Over the past year we have received many questions from patients wondering about our thoughts on the many over the counter hair loss treatments now available. While there are too many options available to specifically give guidance on each one, there are really just a few main categories that all of these treatments fall into.
Shampoos and Conditioners
It is important to understand that most shampoos and conditioners are not going to regrow hair, regardless of what they advertise. Many of these products will have ingredients that are known to help with hair loss, like DHT blockers or proteins, but it is not known how much of this is really absorbed in scalp. This does not mean that there is no benefit to these shampoos and conditioners. While they will most likely not regrow hair, there is the potential to get healthier hair, less dry hair, or even increased volume. In terms of what should be in the shampoo, ones that have panthenol and proteins can make hair appear thicker. Some shampoos have saw palmetto which is a mild DHT blocker. Ketoconazole (Nizoral) shampoo is a potent DHT blocker but does dry out hair and must be used with a good conditioner. There is a lot of talk about sulfates in shampoos being harmful to hair, but at a recent international conference on hair loss, it was noted that there are no scientific studies to support this. In terms of conditioners it is important to use a light conditioner if dealing with fine hair to prevent weighting it down and making the hair appear flat.
Minoxidil is the only over the counter treatment that is FDA Approved for the treatment of hair loss. You may notice a lot of websites advertise their own FDA Approved treatment, but that just means they are offering minoxidil or a product with minoxidil in it. While not everyone is familiar with minoxidil, most people are familiar with Rogaine, which minoxidil is the active ingredient. Minoxidil can be a great supportive treatment for hair loss, but there are a few things to note about the over the counter versions. Most of the studies on minoxidil were completed on 5% minoxidil solutions and many of the over the counter treatments only contain 2% minoxidil. The chief complaints of minoxidil is that it can irritate the scalp and make your hair greasy. If you have those issues, there are specially compounded minoxidil prescriptions that can minimize those side effects. Lastly, you cannot just stop minoxidil as it can cause shedding. You really need to use it consistently for it to work and if you want to stop it you need to taper off.
Low Level Laser Therapy
There has been a significant increase in the number of Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) devices on the market in the past few years. We are seeing laser caps of all different sizes and made with different light sources. The studies on LLLT show that the proper devices can give excellent results, however, many of the devices on the market do not match the specifications from the studies. The studies were completed with 650 nm low level lasers and enough lasers to produce 4 joules/cm2 of power. However, many devices on the market today do not contain low level lasers and instead have red lights. The number of diodes is also important based on the size of the device. There are many devices with only 80 or 100 diodes, but that is not enough diodes to produce 4 joules/cm2 of power.
If you are deciding to purchase a treatment over the counter, it is important to understand that no treatment will work unless it is being used for the appropriate reason. If you think that you are in need of a hair loss treatment you should really meet with a specialist that can diagnose the cause of your hair loss and ensure that you are receiving proper treatment.
Posted by Your Medi Tresse Team