Overview of the Most Common Medicines for Hair Loss

Hair loss can be treated by different means but it is medicinal pills and topicals that spring to most peoples’ minds as the options holding the greatest promise. There are also other available treatment options, such as surgical as well as non-surgical hair replacement, but to date only oral and topical medicinal treatments have been proven to reduce and reverse hair loss naturally. Hair transplantation, though providing by far the best cosmetic results, cannot slow or reverse the balding process. Natural and herbal hair loss treatments seek to mimic medicinal treatments in their mode of action but their effectiveness in treating hair loss has never been confirmed in any significant clinical study and many of them are associated with hair scams.

The only two medicinal treatments that have been approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration in the US) for treating hair loss are topical minoxidil (trade name Rogaine) and oral finasteride (Propecia). These two hair loss drugs have been also approved by national health supervisory authorities in many other countries. Topical minoxidil is suitable for both sexes, whereas finasteride can only be prescribed to male patients. Minoxidil is a vasodilator, initially designed to treat high blood pressure, which was later found to stimulate hair growth when applied topically to the scalp. Its exact mechanism of action is not known.

Finasteride is an antiandrogen drug that was originally applied to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also known as prostate enlargement. It acts by inhibiting conversion of the male hormone testosterone to the follicle harming didydrotestosterone (DHT). The discovery of finasteride’s positive effects on hair growth led to identifying the true cause of hereditary baldness, which are the harmful attacks of DHT on our hair follicles. Since making this discovery, a quest for other alternative DHT inhibitors has begun, especially amongst antiandrogen drugs and herbs that have, in the past, been used to treat urinary problems.

Dutasteride (trade name Avodart) is an antiandrogen drug similar to finasteride and has been studied extensively for treating baldness in men. It is currently undergoing phase III clinical testing. It has been approved for treating BPH and is thus available in pharmacies in many countries around the world. Although it has not yet been approved for hair loss by any national health supervisory authority, it is being prescribed by some clinics and doctors to male patients who no longer respond to finasteride. Dutasteride is believed by many to be a more powerful hair loss drug than finasteride but it is associated with causing more severe side effects.

Flutamide (trade name Eulexin) is a very strong antiandrogen used to treat prostate cancer. It works by binding to the androgen receptors and thus competing with follicle harming DHT. Oral use of flutamide can cause serious side effects but it is thought that topical applications might have less adverse side effects and could be, in the future, used to treat hereditary hair loss. More research is needed to verify such claims.

Spironolactone (trade name Aldactone) is another antiandrogen drug that works by binding to androgen receptors, competing with DHT. It is used in women to treat acne, hair loss and excess body hair and although there are some generic topical applications for treatment of male pattern baldness containing spironolactone, it has never been approved to treat hair loss in men and should better be avoided despite the fact that spiro cream is used by some male patients with some degree of success.

Aminexil, was developed by L’Oreal to treat baldness in men and women and its molecule is very similar to that of minoxidil. Its mechanism of action is not exactly known and it is believed to be a weaker weapon in the fight against hair loss than minoxidil. It is usually recommended to women who are pregnant or breastfeeding as a safer treatment option than minoxidil.

The most promising novel drug under development is called NEOSH101. It happens to be in phase II clinical trials and is supposed to be a hair growth stimulant, distantly related in its actions to minoxidil. Although not expected to become an ultimate cure for baldness, it could improve the chances of hair loss sufferers of maintaining and even regrowing some of their lost hair.

This list of medicinal treatments for hair loss is not exhaustive. There are some other drugs that are believed to help treat hereditary baldness, such as superoxide dismutase, ketoconazole, alfatradiol, fluridil, etc. but none of them has ever been proven in any serious clinical study to promote hair growth and further studies will be needed to evaluate their effects on hair loss. Therefore, for the time being, minoxidil and finasteride remain the two main weapons in the fight against genetically-determined hair loss conditions in male patients whereas spironolactone and minoxidil are considered to be the best medicinal treatments for female patients.