead follicles, it stimulates declining follicles so existing hair is fuller and thicker. Researchers found no side effects in a study of 128 men and 141 women subjects. Further studies are needed to look at long-term results.
Many hair loss treatments revolve around taking oral supplements. The ones that work best are biotin, BioSil, and Viviscal. All supplements may not regrow, but they can make the hair thicker and stronger. As far as biotin goes, research has shown that it improves hair and combats problems like unruly hair. But the side effect of biotin is a possible upset stomach.
If there are troublesome side effects, it is essential to stop the medication. See your doctor and decide on possible alternatives to avoid adverse side effects. New treatments include low-level laser therapy that stimulates hair regrowth. Another option for men is platelet-rich plasma. Though it is expensive, it is also extremely effective.
Before starting the treatment, it is essential to consult a doctor. Along with finding the most effective option, hair loss can also signal serious medical conditions, hormonal imbalance, excessive stress or vitamin deficiencies. Those with hair loss need to have a thorough evaluation including the check of their iron, vitamin D, zinc and thyroid levels. Hair loss is a systemic disease and people are often likely to have medical problems associated with it. Hair loss could signal heart disease or prostate cancer and even high BP in men. It is indicative of PCOS in women sometimes. Along with the scalp, the imbalance impacts internal organs and signals the need for extensive treatment at many times. A lot of factors go into selecting treatment for hair loss; these decisions need to be made on an individual basis.
What Research Says
Medicines that treat male pattern baldness may also have side effects for sexual well being, even after the medication is discontinued. DHT blocking drugs, also known as 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors, block the hormone dihydrotestosterone which is an androgen that can impact the body more than even hormones like testosterone. Class of medicines that fall under this category includes Proscar, Propecia, and Avodart.
These drugs can definitely impact hair regrowth in some cases. For example, in several studies, 50 percent of men on Propecia for hair loss regrew their hair, while 42 percent saw no further hair loss as against those taking a placebo pill. But review studies say less attention has been paid to unusual but harmful side effects of these medicines. These include depression, anxiety, difficulty in getting or maintaining an erection, sex drive issues, gynecomastia or growth of male breast tissue and lowered semen production which impacts fertility.
Researchers hold that side effects persist even when the individuals stop taking the medicine. Symptoms are irreversible or persistent, even if the individual gets off the medication. Individuals no longer regain the normalcy they have. Biologically, the change is permanent and irreversible. Researchers hold that nerves maintained by DHT may become permanently damaged and cannot be repaired even after individuals come off the medicine.
Additional studies also indicate finasteride can impact neuroprotective levels and mood-regulating steroids in the brain. Research has even linked it to depression and self-harm. The FDA has received 36 cases of suicidal tendencies among Propecia users. Many cases have even ended in hospitalization, disability or even death. In a JAMA Dermatology medical review found that none effectively assessed the safety and all under-reported adverse side effects. While research on the cognitive effects of the medicines is relatively new, the number of patients reporting is lower, this does not necessarily mean such medicines are advisable.
The origins of these drugs are also murky. For example, finasteride was developed in the 1970s, based on research on Dominican Republic males born with ambiguous genital organs. These men never lost their hair due to a failure to produce an enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT. DHT is essential for the fetal development of male genitals but impairs hair growth in adults. So, finasteride was created based on research on pseudohermaphrodites. Health officials and researchers even warn women not to touch finasteride tablets, as this can cause genital malformations in the unborn male child.
It is indeed worrying that such cosmetic drugs come with such serious side effects. It is essential to consider these factors while opting for drugs like Propecia for treatment of hair loss. Hair loss can impact self-image in multiple ways. But so can hair lose treatments.