Top Hair Loss Treatments

Alexander E. Spacher

From plugs to lasers, the fight against balding has come a long way.

1939: Japanese doctor Shoji Okuda is the first to publish the results of clinical hair-transplant experiments.

1952: Dermatologist Norman Orentreich, M.D., uses four-millimeter punches to perform the first hair transplants, popularizing “hair plugs” to treat male-pattern baldness. Each plug of some 20 hairs is taken from a “donor site” on the scalp (usually toward the back, where there’s adequate growth). They are bulky and, more often than not, the results look like a poorly hoed garden.

1984: Mini-grafting—the use of grafts containing up to six hairs—is introduced.

Late ’80s: Mini-micrografting, the combination of mini-grafts and smaller micro-grafts containing one or two hairs, becomes popular as a more natural alternative.

1995: New York dermatologist Robert M. Bernstein, M.D., and New Hair Institute founder William Rassman, M.D., develop Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT), which uses a special microscope to identify individual units of one to four hairs, plus nerves, blood vessels and a tiny muscle called the erector pilorum (the same muscle that makes a cat’s hairs stand on end). Transplanting these intact units ensures their maximum survival and a much more natural look.

2002: Dr. Bernstein and Dr. Rassman offer even more refinement with Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). With FUT, the donor hair is harvested in a single strip, leaving a linear incision; with FUE, the hair is harvested with a tiny punch that leaves lots of tiny circular incisions—a noticeable advantage for patients who want to wear their hair short. The disadvantage is that FUE requires a much larger donor site, and the results may not all be permanent.

2007: The FDA clears low-level lasers, which promise that the absorbed light will stimulate cell metabolism and protein synthesis to regrow hair. “For women, we don’t have much else to offer, and the benefit is subtle at best,” says Dr. Bernstein.

2008: Latisse, a prescription treatment to grow thicker and longer eyelashes, is cleared by the FDA. Now Allergan, the company behind Latisse, is doing a clinical study about a new formulation of bimatoprost (the active ingredient in Latisse) for male-pattern baldness and moderate female-pattern hair loss. The world waits with bated breath.

The Eyes Have It: Latisse, the wonder product that helps grow longer, thicker eyelashes, is sometimes prescribed off-label for over-plucked eyebrows. Though there has been a recent influx of over-the-counter brow products, they have not been approved by the FDA. In the future, says New York dermatologist Gervaise Gerstner, M.D., there will be skin patches, just like nicotine patches, for eyebrow and any other kind of hair growth, but these are five to seven years down the line. Until then, there is always the eyebrow pencil.