The Forefront of Treating Hair Loss in Women
Take comfort: There are solutions on the horizon.
Hair loss has long been a chief complaint among women, especially as they age. It affects some 30 million women in the United States alone, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and will significantly impact more than 50 percent of women during their lifetime. The most common cause is female-pattern hair loss (FPHL), also known as androgenetic alopecia. It's a chronic and progressive condition that has a genetic component, but it's also caused by factors related to the actions of hormones—ovarian cysts, use of high androgen index birth control pills, pregnancy, and menopause, explains Ken L. Williams Jr., D.O., hair restoration specialist, surgeon, founder of Orange County Hair Restoration in Irvine, California.
Other medical conditions are also to blame for hair loss in women, including thyroid disorders, polycystic ovary syndrome, anemia, and chronic illness—and the use of certain medications, many of which treat these conditions, can also lead to hair loss in women. "Certain types of autoimmune disorders result in a slightly different and often less dramatic hair loss problem known as alopecia areata, an inflammatory condition that causes hair to come out in clumps or patches," says Dr. Williams Jr.
Luckily, we've come a long way in terms of treating hair loss. After all, 100 years ago, remedies involved things like snake oil and bat and chicken dung. "In more recent years, clinically tested topical and oral products, such as Minoxidil and Propecia, have become available, as well as procedures like PRP (platelet rich plasma therapy), and hair transplants," shares Anabel Kingsley, consultant trichologist and brand president for Philip Kingsley. She finds a holistic, personalized, multi-pronged approach to be the most effective way to treat any form of hair loss. "Since there is no 'one size fits all,' you want to optimize all possible factors that can affect the hair growth cycle, such as general health, nutrition, and stress levels, as well as the condition of your hair and scalp," she says.
At Philip Kingsley, she treats clients with their Trichotherapy Regime ($215, saksfifthavenue.com), which is specifically formulated for women with fine hair and reduced volume. "It tackles hair loss from all possible angles via the scalp with intensive daily Scalp Drops ($89, neimanmarcus.com), a daily Stimulating Scalp Tonic ($28, net-a-porter.com), a thickening protein spray, and targeted masks to optimize the scalp environment," Kinglsey explains. "It also contains carefully formulated nutritional supplements to help give hair support from within."
Over-the-counter solutions won't work for every person suffering from hair loss, but there are a number of medical interventions that can stimulate hair growth—anti-androgen medication, for example, is recommended for clients experiencing prolonged hair loss. "These medications help prevent further hair loss and encourage some hair regrowth from dormant hair follicles," says Dr. Williams Jr. There is also stem cell therapy, which has expanded greatly over the last few years in treating medical disease. "As opposed to embryonic cells, the initial stigma of using stem cells has decreased since the discovery of using bone marrow, fat cells, umbilical cord cells, and even skin cells to extract stem cells," he explains.
Surgery is also an option, and there are currently two primary surgical techniques or methods used in performing hair transplantation: Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) and Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). "With the FUT technique, a section of scalp is excised with a scalpel, the scalp is brought together with sutures or staples and the hair follicles or hair grafts are inserted into tiny slits placed by the surgeon in the balding recipient area," Dr. Williams Jr. says. "The follicles with a single hair are placed in the front rows to define and create a natural hairline and the more dense, natural occurring follicular units are placed by hand in areas where hair density is needed the most."
FUE, a minimally invasive technique that is being hailed as the most significant improvement in hair surgery, uses a minimal depth scoring punch device to loosen the follicle from the surrounding tissues. "With the FUE procedure, a 0.9 or 1.0 millimeter punch minimal depth scoring excision is used in the skin around the upper part of the follicular unit (hair follicles)," he continues. "The hair follicle is then extracted directly from the scalp and manually placed into tiny slits in the balding area similar to the strip method."
There are still several hair restoration solutions left to be discovered—and experts believe most of us will see the concept of hair cloning come to fruition in their lifetime. "Hair cloning would in effect, disassemble a few hair follicles, multiply these cells in the laboratory and then reintroduce them into the scalp to both rejuvenate miniaturizing hair follicles and induce brand new hairs," Dr. Williams Jr. says. "Other groups have tried this but it has been found that when human follicle cells are cultured, they rapidly lose their functionality."