As the demand for cosmetic treatments continues to grow, some marketers have fallen for the temptation of presenting certain types of products and treatments as being more than they are. There are a lot of treatments out there that promise much, but don't always deliver.
One of the top offenders: hair loss treatments.
First, it's important to point out that hair loss is a treatable medical condition with a strong medical industry behind it --it even has its own board-certification program for doctors and a number of medical research organizations. However, like many other cosmetic fields, it is also rife with misinformation, questionable products and unqualified doctors. The Food & Drug Administration has done a somewhat reasonable job in recent years of cracking down on phony hair loss products and exaggerated marketing claims. However, many consumers still get fooled each year by misleading products, online ads, inappropriate expectations of what potential treatments can do, and doctors who lack the experience and tools to properly treat and track them.
Here are four hair loss treatments that consumers should watch out for:
Hair Loss Brushes - One persistent hair loss myth is that stimulating the scalp with magnets, brushes and massagers can improve blood circulation to the hair follicles and therefore reduce hair loss and improve new hair growth. There is no reliable medical evidence to support this claim. While there are real medical treatments to stimulate hair follicles and help improve blood circulation - like minoxidil, low level laser therapy and platelet-rich plasma - this can't effectively be done via a special hair brush or scalp massager. Don't get fooled!
Herbal Supplements - Good nutrition and certain supplements like biotin and marine-derived proteins and polysaccharides can help support hair quality. However, it's important to keep expectations realistic. A vitamin isn't going to stop hereditary hair loss or regrow hair from scalp where follicles are already dead and gone. Only FDA-approved medical treatments like minoxidil and finasteride have been extensively proven to slow, stop and reverse hereditary hair loss. And only surgical hair transplantation can regrow hair where severe depletion of hair follicles has occurred.
Minoxidil - Speaking of minoxidil, this treatment also requires a disclaimer. Although it is FDA-approved and has proven science behind it, the catch is that minoxidil doesn't work for everyone. In fact, over-the-counter minoxidil may only work well in about 38.3 per cent of patients, according to medical studies. Studies suggest that a patient has to have an active enzyme called "sulfotransferase" in order for their hair follicles to respond to minoxidil treatments. It is this enzyme that converts topically applied minoxidil into the active chemical (called minoxidil sulfate) that stimulates the follicles. Not everyone has enough sulfotransferase to "activate" minoxidil. There may be other biological roadblocks too -- like inflammation at or around hair follicles in the scalp and other factors, which can also affect minoxidil's action. The bottom line for patients is that there's a 65 per cent chance that standard over-the-counter minoxidil won't help you. Instead, you may require a prescription for a specially formulated, compounded minoxidil solution for optimal results. A new "minoxidil sensitivity' test will be out soon in the US, which can pre-determine if a patient is likely to respond to standard over-the-counter minoxidil before they start the treatment.
Hair Transplants - Thankfully, "hair plugs" are a thing of the past, but it's important for patients to realize that today's hair transplants still don't always turn out the way they should. The biggest problem is that many unqualified doctors (many of which are not certified by the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery) offer this procedure. The risks for hair transplant patients include surgical complications, infections, scarring, poor density and unnatural looking results. Another problem is that many doctors and large national clinics still mostly perform the traditional type of transplant called the "strip" or "linear" harvest technique instead of the less invasive "follicular-unit extraction" (also called FUE). With a strip-harvest procedure, a long linear strip of the scalp is removed ("harvested") from the back of the head in order to supply the permanent follicles for redistribution. Patients are left with a permanent linear scar --like the one actor Jeremy Piven was spotted with back in 2010. This procedure can be painful and requires considerable downtime and activity restrictions during healing.
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John TravoltaThe list of things that John Travolta isn't admitting to seems to grow longer by the day.We don't give a fig about his sexuality, but we do find it rather surprising that he won't 'fess up to having had a bit of a helping hand with his hair - because for years he's been regarded as having the least-convincing hairline in Hollywood. If only they were making Lego: The Movie he'd be a dead cert for the lead role. (credit: PA)
BonoThe U2 frontman was clearly thinning by the late '80s, but throughout the '90s and '00s his hair seemed to move in Mysterious Ways - increasing in density as it decreased in length.He obviously takes Pride (in the name of) his hair though, so we'll draw a (hair) line under the matter right here. (credit: PA)
Declan DonnellyFirst we want to make it clear that the density of Dec's hair is something we'd never even considered until it was brought to our attention.But once we were made aware of an alleged increase in bushiness, we had to admit that something fishy did appear to be going on.Now we're not saying he's definitely had a transplant (and he's certainly keeping mum), but have a look at these pics and see what you reckon. (credit: PA)
Sir Elton JohnThe artist formerly known as Reg Dwight started to lose his hair way back in the 1970s, and was one of the first celebs to undergo a hair transplant.The change was so dramatic - and he was so mega-famous back then - that he had to be honest about having had it done.We don't know how much work he's had done up there since, but he's got more hair than Marge Simpson these days. (credit: PA)
Jude LawHas he or hasn't he? That is the question when it comes to the talented Mr Law. Jude is famous for his sneaky mini-combover, as shown in the right hand picture - but there have been persistent rumours that he's also had a transplant.He's never spoken out about it, and definitive evidence is hard to come by - so for now it will have to remain a mystery, my dear Watson. (credit: PA)
James NesbittHe might still be best known to many of us for his role in Cold Feet, but it was obviously James Nesbitt's head that was getting a bit chilly.The actor has been upfront about having undergone two hair transplant procedures - and says the results have changed his life.Will we see the suave Northern Irishman becoming the latest Brit to make it big across the pond thanks to his new thatch? (credit: PA)
Rob BrydonComedian Rob Brydon is another famous face who appears to have had a bit of re-thatching carried out on his rooftop.The Welshman hasn't explicitly confirmed that he's had a transplant, but did say: "For some time now my head has been feeling a lot warmer but I was unable to put my finger on the reason why." He might not be able to, but it looks like one of his co-stars isn't having any problems doing so in the right-hand photo here. (credit: PA)
Ronan KeatingBoyzone star Ronan Keating was also an enthusiastic mini-combover man back in the 1990s, but sometime in the early noughties his hairline seemed to move forward a little.The change may be hardly noticeable, but that's how it should be when it's done right. We take our hats off to one of the best barnets in the business! (credit: PA)
Duncan BannatyneNot only has Dragon's Den tycoon Duncan Bannatyne's mop got darker in recent years, but his hairline has also moved forward. The gym chain owner has admitted having a transplant and said he's delighted with the results.(credit: PA)
Shaun WilliamsonThe man who used to play Barry Evans in EastEnders has never even tried to pretend that his hair grew back overnight - which is just as well because nobody would have believed him. He even told Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant about the op, so they could use it to mock him when he appeared in Extras (although the gags got cut). (credit: PA)
Buyer Beware - It's important for consumers to speak directly with a medical doctor who specializes exclusively in hair loss before starting any treatments or undergoing a surgical procedure and do their best to avoid dangerous cut-rate/discount clinics and those that employ non-medical salespeople. Routine follow-ups using scientific measurement tools will help track your progress and determine if changes to the regimen are needed.
The good news is that there are many hair loss treatments that can work well for both men and women when used correctly, consistently and in the proper combination depending on hair loss status and goals - like FUE hair transplantation, specially formulated minoxidil, low level laser therapy and scientifically formulated nutritional supplements. The key is doing your homework and due diligence to avoid getting fooled!
You can find qualified hair restoration specialists at the American Board of Hair Restoration Surgery's registry of board-certified doctors, as well as the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery's physician directory. Directory of surgeons accepted by the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons, a Consumer Organization physician listing.
Follow Alan J. Bauman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrAlanBauman