How New Technology is Triggering Hair Regrowth

womens hair loss treatments

Dayanna McLean always took pride in her curly, chin-length bob. But after she delivered twins in 2006, she found strands of her chestnut-colored locks everywhere: on the carpet, her coat, pillow and in the shower drain…ultimately losing 50 percent of her hair. “My OB told me I would lose hair after the birth, so I waited for it to grow back,” recalled the mother of three and pharmacist, now 43. “It didn’t come back and I continued to lose more.” McLean was devastated and feared going bald. “It kept me up at night and I would wonder, ‘When will this stop?’”

A dermatologist chalked it up to childbirth and diagnosed genetic hair loss, a permanent thinning and a widening of the part line. He recommended a daily regimen of minoxidil (Rogaine), an over-the-counter foam that she rubbed into her scalp. About a year later, the thinning stopped but she didn’t grow hair.

Then, her doctor suggested she also try a handheld low-intensity laser that uses light energy to stimulate the dormant follicles. She glided the device across her scalp for several minutes every other day for four months and began noticing thicker, fuller locks. After four years of use, her friends now agree that her mane looks like “it used to.”

McLean is one of more than 21 million American women suffering from hereditary hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Perhaps millions more experience temporary thinning triggered not only by childbirth, but by periods of intense stress, surgery, illness, menopause or a crash diet that can shock the follicles. For these women, recovering from the trauma or reversing the deficiency will usually restore hair. But for the more complex forms of the disorder, a range of nonsurgical treatments have shown limited success in either halting loss or spurring growth.

Whatever the cause, the condition takes an emotional toll on most women. “It’s normal to lose about 100 or more hairs a day,” said Dr. Marie Leger, assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. But when the loss becomes excessive it can be “scary because hair is such an important part of our identity.”

A dermatologist chalked it up to childbirth and diagnosed genetic hair loss, a permanent thinning and a widening of the part line. He recommended a daily regimen of minoxidil (Rogaine), an over-the-counter foam that she rubbed into her scalp. About a year later, the thinning stopped but she didn’t grow hair.

Then, her doctor suggested she also try a handheld low-intensity laser that uses light energy to stimulate the dormant follicles. She glided the device across her scalp for several minutes every other day for four months and began noticing thicker, fuller locks. After four years of use, her friends now agree that her mane looks like “it used to.”

McLean is one of more than 21 million American women suffering from hereditary hair loss, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Perhaps millions more experience temporary thinning triggered not only by childbirth, but by periods of intense stress, surgery, illness, menopause or a crash diet that can shock the follicles. For these women, recovering from the trauma or reversing the deficiency will usually restore hair. But for the more complex forms of the disorder, a range of nonsurgical treatments have shown limited success in either halting loss or spurring growth.

Whatever the cause, the condition takes an emotional toll on most women. “It’s normal to lose about 100 or more hairs a day,” said Dr. Marie Leger, assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. But when the loss becomes excessive it can be “scary because hair is such an important part of our identity.”

Doctors say the key is to determine the cause and treat it early. While over-the-counter minoxidil, the only FDA-approved medication in its class, is 80 percent effective in preventing future loss, it is less effective in boosting growth, explained Dr. Marc Avram, a Manhattan dermatologist and clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College who treated McLean.

One restoration technique that has been shown to stimulate growth in clinical trials is laser light therapy, like that used by McLean. A number of companies sell handheld lasers for home use. The FDA-approved LaserComb by HairMax is one that can be purchased online, in doctor’s offices or in retail stores like Neiman Marcus. These devices can range from $195 to nearly $1,000. “It’s safe, relatively easy to do and it helps some people,” Avram said. He emphasized that it’s not a “magic bullet” and pointed out that every woman responds differently.

Another treatment is platelet-rich plasma. PRP has been used in sports medicine to heal injuries in athletes like Kobe Bryant, but it is a relatively new method for rejuvenating the follicles. The procedure involves injecting into the scalp a mixture of the patient’s own concentrated blood platelets combined with a wound healing powder, explained Manhattan hair restoration specialist Dr. Carlos Wesley. “This is similar to the Kim Kardashian ‘vampire facelift’ but performed on the scalp,” he said.

Six months after two treatments spaced two months apart, some patients begin to notice thicker, fuller tresses. He cautions that the benefits last about two years. “Two-thirds of our patients are happy with the outcome. We always have to temper expectations though, so they are not expecting a new, thick head of hair,” he said. Women with diffuse thinning are candidates for PRP, while those who want to lower a hairline are not, he added. These patients are “better served by hair restoration surgery.” PRP can range from $1,500 to $4,000 a session. However, some clinicians say the science behind LaserComb and PRP may be weak. “Hair growth is the Holy Grail of female hair loss,” Leger said. She recommended women start with the “least invasive, least expensive and most effective” treatments such as minoxidil.

Doctors agree there has been slow progress in the area of research, but some new treatments show promise. Scientists are studying if stem cells of the hair follicle can be cloned to induce growth. And the eyelash enhancer Latisse is now being tested for the scalp.