Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration - Hair Thinning
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Q: My hair is starting to thin in the front, but it is not yet bald. I have been going back and forth about whether to get a hair transplant or use Propecia. I’m not sure what my first step should be. What do you think? — N.K. ~ Pleasantville, N.Y.

A: In general, patients who are thinning, but not actually bald, should begin with combined medical therapy (finasteride and minoxidil) for at least a year prior to considering surgery. In many cases, with this regiment, surgery can be postponed or even avoided completely. Unfortunately, some patients cannot tolerate finasteride or choose not to take it due to concern about potential side effects. Minoxidil, although useful, does not significantly alter the long-term course of hair loss when used alone.

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A study published in the December 2015 issue of the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology suggests that Viviscal, an oral supplement designed for women with thinning hair, may promote hair growth. ((Ablon G, Dayan S. A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Multi-center, Extension Trial Evaluating the Efficacy of a New Oral Supplement in Women with Self-perceived Thinning Hair. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2015 Dec;8(12):15-21.)) The researchers noted a 79 percent increase in healthy, terminal hairs and an almost 12 percent increase in hair diameter in female patients who took the supplement for six months. The evidence suggests that Viviscal may be a useful supplement to current hair restoration treatments, or an alternative treatment in patients not indicated for hair transplant surgery or medical treatment with finasteride.

Background

Viviscal, produced by Lifes2good Inc., out of Chicago, Illinois, was launched in the U.S. in 2008. Its key ingredient is a proprietary mix of powders derived from sustainably-harvested shark and mollusk species. This “amino marine complex,” known as AminoMar C™, is blended with B and C vitamins, and minerals such as calcium, to make Viviscal “Professional Strength.” The active ingredients in the AminoMar complex are glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), a group of long-chain sugar molecules present in many living creatures. GAGs are especially adept at retaining water, and ingesting them may contribute to healthy hair and skin, although it is not clear if taken orally GAGs have any benefit in this regard. According to Viviscal, the beneficial effect on skin and hair of a fish- and protein-heavy diet was first observed in Inuit people in the late 1980s.

Dr. Glynis Ablon and her research team sought to determine if Viviscal “Professional Strength” tablets could successfully treat female hair loss. (The “Professional Strength” blend contains 25mg more of the AminoMar complex than the newer “Extra Strength” variety, as well as a different blend of extracts and additives.) If determined to be a viable treatment, Viviscal could be another option in an otherwise limited market of hair loss products for women. Many women with androgenetic alopecia (common genetic hair loss) are poor candidates for hair transplant surgery. Also, the use of Propecia (finasteride), the most effective hair loss medication available, is not indicated in women due to poor efficacy and the risk of potential side effects.

The Study & Findings

The study observed 40 women, aged 25-66, who self-reported some form of hair loss. An initial densitometry, to determine the progression of hair loss, was conducted on a 4cm2 target area of the frontal hairline. This was followed by the random distribution of either Viviscal or a placebo.

At 90 days on Viviscal, the researchers noted a 56% increase in terminal hairs in the target area and 10% increase in mean hair diameter. A nearly insignificant 1% rise was noted in the number of vellus hairs (non-mature or miniaturized hairs). Compared to the placebo group, the Viviscal group had 57% more terminal hairs, a 10% larger hair diameter, and 9% fewer vellus hairs.

At 180 days, compared to baseline, patients on Viviscal showed an almost 80% increase in terminal hairs, a hair diameter increase of 11.67%, and a 14% increase in vellus hairs. Compared to the placebo group at 180 days the Viviscal group had 77% more terminal hairs, an almost 10% larger hair diameter, and slightly more vellus hairs (1.5%).

Limitations of Ablon Study

The main limitation of the study lies in the potential conflict of interest between the researchers and Lifes2good. Dr. Ablon received a grant from Lifes2good as funding for the December 2015 study. In addition, no clear mechanism of action is proposed.  Finally, the cause of the volunteer’s hair loss was uncertain and probably represents several different diagnoses further confounding any explanation as to why the supplements might work.

Summary

Viviscal has the potential to supplement current treatments for hair loss or provide an alternative treatment for patients not indicated for hair transplant surgery or medical treatment. It would be especially useful for female patients who have relatively limited treatment options. It may also benefit men who are not good candidates for surgery. While the research findings are compelling, more investigation is necessary into the long-term efficacy of Viviscal and the effects of glycosaminoglycans on the hair growth cycle. Further study should be conducted by independent researchers in order to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest.

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A review of research on the efficacy of Viviscal, published in the September 2015 issue of the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, suggests that the oral supplement may increase hair volume as well as the thickness of healthy, terminal hairs. ((Hornfeldt CS, et al. The Safety and Efficacy of a Sustainable Marine Extract for the Treatment of Thinning Hair: A Summary of New Clinical Research and Results from a Panel Discussion on the Problem of Thinning Hair and Current Treatments. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Sep;14(9):s15-22.)) The article presented more than two decades of research on the hair regrowth product and also included a discussion with a roundtable of dermatology and plastic surgery experts.

Both the research review and roundtable discussion point to the benefits of Viviscal, however the article’s conclusions can be questioned due to the appearance of a conflict of interest between the researchers and Lifes2good, Inc., the company that produces Viviscal. Additional independent research needs to determine if Viviscal is a viable and effective hair loss treatment.

Background

Viviscal, was launched in the U.S. in 2008 by Lifes2good Inc., Chicago, Illinois. Its key ingredient is a proprietary mix of powders derived from sustainably-harvested shark and mollusk species. The resulting “amino marine complex,” known as AminoMar C™, is blended with B and C vitamins, and minerals such as calcium to make Viviscal. The active ingredients in the AminoMar complex are called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), a group of long chain sugar molecules present in many living creatures. GAGs hold water, and ingesting them may contribute to healthy hair and skin – although this is still speculative. According to Viviscal, the beneficial effect on skin and hair of a fish- and protein-heavy diet was first observed in Inuit people in the late 1980s. Viviscal is marketed primarily to women because of the relative dearth of effective hair loss treatments for female patients compared to men.

Review Article

The summary article by Hornfeldt, et al., ((Hornfeldt CS, et al. The Safety and Efficacy of a Sustainable Marine Extract for the Treatment of Thinning Hair: A Summary of New Clinical Research and Results from a Panel Discussion on the Problem of Thinning Hair and Current Treatments. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Sep;14(9):s15-22.)) notes that studies dating back to 1992 have suggested that Viviscal may treat hair loss to some degree. ((Lassus A, Eskelinen E, et al. A Comparative Study of a New Food Supplement, ViviScal®, with Fish Extract for the Treatment of Hereditary Androgenic Alopecia in Young Males. J Int Med Res. 1992 Nov;20(6):445-53.)) However, the more recent pivot to testing the supplement in women with thinning hair was pioneered by Dr. Glynis Ablon of the Ablon Skin Institute Research Center, Manhattan Beach, California. In a 2012 pilot study, Dr. Ablon found that Viviscal increased the number of terminal hairs by 211% and 225% after three months and six months, respectively. ((Ablon G. A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study Evaluating the Efficacy of an Oral Supplement in Women with Self-perceived Thinning Hair. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012 Nov;5(11):28-34.)) This was followed by a three month clinical study of women with self-perceived thinning hair; which the author attributed to poor diet, stress, hormones, or abnormal menstruation. In this study, published in early 2015, the mean number of terminal hairs increased by 32%, the count of shed hairs decreased by 39%, and subjects reported a significant increase in quality of life. ((Ablon G. A 3-Month, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study Evaluating the Ability of an Extra-Strength Marine Protein Supplement to Promote Hair Growth and Decrease Shedding in Women with Self-Perceived Thinning Hair. Dermatol Res Pract. 2015; 841570.)) A similar randomized, placebo-controlled study, also led by Dr. Ablon and published in December 2015, found that female patients on Viviscal showed an almost 80% increase in terminal hairs and increase of 11.67% in hair diameter. ((Ablon G, Dayan S. A Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Multi-center, Extension Trial Evaluating the Efficacy of a New Oral Supplement in Women with Self-perceived Thinning Hair. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2015 Dec;8(12):15-21.))

Some additional publications, such as Bloch’s 2014 study, ((Bloch L. Demonstrating the efficacy of a nutraceutical for promoting hair growth using a digital photography technique with posterior image analysis. Submitted for poster presentation at the 2015 World Hair Congress, Miami.)) suggest that Viviscal is effective in increasing patients’ hair volume and thickness. Another study published in 2014 suggests that Viviscal may improve scalp coverage and hair fullness in men with common baldness. ((Pinski KS. Patient satisfaction following the use of a hair fiber filler product to temporarily increase the thickness and fullness of thinning hair. Skinmed. 2014;12(5):278-281.))

In the roundtable discussion, which took place in August 2014, dermatology and plastic surgery physicians discussed findings of several clinical studies and reported a positive inclination to offer Viviscal as a treatment option. ((Hornfeldt CS, et al. The Safety and Efficacy of a Sustainable Marine Extract for the Treatment of Thinning Hair: A Summary of New Clinical Research and Results from a Panel Discussion on the Problem of Thinning Hair and Current Treatments. J Drugs Dermatol. 2015 Sep;14(9):s15-22.))

Limitations of Hornfeldt Review

The main limitation of the Hornfeldt article lies in the potential conflict of interest with the researchers and Lifes2good. Dr. Carl S. Hornfeldt received honoraria fees as a consultant for Lifes2good and his co-author of the review article, Mark Holland, is an employee of Lifes2good. Members of the expert roundtable advised Lifes2good on Viviscal or received an honorarium for their participation.

Summary

Viviscal has the potential to offer a new avenue of treatment for treating hair loss or supplementing current therapies. The review article provides a review of research and presents compelling findings over a span of two decades. However, more research is necessary into the long-term efficacy of Viviscal and the effects of glycosaminoglycans on the hair growth cycle. Also, given the appearance of a conflict of interest between the researchers and Lifes2good, it is particularly important that further research be conducted by independent investigators.

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Q: The last few months my friend and I experimented with andro gel thinking it would make our T levels go up and make our work outs better. We got the andro gel online with no prescription (which I know is really stupid on our behalf). The past couple of months I have been experienced a lot of acne and hair loss. I went to the doctor and confessed and said what I did, and he was very disappointed and lectured me on how dangerous it was and stupid on my behalf – which I totally agree. He told me the rise in testosterone from andro gel contributed to the acceleration of hair thinning and acne. I had mild hair loss prior but the andro gel seem to have accelerated it. The doctor put me on Propecia and gave me some acne cream for the acne. He said the Propecia will undo some of the damage it did for the hair. In your experience, can Propecia reverse some of the damage? I am 28 years old.

A: Your doctor is giving you the right course of action. Testosterone supplements can accelerate hair loss, particularly in those with underlying genetic hair loss. Finasteride 1mg (Propecia) should help you to grow your hair back. You may also want to consider using minoxidil (Rogaine) in addition.

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Dr. Eric S. Schweiger - Associate at Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair RestorationDr. Eric S. Schweiger, board-certified dermatologist, is quoted in a few recent articles on the effects of chemotherapy on hair, genetic testing for hair loss, and protecting a balding scalp from the sun.

“Coping with Chemo-Induced Hair Loss” was published in a recent issue of Energy Times, a publication focused on wellness and nutrition. Dr. Schweiger commented on the way hair follicles can react to chemotherapy treatment for cancer patients:

Expect changes like “chemo curl.” Eric Schweiger, MD, explains that chemo shocks rapidly dividing cells like hair follicles in the scalp, causing the hair loss. “When the follicles grow again, the shock sometimes changes how they grow, temporarily resulting in a different hair texture and color, which eventually normalizes,” explains Schweiger.

In the article, “Genetic Testing to Predict Hair Loss,” published on HairLoss.com, Dr. Schweiger and Dr. Bernstein discussed the efficacy of genetic tests for hair loss:

[Dr. Schweiger] explains, “I think the test has probably identified a predictor of hair loss but not the only predictor. There is science behind the test and some published research studies; however, the longitudinal, larger studies have not been done, because this testing procedure is just too new.” Dr. Robert Bernstein, M.D., director at Bernstein Medical Center, agrees and adds, “These tests focus on one particular dominant gene, but what is becoming apparent is that hair loss is a complex genetic condition most likely involving several different genes.” He further notes that age, stress, hormone levels, disease and many other factors also are at play in determining factors for hair loss. “Just because a person has the genes for baldness, it doesn’t mean the trait will manifest itself. The truth is the cause and effect have not been proven and differ from person to person, and the association is not anywhere near 100 percent.”

[…]

“Right now, we predict future hair loss based on follicle miniaturization, using advanced microscopic equipment,” says Dr. Schweiger, “and I advise a man to do this at around age 25. If someone presents with more than 25 percent miniaturization, then it’s time to start a hair loss prevention regimen.”

Lastly, Dr. Schweiger contributed featured commentary to an article on HairLoss.com on a topic of importance to those suffering from hair loss, namely, protecting your scalp from the dangerous radiation given off by the sun. In “When You Lose Your Hair, Protect Your Scalp,” Dr. Schweiger encourages bald or balding individuals to take important steps to protect their scalps:

…if you notice your hair thinning or you have baldness of any kind for any reason, it’s important to protect your scalp from sun damage, precancer and skin cancer,” says Dr. Eric Schweiger, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and hair transplant surgeon at Bernstein Medical — Center for Hair Restoration in New York City. That’s because 100 percent of the surface area on top of your head directly faces the sun’s burning rays when the sun is strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. “In general, a mild sunburn on your scalp won’t harm your hair follicles. But any exposure that causes blistering can cause scarring and pre-cancer cells, which will harm hair follicles permanently, so you need to take special care of your scalp when exposed to the sun, even for only a few minutes,” explains Schweiger.

Set up a hair loss consultation with one of our board certified physicians.

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Q: At what level of thinning should the hair transplant be done? — V.K., London, UK

A: A hair transplant should be considered in an area of thinning when:

  • The area has not responded to medical therapy (finasteride 1mg a day orally and minoxidil 5% topically for one year).
  • The thinning is significant enough that it can’t be disguised with simple grooming (i.e. is a cosmetic problem even when the hair is combed well).

Other factors that are important include:

  • the age of the patient
  • the donor supply
  • whether the thinning is in the front of the scalp or in the crown
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Q: I started thinning and saw more hair in the tub. I began Rogaine and stopped shampooing every night and is seems that there is now more coming out every time I shower. What is going on? — E.U., Short Hills, NJ

A: Rogaine can cause shedding at the beginning of treatment (i.e. in the first 3 months) but this is expected as it causes some hair to begin a new cycle of shedding and re-growth. This means the medication is working.

Another reason for your apparent shedding is that the less you wash your hair, the more will be lost each time. Go back to shampooing every day and see what happens.

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Q: I’ve been losing my hair just around the front of my scalp for years, but now it’s bad enough that I need to wear a wig to hide the top and back. Do you transplant women?

A: If you have thinning in such a broad area, most likely your donor area is also thin and you would not be a good candidate for surgery.

An examination can determine this and also determine if there is some other cause of your hair loss other than genetics.

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Q: I have thinning hair and have heard about Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) for hair loss. I know that I can either buy a machine over the internet or go to a doctor’s office or medical spa for treatments. Which one should I do?

A: The advantage of the in-office LLLT systems are that the units are more powerful and that the delivery of the energy is the same each time. The treatment is also not dependent upon the patient having to remember to do the treatment and does not require the person to spend 15 minutes each time concentrating on using the hand-held machine correctly. It also had the important advantage of requiring an initial evaluation by a physician who can diagnosis the hair loss and make sure that it is the genetic type that may respond to this type of therapy. And the effectiveness of the treatment can more readily be monitored over time.

The disadvantage of the office- or medispa- based system is that the treatments are significantly more costly than the home machine and require periodic visits over an extended period of time – a nuisance for working people, or for those who do not live close to a facility offering this service.

The advantage of the hand-held system is that it is much less expensive than the office based machine and it is much more convenient to do the treatment at home than to go to a doctor’s office several times a week. There may also be a potential advantage for patients that still have a significant amount of hair. In these people, the hand-held system (that is able to part the hair) may allow the laser light to more effectively reach the scalp.

The major disadvantage of the hand-held device seems to be with patient compliance as people get tired of having to run the instrument through their hair for 15 minutes several times a week. It is also hard for the person himself to judge if the treatments are working, how to taper the treatments and if, and when, to stop.

Read more about Laser Therapy

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Q: Why is the consult fee more for diffuse thinning than for a regular visit? — B.F., Altherton, CA

A: Diffuse hair loss, more common in women, can be the result of a number of underlying medical conditions and therefore it usually requires an extended medical evaluation.

If you are a male or female with obvious diffuse thinning from androgenetic alopecia (common baldness), or if you have patterned hair loss where the diagnosis is straightforward, the fee is less because an extensive evaluation is not required.

Please visit our Hair Transplant Costs & Consultation Fees page for more information.

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Q: I am a 33 year old women and am just starting to thin on the top of my scalp behind my frontal hairline. What should I do? Should I have a hair transplant?

A: There are a number of things that you should consider that can be effective in early hair loss. These include minoxidil (Rogaine), laser therapy, and using cosmetics specifically made to make the hair appear fuller. Lightening or streaking the hair, as well as parting the hair off to the side, will also make the hair appear fuller.

If a surgical hair restoration is performed too early and there is still a lot of existing hair in the area, the hair transplant may actually accelerate hair loss. Surgery should not be performed prematurely.

Also, it is important that the doctor check the stability of the donor area, using densitometry, to make sure that the procedure is even possible. For those women who are good candidates, and if it is done at the appropriate time, a follicular unit hair transplant is a great procedure that can produce really natural results.

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Q: I am 22 yrs old and I started shedding hair in a very limited form since I was 20. I have now been on Propecia for nearly 8 months. To date I have not experienced any benefit. In fact, I have seen my hair continue to thin. Is it possible that this thinning is a result of Propecia? — M.M., Boston, Massachussetts

A: Usually the shedding associated with finasteride will subside by 6 months.

If you are still losing hair at 8 months, most likely the medication is not working. Unfortunately, it is not effective in about 15% of patients.

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Q: I seem to be thinning, but I never shed hair as such in the shower. I cannot see my hair falling out. Can it be androgenetic hair loss? — R.C., Cambridge, MA

A: In androgenetic hair loss one rarely sees hair falling out in mass, but rather the thinning is due to the hair decreasing in diameter and length (a process called “miniaturization”).

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Q: If I’m 20 years old and haven’t lost any hair yet, should I start using a laser comb now?

A: One should not treat hair loss until it actually occurs.

That said, once there is clear evidence that a person is thinning, non-surgical treatments are best started early to prevent further hair loss.

It is important to keep in mind that finasteride (Propecia) is still the most effective treatment for early hair loss and has a good record for at least some long-term effectiveness. It is not clear what additional benefit the laser-comb will have.

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Q: I believe I am an “early” IIIA or IVA. I am not losing any hair on the back of the scalp. There is no substantial hereditary hair loss on either side of the family, but I began taking Propecia four months ago and recently noticed a dramatic thinning of hair on the top (front) of the scalp, extending back to the rear of the head. — B.M., Lower East Side, N.Y.

A: Often people experience some shedding the first six months on finasteride as the new hair essentially pushes out some of the old. I would wait a full year before making any judgments about a hair transplant since you may see significant regrowth from finasteride in the second six months and may not need surgery at this point, particularly if the hair loss is early.

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Q: I am a 22 yr. old male and have been on Propecia for exactly 4 months. When I started taking the medication, I was in the beginning stages of hair thinning/loss in the front and crown areas, with no change in my hair line. During the time I have taken Propecia, my hair loss has increased drastically. Is it that I just have to bite the bullet and am one of the few unlucky individuals that do not respond to Propecia? Could it be that I am taking the medication incorrectly? Wrong time of day? With or without food? Or, do I just need to give it more time? Is there still a chance I could at least regain the hair I’ve lost over these past 4 months? — A.B., St. Louis, Missouri

A: You are probably experiencing an accelerated phase of hair loss that is possibly made worse by the finasteride. The shedding from finasteride is common during the first few months of treatment and is temporary. The full effects of Propecia are not seen for 6 to 12 months.

I would continue to take the medication for at least a year before you judge if it is working. It does not matter the time of day or relationship to food.

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Q: I have had a minor facelift operation and have lost a bit of hair. Have you heard of this before? The areas around the scars are the most effected. What treatments are best for this? — N.D., Westport, C.T.

A: Hair loss after a brow, or face lift, is quite common. If it is cosmetically bothersome, a localized hair transplant can correct the problem.

The hair can be transplanted directly into the scar (if the scar is flat) and into any surrounding areas of thinning. The complete correction may take more than one hair restoration session.

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Q: I have early thinning on the top of my scalp and I was told to use Propecia, but I heard that is was only for men. What do you think? — T.G., Staten Island, NY

A: Women can’t take Propecia during the child-bearing years because, if ingested, it can cause birth defects in male offspring.

In post-menopausal women, where we see the greatest frequency of hair loss, it doesn’t seem to be effective.

In pre-menopausal women who do not plan to become pregnant or who already have children, we are still cautious about using the medication, since there effectiveness has not been proven and its long-term safety in this population has not been tested.

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Q: Should I cut my hair prior to the hair transplant? — R.R., Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

A: It is easier for the hair transplant surgeon and his team to work when the existing hair in the area to be transplanted is cut short, but a skilled surgeon can work well in either situation. Most experienced surgeons are used to working without cutting the hair in the recipient area, since so few patients want their hair to be cut – particularly in New York.

The main advantage of having a closely clipped scalp is that one has better visibility and therefore the procedure moves along faster. This has little bearing in moderately sized sessions, but becomes very important in sessions over 2,400 grafts, when working through existing hair can make the duration of the procedure excessively long. Of course, the disadvantage of clipping the hair is that it is more difficult to “hide” the procedure.

I prefer for the patient to arrive the morning of the scheduled hair restoration with his/her hair having some length so that I can better see the demarcation of the area of thinning. Once the area is marked, the hair can be clipped to the appropriate length in the operating room. Although the hair transplant will be more visible post-op if the hair is clipped short, it is much easier for the scalp to be kept free of crusts.

It is important to differentiate between a closely clipped scalp, which is an advantage, and a shaved head, which makes performing the hair transplant more difficult. When there is some existing hair, the distribution and angle of the original hair is easy to discern and this allows the new grafts to be placed in a direction that follows the existing hair and in a distribution that complements that hair.

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Q: I am 19 years old and seem to be thinning all over, including the sides. My father has all of his hair but my grandfather is totally bald. Should I have a hair transplant now or wait until I am older? — T.K., Garden City, NY

A: Most likely you have a type of androgenetic alopecia called Diffuse Unpatterned Alopecia (DUPA). In this hereditary condition, hair thins all over rather than just on the front, top and back as in the more common male pattern baldness. The fact that the back and sides of your scalp are thinning (the donor area) precludes you from being a candidate for surgery. The diagnosis can be made by observing a high degree of miniaturization (fine hair) in the donor area under a magnifier. This instrument is called a densitometer.

For further information, please read the article:

Bernstein RM, Rassman WR: Follicular Transplantation: Patient Evaluation and Surgical Planning, published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery in 1997. Specifically, read the last part of the article.

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Q: What is “shock fall out”? – D.B., Chappaqua, N.Y.

A: Shedding after a hair transplant is also referred to by the very ominous sounding term “shock fall out.” The correct medical term is “effluvium” which literally means shedding. It is usually the miniaturized hair (i.e. the hair that is at the end of its lifespan due to genetic balding) that is most likely to be shed. Less likely, some healthy hair will be shed, but this should re-grow.

Interestingly, if transplants are spaced less than one year apart, one often notices some shedding of the hair from the first transplant, but this hair grows back completely. For most patients, effluvium is not a major issue and should not be a cause for concern.

Typically, when shedding occurs, a patient looks a little thinner during the several month period following the transplant, before the transplanted hair has started to grow. The thinning is often more noticeable to the patient than to others. Shedding is generally noted as a thinning, rather than of “masses of hair falling out,” as the term “shock fall out” erroneously suggests.

In general, the more miniaturization one has and the more rapid the hair loss, the more likely shedding will be from the hair restoration surgery. Young, actively balding patients would be at the greatest risk. Older patients with stable hair loss would have the least risk. In either situation, since miniaturized hair is eventually going to be lost, the effluvium has no long-term effect on the outcome of the procedure.

It is important to differentiate the phenomena described above from shedding of the hair in the graft. This shedding is an almost universal characteristic of a hair transplant and occurs because during a hair transplant a graft is temporarily stripped of its blood supply. As a response to this insult, the graft sheds its hair. This shedding is generally noted beginning a week following the procedure and can continue for up to six weeks. A very small percentage of patients do not shed and the transplanted hair continues to grow. In others, the transplanted hair remains on the scalp for months until a new hair pushes it out. Whether a patient sheds or not has no bearing on the outcome of the hair restoration.

There are a number of ways to minimize the effects of post-operative shedding: the first is using medication, the second is timing the transplant properly, and the third is performing a procedure using a sufficient number of grafts.

• Medication

Finasteride 1mg reverses or halts the miniaturization process in many individuals and is thus the logical way to decrease the risk of shedding following a transplant. Although many physicians have had the clinical impression that this assumption is correct, there has been no controlled studies to date that prove this.

• Timing and the size of the transplant

It is important to wait until a patient is ready to have a transplant, and then to perform one of sufficient size so that if there is some shedding, the procedure will more than compensate for it – and thus be worthwhile. A problem that patients often run into is that they present to their doctor with early hair loss but with a significant amount of miniaturization. The doctor performs a small procedure and it does not even compensate either for potential shedding or for progression of the hair loss. The result is that the patient is thinner (or more bald) than he was before the procedure. The doctor rarely blames the problem on the fact that the procedure was too small or that the miniaturization was not taken into account, but only that the patient continued to bald. The better solution is to treat early hair loss with medication, but once you make a decision to begin surgery, have a procedure large enough to make a significant cosmetic improvement.

• Performing the procedure using a sufficient number of grafts

As a final point, it is a fallacy that some doctors’ techniques are so impeccable that they can avoid effluvium or those “small” procedures will avoid shedding. Of course, bad techniques and rough handling will maximize effluvium, but effluvium is what hair naturally does when the scalp is stressed and it is stressed during a transplant from the anesthetic mixture and the recipient site creation. It is important to note that it cannot be totally prevented. Despite claims to the contrary, Follicular Unit Extraction has no bearing on this process as it is a harvesting rather than a placing technique.

In sum, the best way to deal with effluvium is:

  • Treat with Finasteride — the active chemical in the hair loss drug Propecia — when hair loss is early
  • Perform a hair transplant only when indicated
  • Perform a hair transplant with skill and using a sufficient number of grafts
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Q: Should you perform a hair transplant on a crown that is just starting to thin? — R.R. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A: A “thin” crown should first be treated with Propecia, as it may thicken the hair to a cosmetically acceptable degree without the need for surgery. If Propecia is ineffective in restoring enough hair, then surgical hair restoration can be considered.

The surgeon must also factor whether or not the patient has enough donor reserves to transplant the front and top part of the scalp if the patient becomes very bald. This is hard to predict in patients who are still in their twenties.

See the paper Follicular Transplantation: Patient Evaluation and Surgical Planning for a more complete discussion.

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Q: I’m currently 24 years old. Ever since turning 20, my hair on top began to thin little by little. I have noticeable thinning on the top part of my scalp and on my crown, but have no recession at the temples. My hairline looks amazingly young and hair on the donor areas seems quite thick. Am I in the early stages of male patterned baldness? I cannot place myself in the Norwood scale since my thinning doesn’t seem to follow the classic pattern. I just started on Propecia. Should I be considering a hair transplant? — B.R., Landover, MD

A: From the description, it sounds like you have typical Diffuse Patterned Hair Loss or Diffuse Patterned Alopecia (DPA). In this condition, the top of the scalp thins evenly, the donor area remains stable, and the hairline is preserved for a considerable period of time. Please see: Classification of Hair Loss in Men for more information.

Propecia would be the best treatment at the outset. When the hair loss becomes more significant, patients with DPA are generally good candidates for surgical hair restoration. It is important, however, that your donor area is checked for miniaturization to be sure that it is stable before a hair transplant is considered.

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Q: I am twenty and think that I am starting to thin. I am also experiencing a slight tingling in my scalp. Are these related? — T.N., Philadelphia, PA

A: Most likely. Early androgenetic alopecia can be associated with a slight tingling or slight tenderness of the scalp.

You should see a dermatologist for evaluation and, if you have early male pattern baldness, consider starting finasteride (Propecia).

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