When we begin to lose our hair, our self-confidence can go down the drain along with it. A recent census conducted by the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery found that 65 percent of female hair transplant patients said they opted for surgery because they felt “self-conscious.”
Hair restoration is a $2.5 billion industry and growing — and surgery is only one way to treat hair loss. Interest in non-surgical hair loss treatments has skyrocketed among RealSelf users, who are ready to take action against their receding hairlines. Consumers visited RealSelf to research these treatments twice as many times in the first quarter of 2016 as they did during the same period a year earlier.
Doctors note it isn’t quite so simple as choosing between a pill or a shampoo then waiting for hair to regrow. Instead, they recommend combining different forms of hair loss treatments for both immediate and long-term results.
“Non-surgical treatments aim to reverse the thinning process by stimulating hair growth,” says New York dermatologic surgeon Dr. Sejal Shah. Non-surgical options include over-the-counter supplements like Biotin and Viviscal, and medical treatments such as Rogaine and qilib. Brands like Bosley and Nioxin make professional strength shampoo so you can treat your hair while you cleanse. The key is to find a delivery system — spray, pill, or shampoo — and an ingredient that works for you. “Minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine) is still considered the gold standard for women,” says Dr. Shah. “On the other hand, Propecia works very well for men, but not necessarily for women.”
Patients seeking to invest may also try an at-home laser for hair regrowth, though Dr. Shah recommends this as just one part of a larger approach. “I wouldn’t use laser as a monotherapy,” she says. “But I have seen them work alongside other treatments.” The takeaway: Less is not more when it comes to battling hair loss.
Leading NYC dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe agrees that a “comprehensive approach” is the most effective. She often advises patients to try a prescription oral medication as well as an over-the-counter medication before considering surgery. It’s important that doctors also discuss a patient’s diet and lifestyle, she notes, as something as simple as birth control changes or iron deficiency can lead to hair loss.
For a permanent solution, hair transplant surgery might be the right option for viable candidates. “Hair transplant surgery works by taking hair that is relatively stable, that’s not thinning, and moves it to areas that are thinning. It’s a camouflaging technique,” Dr. Shah explains. “It doesn’t address the underlying issue; it’s simply putting hair in a place where you have thinning.” She estimates that half of her clients come in asking for surgical options, and RealSelf data shows that number is growing: Consumer visits to hair transplant procedures grew 61% in the last year alone.
Related: Hair Loss Treatment Overview
A whopping 97 percent of RealSelf users reported success with PRP for hair loss, a treatment that Dr. Shah agrees has “really gained momentum” in recent years. The therapy involves drawing a patient’s own blood, processing it so that only the protein-packed plasma remains, and injecting it into the scalp to stimulate growth. Patients should expect one treatment per month for roughly three months, with at least two to three additional maintenance visits over the next year. At a RealSelf average of $1,700 — often combined with non-surgical treatments — cost is an important factor to consider. Still, satisfied consumers say that PRP has made them into “true believers,” “given me confidence,” and grown “thicker and fuller” hair.
Gender plays a role in what people are seeking, as well. “Because hair loss is more socially acceptable for men, it’s not uncommon for male patients to try over-the-counter topical treatments first,” says Dr. Bowe. “They’re easily accessible and generally affordable.” RealSelf data shows that men are still the most concerned about losing their hair, making up two-thirds of users researching hair loss treatments or transplants.
But both doctors agree that women are becoming more vocal in discussing their hair loss. Dr. Bowe says she sees more and more women come to her office to discuss these concerns, though it’s often because they “fear underlying health issues when they experience hair loss (despite the fact that it’s common), and therefore seek professional advice first.”
As hairstyles have shifted away from wigs and a weekly wash-and-set, thinning has become more noticeable. Combine that with society’s low tolerance for aging, and it’s no wonder we’re seeing more women than ever seeking out treatment for something that’s a natural part of growing older. “People are more proactive in doing treatments for all type of age-related issues,” says Dr. Shah. “And hair loss is a part of that.”
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