Medical research over the past three decades has come a long way in understanding male-pattern baldness. There are now medications available that stop the balding process and sometimes can stimulate barren hair follicles to grow new hair. These medications, most commonly finasteride, work as long as they are taken. In fact, they are designed for long-term, multi-year use. Once discontinued though, hair will revert to its natural state within a few months, and the process of balding will continue unchecked.
A cure for baldness — in the sense that it would make mlae-pattern baldness disappear permanently, or even reverse existing hair loss — doesn’t exist. Not yet, at least. Gene therapy is still at an early stage, but it holds some promise that one day the genetic structure of hair follicle cells can be changed. Thousands of stem cells (dermal papillae) sit at the bottom of each hair follicle (you have 80,000 to 120,000 follicles on your head), and each follical is responsible for growing a single strand of hair. This means a lot of cells would have to be fixed for each single hair to regrow.
Ultimately, the purpose of ongoing efforts, is to use stem cells from blood and skin, to grow hair follicles loaded with plenty of active dermal papillae. These follicles could then be implanted into the scalp. Many challenges will need to be resolved first before such a cure could ever become commercial. For example, getting implanted follicles to grow hair all in one direction is tricky, and the implanted cells may still fall victim to the signalling which causes male-pattern baldness, just like their natural predecessors. Additionally, at least for some time, such treatment may be prohibitively expensive.
One day in the future human ingenuity will find a way to cure male-pattern baldness. You might be thinking: good news for my grandchildren, but what about me?
You are not alone. Around 50 percent of males start losing hair by the time they turn 50, and for many men it happens much earlier.
Given how common androgenic alopecia is, it's not surprising that the pharma industry has invested heavily into developing effective medications. There currently are two FDA-approved drugs in the United States that tackle male-pattern balding and have a pretty decent track record of success.
Finasteride, which is marketed by Merck & Co. as a prescription drug under the name of Propecia (also available in generic versions), is probably the most popular and extensively researched hair loss treatment. Finasteride is taken as a 1mg oral tablet once per day. Long-term clinical studies (some longer than 10 years) have demonstrated that finasteride is effective and usually well tolerated. For some 85 percent of men using finasteride, balding will stop within a few months, and nearly 65 percent will grow new hair. Finasteride only protects your hair against androgenic alopecia as you take it.
Another drug, dutasteride, comes from the same family of pharmaceuticals as finasteride and has also proven to be effective against hair loss. However, dutasteride hasn’t yet received approval from the FDA for the treatment of male-pattern hair loss. Perhaps it will sometime in the future.
The 2nd FDA-approved option to treat male-pattern baldness is minoxidil, which more commonly is known under its proprietary name Rogaine. It’s available as a topical spray or liquid for direct use on the scalp and works byu accelerates hair growth. It does not actually stop hair loss, but makes hair in healthy follicles grow faster. Minoxidil is often recommended in combination with finasteride, as the two medications complement each other well.
If you think finasteride or minoxidil could be right for you, seek more advice from a dermatologist or your regular doctor.