Male-pattern hair loss, also known as androgenic alopecia, or male-pattern baldness (MPB), is a very common condition, affecting 70% of males and an ever-increasing number of females at some point in their life. A British research poll conducted on males ages 18 to 30 asked the question, “what do you fear the most?” The number one answer was hair loss,, surpassing erectile dysfunction, sexually transmitted disease and a number of other rather worrying conditions. All over the web, we find remedies — frequently without any scientific basis — on how to “cure” ourselves of this annoying condition. This is the reason why I’ve decided to take a scientific approach to treating hair loss.
What is Androgenic Alopecia?
Androgenic alopecia (AGA) is a condition in which the hair follicles progressively miniaturize due to the effects of androgenic hormones. The reason why it is more frequent in males is that the male scalp has regions that are highly sensitive to DHT (dihydrotestosterone), a potent androgenic hormone that has an adverse effect on hair. These sensitive areas are the vertex (crown) and the frontal regions. While hair recession on the temples is a normal part of the aging process of men, recession of the vertex and the midscalp is caused by androgenic alopecia.
Thinning Hair Treatments
Before we venture into the wild world of MPB treatments, it is important to point out that growing back completely miniaturized hair follicles (i.e. totally bald areas) is extremely unlikely and that treatment should be started as soon as possible.
That said, I don’t recommend taking DHT inhibitors (e.g. finasteride, dutasteride) if you are less than 23 years old, as DHT is important for developing the male body. If that’s the case, I recommend taking natural DHT inhibitors such as saw palmetto together with minoxidil until you feel safe about taking a heavy-duty DHT inhibitor. We’ll talk more about that later.
Since its introduction in the 1980s, Minoxidil has been used by millions of people all around the world. Everything that could be said on Minoxidil has been talked about many times over throughout the internet. However, it is worth summarizing the vast amount of info we can find on the web in a small recap.
Minoxidil is a drug that was developed as a blood pressure medication due to its vasodilating properties. The drug was effective but had a number of side effects. One of these effects was unexpected hair growth. The increase of hair growth became so obvious that dermatologists began prescribing minoxidil for androgenic alopecia without it having been approved by the FDA. The researchers thus quickly repurposed minoxidil as a hair loss treatment, and the rest is history.
Minoxidil is, as of today, the most effective drug to stimulate hair growth and it is frequently used by transgenders to stimulate beard hair growth. You can buy a 6 months supply for around 26$, which is slightly more than 4$ a month. Side effects may include black circles, body hair growth, wrinkles and faster skin aging. The last two can be prevented with retinoids (more on that later).
Finasteride (Proscar) is a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor (5-ARI). Basically, it inhibits 5-AR, an enzyme that converts excess testosterone into its more androgenic brother, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). As we’ve seen already, DHT — plus other factors, including elevated sebum production, stress, inflammation, and diet — is the ultimate hair killer, so we don’t want that.
Unfortunately, DHT is involved in many bodily processes and functions, such as muscle building, depression and anxiety, body hair (generally people with a lot of body hair are more susceptible to androgenic alopecia), height and so on. That said, the incidence of side effects in Proscar (finasteride) patients is very low and around the same rate as a placebo (sugar) pill. So, why there are people all over the internet screaming about how finasteride “shrunk their balls” or destroyed their life forever? As usual, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. In my experience, yes, finasteride slightly lowers libido. However, the effect is not as bad as some people say, and it gets better with time.
Some of the complaints may come from the fact that doctors are prescribing a higher dose than needed. The dose for hair loss is 1 mg a day (and 5 mg for prostatic hyperplasia), but according to several studies, a single dose of finasteride will lower DHT for almost a week. In fact, one study demonstrated that 0.05 mg of finasteride was nearly 50% as effective as 100 times the dose of 5 mg in reducing serum DHT after a single dose. Not only that but with daily dosing it was almost 90% effective as 1 mg!
My recommendation thus is — if you choose the oral route — to take between 0.25 to 0.5 mg every other day (or every day if your DHT levels are really high).
One question that always struck my mind about finasteride is why the scientists that were developing it never thought about going by the topical route. I’m not a scientist but it just seems more logical to me to apply a hair loss drug directly on the hair follicle rather than taking it orally, don’t you think?
Fortunately, in the last decade, we’ve seen more and more studies being done with topical finasteride. In a study conducted in India last year, the researcher switched patients aged 20 to 40 years old from oral finasteride to a solution of 5% minoxidil and 0.1% finasteride. Of the 45 patients that underwent treatment, 84.44% of them maintained a good hair density with the minoxidil-finasteride combination. Five of them stopped the treatment for a period of 8-12 months and then resumed it. Of those five that stopped the treatment, 4 of them had a good improvement when they resumed treatment.
A Swiss study compared the efficacy of topical vs oral finasteride. The results were clear: 1 mg of topical finasteride once a day reduced DHT levels in the scalp more effectively than 1 mg of oral finasteride. The former reduced DHT levels by 71% while the oral finasteride only reduced them by 51%. Both administrations reduced DHT blood levels, so if you get side effects with Propecia, you will likely get side effects with topical finasteride. They also tried 0.5 mg of topical finasteride twice a day, but that only reduced scalp DHT levels by 47%.
To obtain a topical finasteride solution you need to crush Proscar (or generic finasteride) tablets in your Minoxidil solution. You should try to obtain between 0.05 and 0.1% of finasteride. Start at 0.05% twice a day and work your way up.
Black Castor Oil + Peppermint Oil
Castor oil has been used as hair growth tool since early times, but only recently has it been rediscovered as a scientifically-proven hair growth oil.
Before we go any further, we need to point out the discovery in 2012 by dermatologist Luis A. Garza and his team, that men with androgenic alopecia have high levels on the scalp of the enzyme prostaglandin D2 synthase (PTGDS) and its product prostaglandin D2.
Yin & Yang: Prostaglandin D2/E2
During a normal hair cycle, the levels of PTGDS increase immediately before a regression phase. The researchers thus assume that PTGDS and PD2 have an inhibitory effect on hair growth and that prostaglandin D2 inhibitors can, therefore, be used to stimulate hair growth.
On the other hand, we have prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) that stimulates hair growth. Bimatoprost, a PGE2 analog, is currently being researched as a hair loss treatment.
“That’s cool and everything,” you may say, “but what does it have to do with Castor or Peppermint oil?”
- Castor oil contains ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid with anti-inflammatory and analgesic activity that activates the EP3 prostanoid receptor for prostaglandin E2. Unfortunately, it is terribly understudied, which is quite strange since castor oil has been a popular hair treatment for years, particularly in Jamaica.
- Peppermint oil in a 3% solution stimulated hair growth in mice through an increase in IGF-1 mRNA expression. The results were similar to those obtained with Minoxidil.
- By combining these two oils with Minoxidil and topical finasteride, we can achieve incredible hair growth. I personally have achieved hair growth in remarkably “difficult” areas such as the temples. It’s important to start as early as possible before the hair follicles miniaturize completely.
I personally use June Milnrow Peppermint Jamaican Black Castor Oil which combines flaxseed, peppermint, and black castor oil together, but it can be a bit expensive to buy it in the US, so here’s another one manufactured in the USA.
- There are other oils that may aid hair growth. One of these is pumpkin seed oil (PSO), which is a well-known 5-AR. A 2013 study compared the effect of pumpkin seed oil to placebo in 76 patients suffering from mild to moderate androgenic alopecia. Half of them were assigned to the treatment group (400 mg of pumpkin seed oil capsules) and the other to the placebo group. The patients were instructed to not take any hair loss treatments (both topical and oral) for the 3 months prior to the study. The Mean Hair Count in the treatment group increased by 40%, whereas in the placebo group it increased by 10%. The study did not address the topical use of PSO nor the (common) combination of pumpkin seed oil with other natural 5-alpha reductase inhibitors (like in saw palmetto complex).
Dermaroller and Dermapen™
A dermaroller is a skin needling device. The concept behind it is that by penetrating the skin with small needles, you can stimulate collagen production without leaving scars. A dermapen is pretty much the same; the only difference is that by removing the rolling process it is more gentle on the skin, which should theoretically heal faster and have better results. It is also a hundred times more expensive, so unless you have a lot of money to throw away, I recommend going with the dermaroller.
Which Dermaroller Should I Use?
There are dermarollers of all (needle) lengths, ranging from 0.2 to 3 mm. Generally, the lengths used to stimulate hair growth are between 0.2 to 1.5 mm. So which one should you buy? The answer is: it depends.
There are two ways of doing this:
- If you’re a minoxidil user, I recommend a 0.25 mm dermaroller to be used every other day (or every day if your skin tolerates it) before applying minoxidil. This will increase minoxidil absorption — and thus, efficacy — a lot. At this length, however, it is not able to stimulate collagen production, and its only purpose is to boost the absorption of topical products.
- If you do not use minoxidil, or you use it but are willing to go the extra mile to regrow hair, then choose with a 1 to 1.5 mm dermaroller to be used once a week.
A 2013 study compared a group of patients taking 5% minoxidil twice a day to another group taking 5% minoxidil and using a weekly dermarolling regimen (the dermaroller chosen had 1.5 mm needles). The mean change in hair count after twelve weeks was significantly better in the dermaroller group compared to the minoxidil only group (91.4 vs. 22.2 respectively)..
Tretinoin (Retin-A), is a vitamin A (retinol) derivative. Retinoids are terribly understudied as hair loss treatments, but according to a clinical review, they are important for hair growth, especially when paired with minoxidil and used on females. A study showed that tretinoin and 5% minoxidil once a day was as effective as 5% minoxidil twice a day.
I think tretinoin 0.025% (or even just retinol itself), is a good addition to my hair loss regimen but it is not as important as the other compounds. They are important, however, to make once a day dosing of minoxidil/topical finasteride possible. So, in the end, I’ll probably keep using it (or resort to retinol should tretinoin get too expensive).
Putting It All Together
Now that we have discussed some of the most effective and convenient treatments for combating hair loss, we can use this information to develop a treatment regimen.
- wake up
- do a 0.25 dermaroller routine on the scalp alternating a day on and one off (or 1.5 mm once a week)
go back and forth each roll
- apply minoxidil-finasteride 5%/0.1% solution on dry hair
- apply a thin film of tretinoin or retinol on the hair line and vertex
- apply castor oil on the hair line, vertex and other balding areas
- wake up
- split a 1 mg tablet of finasteride and take half of it (every other day)
- do a 0.25 dermaroller routine alternating a day on and one off (or 1.5 mm once a week)
go back and forth each roll
- if the skin is not bleeding, apply 5% minoxidil solution, otherwise wait for it to stop bleeding
- apply 5% minoxidil
- apply castor oil on hairline and vertex
Do not dermaroll if skin if hasn’t healed yet and follow the instructions on the box closely.
Other Useful Tips for Thinning Hair
- I recommend a complete head shave when starting the regimen. The reason is simple: doing so will allow the dermaroller (and thus the minoxidil/finasteride) to penetrate deep into the skin and strengthen the hair follicle significantly. After that you can grow your hair normally.
- Avoid wearing hats or other constrictive headwear, they will speed up hair loss and cause more problems such as traction alopecia or scalp folliculitis.
- To stimulate hair growth, use shampoos or creams containing caffeine , copper peptides or miconazole (the -azoles have a synergistic effect with minoxidil).
- Supplementing Biotin, Copper, Zinc, MSM and the amino acids L-Cysteine, L-Methionine, and L-Lysine will also stimulate hair growth. A good overall supplement is Country Life Maxi-Hair Plus
- In my experience, N-Acetylcysteine (NAC), a more bioavailable form of the amino acid Cysteine in high doses (600 mg twice a day) will significantly stimulate hair and beard growth.
- Blocking DHT with finasteride will increase estradiol (estrogen), a female hormone. To avoid that, consider buying a diindolylmethane supplement, which is a compound found in cruciferous vegetables that reduces the levels of estrogen.
- Other supplements to help reduce or eliminate Propecia’s side effects are zinc and grape seed extract. The latter is a strong aromatase inhibitor, a substance that inhibits the conversion of testosterone to estrogen.
- Aromatase inhibitors may reduce finasteride efficacy — particularly the pharmaceutical ones — so keep that in mind should you consider taking one.
So that’s it for now, folks! For any questions or suggestions leave us a comment and we’ll get back to you!
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