Hair growth products compete in a topical wilderness; new techniques emerge

October 1, 2007

LEDs may have greater stimulating capabilities than topical agents for hair growth.

Key Points

"Nothing has been shown, other than Rogaine, topically, to stimulate new hair growth," Dr. Sadick says. "There are agents, such as Vaniqa (SkinMedica) that have been shown to slow hair growth. There have been agents, including topical cyclosporin and topical retinoids, that have been explored to help hair grow, but those do not have good science behind them."

Minoxidil (Rogaine, McNeil PPC) has been shown in studies to slow hair loss and stimulate new growth.

One of the drawbacks of use - especially with the 5 percent preparation - is that some patients get minor absorption and might notice additional hair growth on their faces, even when they are applying it to their scalps. This can be especially bothersome for women, Dr. Sadick says.

Generally, men use either the 2 percent or 5 percent over-the-counter minoxidil preparations, while the topical is only approved for use in women at 2 percent.

Dr. Sadick uses the topical as an adjunct to hair transplantation to slow down hair shedding after transplantation and, potentially, stimulate the hair follicles.

In addition, Rogaine foam is a new preparation of the product that Dr. Sadick's patients often find less irritating than the cream.

Light at the end of this tunnel?

Dr. Sadick says breakthrough hair growth treatments are not emerging in the form of topical preparations, but rather as light sources - specifically light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

"Researchers are looking at using red light LEDs," he says. "The laser comb, which is a red light-emitting diode, has been passed by the FDA on a study that showed that there may be a slight increase in hair density compared to placebo. We are actually getting ready to start a trial for the FDA looking at a higher-energy LED with red light to see if it might have greater stimulatory capabilities for hair growth."

Another area of hope, according to Dr. Sadick: stem cell research; looking at markers of stem cells that would result in hair growth in the laboratory.