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There are numerous products for thinning and balding hair. They tend to work in different ways on the hair follicle (actually, this makes sense when you understand a bit more about how hair grows so check out our hair growth 101). Here at Truth In Aging, we have tried most of key hair growth actives and, happily, have found that several of them work. However, some will work better in different circumstances. So in the battle against hair loss, prepare to choose your weapon.
There are 18 amino acids in hair. Many hair care products (such as Nisim or Davines), have a handful of them. But serious hair growth products have all 18. And it may be true that the sum is greater than the parts. At least, there isn’t much research on individual amino acids and hair. Let’s take a look at cystine. Because its structure and function resembles that of hair, it’s classified as a Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF). As an NMF, it helps keep the intercellular structure of the hair intact, protects it from breakage and binds moisture to the shaft. Another is the similarly named cysteine, an amino acid that makes up 5% of the composition of hair. I have read that it can make the hair shaft bigger, but I can’t find any scientific evidence of that. There are some tests to vouch for the role of methionine. This is a sulfur-containing amino acid that has been shown in animal tests to strengthen hair cells.
Who should use it: Amino acids seem to help hair grow faster and are commended for women with pregnancy related hair loss, or chemo recoverers. Will not restore bald pates to their former hirsute glory.
Found in: Osmotics FNS Serum ($69)
Copper is something that exists naturally in our tissues. Depletion of it has for a long time been correlated with many degenerative diseases (is that why my grandmother wore a copper bracelet to fend of rheumatic pain?). One of the main roles of copper is anti-inflammatory – it works by suppressing inflammatory cytokines – and there is a growing school of thought that increased inflammation brings about aging. According to Dr P, the processes that cause chronic inflammation as we age could be the same as those in wounds. There is a 60% drop in our bodies’ own GHK between the ages of 20 and 60.
Not all copper-based formulations are equal because the molecules need to be really small to bind to receptors effectively, where they work like intercellular pack mules, transporting copper into and from cells.
Copper’s ability to assist in hair growth was discovered when it was noticed that the hair follicles around treated wounds were exceptionally large. It seems to work on the follicle in two ways: increasing follicle cell proliferation increased follicle size; and copper also decreases programmed follicle cell death, which results in smaller follicles.
Who should use it: Men or women with thinning hair and receding hair lines
Found in: Folligen ($22), Hair Signals ($27)
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) inhibitors
Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a natural metabolite in the human body, is responsible for shrinking the hair follicle (think wispy). This is referred to as miniaturization and the hair ultimately breaks and falls off.
Ingredients that are thought to inhibit DHT include tea extracts, saw palmetto oil, pygeum africanum, and lavender oil – although only saw palmetto has a strong research pedigree when it comes to hair growth.
Who should use it: Men or women who lose hair are those who are genetically pre-disposed in producing more DHT than others.
Found in: Hair Signals Therapy Cream and Therapy Solution ($38)
Finasteride is a pill that is marketed as Proscar (amongst other names) and its ostensible purpose is to help men with prostate issues urinate. It prevents hair loss by inhibiting dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Clinical trials have demonstrated that it is more effective for hair at the crown rather than the hairline and it is less successful for women and it seems better at stopping further hair loss than growing hair back.
Who should use it: Balding men. I can certainly testify to that it stopped my husband’s balding in its tracks. I don’t believe that he has grown back hair at his hairline, but where he has hair, I’d say it has become thicker. All with the caveat that it must be admitted that he is far from diligent about popping his pills every day (more like a couple of times a week).
Found in: Prescription-only drug
This was first used exclusively as an oral drug (trade name Loniten) to treat high blood pressure. Topical minoxidil in either 2% or 5% solution is most effective in persons with recent onset of hair loss due to androgenetic alopecia and relatively small areas of hair loss. Minoxidil is less effective when hair loss is long-standing or large in area. Thus, early use of minoxidil is indicated to prevent progression of small areas of male or female pattern hair loss.
Who should use it: Men with recent hair loss. Not recommended for those with sensitive skin. When I tried it, I acquired a red, itchy scalp and a few pathetic wisps of hair.
Found in: For hair growth, it is marketed as Rogaine and comes in a 5% concentration for men and 2% concentration for women. Unfortunately the 2% version doesn’t work and the 5% formula can cause facial hairness in women (even if only used on the head).