As the demand for cosmetic treatments continues to grow, some marketers have fallen for the temptation of presenting certain types of products and treatments as being more than they are. There are a lot of treatments out there that promise much, but don't always deliver.
One of the top offenders: hair loss treatments.
First, it's important to point out that hair loss is a treatable medical condition with a strong medical industry behind it --it even has its own board-certification program for doctors and a number of medical research organizations. However, like many other cosmetic fields, it is also rife with misinformation, questionable products and unqualified doctors. The Food & Drug Administration has done a somewhat reasonable job in recent years of cracking down on phony hair loss products and exaggerated marketing claims. However, many consumers still get fooled each year by misleading products, online ads, inappropriate expectations of what potential treatments can do, and doctors who lack the experience and tools to properly treat and track them.
Here are four hair loss treatments that consumers should watch out for:
Hair Loss Brushes - One persistent hair loss myth is that stimulating the scalp with magnets, brushes and massagers can improve blood circulation to the hair follicles and therefore reduce hair loss and improve new hair growth. There is no reliable medical evidence to support this claim. While there are real medical treatments to stimulate hair follicles and help improve blood circulation - like minoxidil, low level laser therapy and platelet-rich plasma - this can't effectively be done via a special hair brush or scalp massager. Don't get fooled!
Herbal Supplements - Good nutrition and certain supplements like biotin and marine-derived proteins and polysaccharides can help support hair quality. However, it's important to keep expectations realistic. A vitamin isn't going to stop hereditary hair loss or regrow hair from scalp where follicles are already dead and gone. Only FDA-approved medical treatments like minoxidil and finasteride have been extensively proven to slow, stop and reverse hereditary hair loss. And only surgical hair transplantation can regrow hair where severe depletion of hair follicles has occurred.
Minoxidil - Speaking of minoxidil, this treatment also requires a disclaimer. Although it is FDA-approved and has proven science behind it, the catch is that minoxidil doesn't work for everyone. In fact, over-the-counter minoxidil may only work well in about 38.3 per cent of patients, according to medical studies. Studies suggest that a patient has to have an active enzyme called "sulfotransferase" in order for their hair follicles to respond to minoxidil treatments. It is this enzyme that converts topically applied minoxidil into the active chemical (called minoxidil sulfate) that stimulates the follicles. Not everyone has enough sulfotransferase to "activate" minoxidil. There may be other biological roadblocks too -- like inflammation at or around hair follicles in the scalp and other factors, which can also affect minoxidil's action. The bottom line for patients is that there's a 65 per cent chance that standard over-the-counter minoxidil won't help you. Instead, you may require a prescription for a specially formulated, compounded minoxidil solution for optimal results. A new "minoxidil sensitivity' test will be out soon in the US, which can pre-determine if a patient is likely to respond to standard over-the-counter minoxidil before they start the treatment.
Hair Transplants - Thankfully, "hair plugs" are a thing of the past, but it's important for patients to realize that today's hair transplants still don't always turn out the way they should. The biggest problem is that many unqualified doctors (many of which are not certified by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery) offer this procedure. The risks for hair transplant patients include surgical complications, infections, scarring, poor density and unnatural looking results. Another problem is that many doctors and large national clinics still mostly perform the traditional type of transplant called the "strip" or "linear" harvest technique instead of the less invasive "follicular-unit extraction" (also called FUE). With a strip-harvest procedure, a long linear strip of the scalp is removed ("harvested") from the back of the head in order to supply the permanent follicles for redistribution. Patients are left with a permanent linear scar --like the one actor Jeremy Piven was spotted with back in 2010. This procedure can be painful and requires considerable downtime and activity restrictions during healing.
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Buyer Beware - It's important for consumers to speak directly with a medical doctor who specializes exclusively in hair loss before starting any treatments or undergoing a surgical procedure and do their best to avoid dangerous cut-rate/discount clinics and those that employ non-medical salespeople. Routine follow-ups using scientific measurement tools will help track your progress and determine if changes to the regimen are needed.
The good news is that there are many hair loss treatments that can work well for both men and women when used correctly, consistently and in the proper combination depending on hair loss status and goals - like FUE hair transplantation, specially formulated minoxidil, low level laser therapy and scientifically formulated nutritional supplements. The key is doing your homework and due diligence to avoid getting fooled!
You can find qualified hair restoration specialists at the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery's registry of board-certified doctors, as well as the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery's physician directory. Directory of surgeons accepted by the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons, a Consumer Organization physician listing.