Hair loss can be suffered by both men and women, although male pattern baldness is perhaps the most common condition. Women can also suffer from alopecia and the causes are varied, including psychological distress. There are also conditions which create thinning hair rather than complete hair loss. We offer a range of hair loss treatments.
What is alopecia?
Alopecia is the collective term used in the medical industry to describe hair loss. There are multiple different types of alopecia, each with different causes, symptoms and treatments.
Types of alopecia, their causes and their symptoms
The most common kind of alopecia is male or female pattern baldness, which can also be called Androgenetic Alopecia. Male pattern baldness affects around 50% of men by the age of 50, and is thought to be most common in women after they have gone through the menopause, affecting around 50% of women over 65%.
In men, this type of alopecia tends to manifest itself with the receding of the hairline, along with the thinning of hair on the top and front of the head. Women, in contrast, usually maintain their hairline and instead lose hair from their crown. Male or female pattern baldness cannot be cured, but medication can be used to encourage more hair growth.
It’s thought that male pattern baldness is caused by a combination of genetics and hormones. A hormone called DHT shrinks the hair follicles of affected individuals, causing the hair to become shorter and thinner, until eventually the follicle is too small to produce hair any longer. The causes of female pattern hair loss aren’t as well known, but it’s suspected that they are similar to those of the male condition.
Another common form of alopecia is Alopecia Areata. This type of hair loss causes circular patches of baldness, usually on the scalp (although they can form anywhere), and can lead to more severe types of alopecia like Alopecia Totalis (total hair loss on the scalp) or Alopecia Universalis (total loss of body hair).
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune condition, caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking hair follicles instead of foreign bacteria. It’s most common among people who already have an autoimmune condition (such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes), and occurs most frequently in teenagers or young adults.
If a patient develops some patches of Alopecia Areata, it is possible for their hair to grow back as the hair follicles are not destroyed. If the condition worsens into Alopecia Totalis or Universalis, it becomes less likely that hair can be regrown. Someone with Alopecia Areata will likely experience hair loss on and off throughout their life.
While neither male/female pattern baldness or Alopecia Areata have a cure, there are treatments available which can help encourage hair growth or minimise the damage done by the loss of hair.
The most common treatments for male pattern baldness are finasteride and minoxidil. Finasteride is usually sold under the brand names Propecia or Proscar, and is taken in the form of an oral tablet. It works to block the enzyme which shrinks hair follicles, encouraging the growth of stronger, thicker hair.
Minoxidil is most commonly referred to as Regaine, and generally comes in the form of a foam or lotion which can be applied directly onto the affected area. Women should never use finasteride, so minoxidil is the best option for treating female pattern hair loss. It works in a similar way to finasteride, by boosting hair follicles so that hair grows quicker and stronger.
Minoxidil can also be effective in treating Alopecia Areata. There is not one, cure-all treatment for Alopecia Areata, and so minoxidil is among the options which are understood to have worked for some people with the condition. Other options include corticosteroid injections or tablets, which are thought to reduce inflammation of hair follicle or the application of anthralin cream, which slows down the growth of skin cells.
If a patient has completely lost their hair, they could consider using wigs or looking into a hair transplant.
Who can take alopecia medication?
Finasteride should not be taken by women. Pregnant women and children should also avoid interacting with the tablets as harmful side effects can occur if the medicine is absorbed through their skin. People who have, or ever had had prostate cancer, liver disease, bladder muscle disorder or problems urinating should avoid finasteride too.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women and children under 18 should avoid minoxidil as well, along with anyone who has ever experienced scalp problems (for example eczema or cuts), kidney disease, liver disease or heart problems.
Doctor assessment will be required before receiving a prescription for corticosteroids, and if they are to be injected the procedure will be performed by a doctor or dermatologist. It’s important to share any medical details with your doctor if they are considering recommending corticosteroids. It’s generally recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women avoid this treatment, along with children under 18 years old.
You should not use anthralin cream if you have kidney disease.
How to use alopecia treatments
Always follow your doctor or pharmacist’s instructions when it comes to dosage and duration of treatments. Make sure you never take more than you have been told.
The usual dosage of finasteride, when treating male pattern baldness, is one 1mg tablet of finasteride everyday. It will only be effective as long as the course is continued, so if you stop taking the tablets your hair is likely to continue to recede. It could take up to three months to see the benefits of finasteride for hair loss.
When using minoxidil, for best results, clean and dry the scalp before application. Pull your hair aside in the area of thinning and apply the product onto your scalp. Rub it gently into your skin and allow to dry before styling your hair, or before going to bed. Wash your hands after application. Make sure you only apply the solution to the area of the scalp that needs it. The applicator that comes with the medicine should help with that. This website has diagrams and more in depth description of application if you need more information.
Avoid putting anthralin cream on healthy skin/scalp. Wet your hair and scalp in the affected area, and lather on the solution. Leave for as long as recommended by your doctor, then wash the product off. Make sure you wash your hands before and after you use anthralin, and be careful to keep it away from your eyes, mouth and face.
Your doctor will advise the best way to administer corticosteroids.
Common, non serious side effects of finasteride include changes to sexual behaviour, tenderness around the nipples, dizziness or headaches. In some, rare cases, the drug has been linked to the development of prostate or breast cancer. During the course of your treatment, keep an eye on these areas of your body and see your doctor immediately if any changes occur.
It can also interact unfavourably with other medications, so let your doctor know if you are taking anything else before beginning finasteride treatment. In particular, you should be careful if also taking St John’s Wort.
Rarely, patients using minoxidil can experience side effects too. Usually, these include irritation in the treated area, unwanted hair growth elsewhere, headaches or rashes. If you experience any extremes of these problems, or loss of breath, extreme weight gain, muscle weakness, severe chest pains or irritation, contact your doctor immediately. You can find a full list of rare, more severe side effects of minoxidil here.
Corticosteroids are perhaps the strongest of treatments discussed here. There are a large number of cautions attached to the use of this type of medication. If you are prescribed corticosteroids, to be administered either orally or through an injection, you should make sure you speak to your doctor and understand the side effects and interactions in full. You can also find more information about them here.
There are very few side effects associated with anthralin. Occasionally, patients experience irritation in the treated area when they first begin using the cream, or more rarely have developed rashes. It’s worth noting that the solution can stain skin or fabrics.
How do I buy alopecia treatments online?
To legally and safely purchase most of these alopecia treatments, you need a prescription from a General Medical Council (GMC) registered doctor. Our online service allows you to do this quickly, easily and from the comfort of your own home by submitting a questionnaire to one of our GMC doctors.
Once you’ve chosen your medication and submitted your information, one of our doctors will review your request. If the medicine is deemed appropriate for you, the request will be accepted and your prescription will be issued. Your medication will then be dispensed by our UK-based pharmacy and sent, with full tracking, to your chosen address. Medicines are usually dispatched within 24 hours of ordering.