Thinning Hair: Can Medications Help?

Many things can cause women to lose more hair than normal: genetics, illness, stress, medical conditions or hormonal imbalance, aging, and even what you eat. The first step is to work with your doctor to find out what's causing the problem. There may be treatments that can help restore your locks.

Minoxidil: No Prescription Needed

Pros: Minoxidil (Rogaine, Ronoxidil) can stop hairs from getting thinner. It also can help some women regrow hair on the top of their head, says Paradi Mirmirani, MD. She's a dermatologist with the Permanente Medical Group in Vallejo, Calif.. “Very good studies show that it’s effective and gets the hair root or follicle to become larger.”

Minoxidil OTC come in 5% and 2% solutions and are considered safe for most women. The 2% solution is the only hair loss treatment for women approved by the FDA. Depending on which solution you use you put it on your scalp once daily.

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Cons: It doesn’t work for everybody. “About half of the people who use it do well and see new hair growth,” says Mirmirani. “Another 40% or so hold steady, not growing new hair but not losing more either. And about 10% find that it doesn’t help at all.”

Regrowth can take a while. It may be 12 weeks or longer before new hair starts growing, says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD. She's a clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco, and a dermatologist who specializes in hair loss. She suggests using Minoxidil for 6 months and seeing what happens.

The most common side effect is scalp irritation. Some women may have unwanted hair growth on their forehead or face. The other downside: You have to keep using it or your hair will start thinning again.

Prescription Possibilities

Two drugs aren't approved to treat women's hair loss, but doctors sometimes use them in women with hair loss. Finasteride (Propecia, Proscar) is an oral medication approved for hair loss in men, but not for women. That, says Mirmirani, is because it affects the hormone testosterone.

If a woman takes it and gets pregnant, it can cause birth defects in male children. The risk is so high that women of childbearing age aren't even supposed to touch the drug. But some doctors do prescribe it to women when minoxidil doesn’t work or when they are menopausal. Learn more about getting a prescription for finasteride.

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Spironolactone (Aldactone) is used to treat high blood pressure, and some women take it to stop hair loss. It can cause high levels of potassium to build up in the body, so it's not the first thing a doctor would use for hair loss.

Like Propecia, spironolactone can cause birth defects in male children. Women of childbearing age either shouldn't take it or must use birth control when using this medication.

Flutamide, a potent antiandrogen, has been used with some success. Concerns over liver failure have limited its use.

Could Latisse Work?

Women who want longer, thicker eyelashes may get a prescription for Latisse, a drug that's approved by the FDA to grow lashes. Researchers are studying whether it can also grow hair on your head. The studies haven't finished yet, but some doctors are already prescribing Latisse to women with thinning hair.

The Facts About Vitamins

Although your mom might tell you otherwise, Mirmirani says there's no proof that taking a daily multivitamin improves hair growth. Not getting enough of some vitamins can cause hair loss, though, so eat a healthy, balanced diet.

Avoid the Snake Oil

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Watch out for products claiming to re-grow hair, especially expensive ones available in salons.

“There is a lot of snake oil out there marketed on the Internet or in hair salons, steering people away from spending money on the one product that does work,” Mirmirani says. “So far, the only product for women with proven hair re- growth capabilities is minoxidil.”

Some of these products contain minoxidil but are priced a lot higher than what it costs at the drugstore, she adds.

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