Do you want to have a full, thick head of hair, but consider a hair transplant too expensive, too dangerous or too extreme? Luckily there are non-surgical methods that can be used to restore hair.
In this post, I’ll introduce you to the dangers of surgical hair restoration. I’ll then outline the numerous non-invasive methods – some natural and some not – and how you can make the choice between the options available to you.
The results will give you an idea of the cause of your hair loss, as well as the methods you can use to combat it.
The Dangers of Surgical Hair Restoration
As with any procedure which requires you go under the knife, there’s always risk of complications and side effects.
Surgical hair restoration (the most common of which is hair transplant) is no exception, meaning it’s important to understand all that can go wrong before proceeding.
Some of the most common side effects of hair transplantation, the most common surgical treatment method for hair loss, include:
- Sterile folliculitis
- Hair thinning
- Lichen Planopilaris (LPP)
Of course, another major concern is scarring. Learn more about hair transplant scarring here.
Aside from side effects, though, there are also misunderstandings surrounding the outcome of such a procedure.
- Hair transplants are not a cure for baldness.
- You will not see instant results.
- Ongoing medical care may be required.
- You may require more than one session (which means more out-of-pocket costs).
As you can see, there are many side effects and unknowns associated with surgical methods of hair restoration.
Why You Should Avoid Surgical Hair Replacement When Possible
If the side effects weren’t enough, let’s discuss the number one reason you should avoid surgical hair replacement when possible: they do not cure the underlying cause of your hair loss.
Non-Surgical Vs Surgical Hair Replacement
Aside from the obvious difference between these two restoration methods, it’s also important to look at the outcomes they provide (and the manner in which they provide it).
Learn more about hairline restoration here.
The main difference is that non-surgical methods typically aim to solve the issue at the source, while surgical methods aim to cover the issue.
As a matter of fact, when you go the surgical route, you’ll very likely be back within the next 10 – 15 years because thinning and hairline recession reoccurred.
With non-surgical methods, however, you can treat the issue at the source and prevent further issues from occurring. Sometimes, you can even reverse the loss that occurred.
Non-Surgical Hair Loss Treatment Options
For those who are less than thrilled with the side effects associated with surgical hair replacement options, there are non-invasive options at your disposal. I don’t recommend all of them, of course. However, let’s take a look at some of the most common.
The two most common treatments available over the counter are minoxidil and finasteride. They are the only two FDA-approved hair loss medications currently on the market.
Minoxidil was first created as a treatment for ulcers in the 1950s, and it was later further developed as a medication in the treatment of enlarged prostate.
However, an unlikely side effect was in its treatment of hair loss. As a result, it was soon released under the brand name of Rogaine.
The mechanism through which Rogaine works is still a bit of a mystery. Though, it’s main mechanism is believed to be dilation of the blood vessels.
What does vasodilation have to do with hair loss?
In sufferers of male-pattern baldness, thinning and alopecia are triggered by DHT sensitivity. As the hormone attaches to the hair follicles, it triggers an inflammatory response that eventually leads to hair miniaturization.
As the follicle miniaturizes, it becomes more difficult for the blood vessels to deliver blood to the follicles. Eventually, this leads to the follicles’ death.
When the blood vessels dilate, however, they can then deliver oxygen and vital nutrients to the follicles. In simplest terms, Rogaine doesn’t stop the cause of hair fall; instead, it works by enabling hair follicles to survive in a hospitable environment.
The second FDA-approved medication for the treatment of androgenetic alopecia is finasteride, first approved in 1992 under the brand name Propecia.
Unlike minoxidil, finasteride actually targets the issue – DHT. However this can have some unpleasant effects.
While DHT does contribute to hair loss, it’s still an important hormone that plays a major role in the body (mainly, the sexual organs). As such, blocking DHT altogether (as finasteride does) can mean sexual side effects.
For example, users of finasteride may experience a decreased sex drive, inability to have and/or maintain an erection, and low-volume emissions. In addition, these side effects have been shown to continue even after use has ceased.
Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)
A newer treatment option for hair loss sufferers, Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) has been shown to be effective for both men and women. It works by:
- Stimulating anagen phase re-entry in telogen phase hairs
- Prolonging the duration of anagen phase
- Increasing hair growth rates in anagen phase follicles
- Preventing premature catagen phase development
While what it does is known, how it does it is still a bit of a mystery.
Some researchers speculate that the therapy may act on the mitochondria directly and alter cell metabolism.
Other researchers believe it may be responsible for the opening of K+ channels.
Combs and helmets
While LLLT is regularly performed in the offices of hair loss specialists, you can also use this therapy at home with the help of combs and helmets.
Both methods of use have had positive results, and both have been shown to have very little, if any, side effects when used regularly.
In 2007, the laser comb was first approved by the FDA for use in men. In 2011, the same was achieved for women.
Helmets have shown similarly positive results, and they’ve recently gained FDA approval as well.
As a natural and highly-effective treatment for thinning and balding, microneedling is a therapy that has been practiced for years in the treatment of scarring and wrinkles.
In recent years, however, microneedling has also been applied to the scalp and its positive effects have had life changing results for hair loss sufferers.
But what exactly is microneedling?
Microneedling is a therapy that involves the intentional infliction of wounds. These wounds are very small (hence the ‘micro’), but it’s what happens during their repair cycle that makes this such a popular dermatological treatment.
When skin is damaged, it undergoes a cycle consisting of three stages. They are:
- Maturation (Remodeling)
Essentially, the inflammation that occurs during recovery triggers the proliferation (production) of new cells. These new cells contain healthy hair follicles, enabling the growth of healthy, strong hair.
You think this all sounds too good to be true? Take a look at this study which tested the effects of minoxidil vs minoxidil + microneedling:
As is clearly seen, the group which underwent both methods outperformed the group which only used minoxidil.
Does this mean you have to use minoxidil alongside microneedling for positive results? Absolutely not! However, you can combine it with more natural methods.
A Scalp Tension Reduction Device
What if I told you that, contrary to popular belief, DHT was not the true cause of pattern baldness? That’s right! While DHT and androgen sensitivity play a role in hair thinning and loss, they’re not the underlying cause.
What is the cause of pattern balding, then? Scalp tension.
Scalp tension occurs when the muscles of the scalp are constricted for an ongoing period of time. This may be due to physical or mental stress. If it occurs for too long, the scalp’s tissues can become inflamed.
When inflammation occurs, the body sends hormones to the area to reverse its effects. One of these hormones is DHT. The bad news? There are some people who have a genetic predisposition to DHT sensitivity. In these individuals, the presence of DHT at the follicles can wreak havoc.
This is what causes the stereotypical pattern balding that’s seen in many men (and some women) with hair loss.
The good news, though, is that there’s a way to combat scalp tension before it becomes a chronic issue. And even if it’s an established issue it can still be addressed.
How? With a scalp tension reduction device.
Scalp tension reduction devices work similarly to scalp massage. They loosen the tissues near the muscles, while also relaxing the muscles and reducing inflammation.
You can achieve these results, to some extent, with manual scalp massage. But a device will deliver a higher-quality, more consistent pressure. This means you can spend just ten minutes per day with the scalp device and see results.
To learn more about scalp tension and our tool for reducing it, go here.
A Healthy, Balanced Diet
While a proper diet can’t cure all, it can help to get your body into a more natural state of being. As a result, you may experience positive changes, including hair regrowth.
Your hair follicles, like many other bodily tissues, require two things to survive: oxygen, and nutrients. These are delivered by blood, but scalp tension can restrict this blood flow and decrease the oxygen and nutrients getting to the follicles. This can result in slowed, stunted hair growth.
This is why diet is so crucial.
What is a proper diet? How can you be sure you’re getting everything you need?
The answers to these questions aren’t so cut-and-dry, but let’s discuss the basics of a healthy diet.
When you’re working to change your diet, the thought of eliminating and adding foods can be overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Here’s a few foods to pay particular attention to:
- Lean meats
- Leafy greens
- Seasonal fruits
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grains
Seriously, that’s it!
You don’t need to go on an intense diet, and you don’t even have to eliminate all of the foods you love. As long as the majority of the foods you eat are healthy, then you’ll be better off than before.
If you suspect you suffer from any nutrient deficiencies, speak with your doctor.
Which Method Is Right for You?
The reality is, not everyone will have the same experience with different treatment methods. Some hair loss sufferers may go the surgical route and be overjoyed by the outcome, while others may regret their decision.
So what can you do to make the right decision?
First, you need to understand what’s causing your hair loss. Was it a one-time event that triggered telogen effluvium, or is a chronic issue?
Second, you need to decide whether you want to cover the issue or treat it at the source. It may seem obvious to choose to treat it, but many choose the former option for convenience’s sake.
Third, you need to decide how committed you are to long-term results. There’s no doubt that positive hair growth results takes time.
If you’re looking for a quick fix, then certain methods may not be right for you. However, if you value long-term health and real results over quick fixes, then I recommend you stay away from surgical and medicinal methods, and instead follow a much more natural path.
When to Consider Surgical Treatment Options
Maybe you’ve tried the above techniques with little to no success. Or perhaps you’ve seen great success, and you’re confident that you can maintain your hair with these methods after a surgical procedure. Whatever it may be, you’re considering surgical treatments. What now?
While I don’t personally recommend surgical hair loss treatments, that doesn’t mean they aren’t a viable option for many people.
A good candidate for surgical hair loss intervention is someone who:
- Has no (or minor) pre-existing medical conditions;
- Is older than 25 and younger than 65;
- Has stopped the progression of their hair loss;
- Has a “treatable” form of hair loss, like pattern balding.
If you do choose to go the surgical route, be sure to do your research.
You should never choose a procedure, a medical clinic, or a doctor just because they’re the cheapest option. You’ll want to spend time on researching your options, meeting with different doctors to get an idea of what they can offer, and evaluating your long-term goals.
It seems like a lot of work, and it is! But you don’t want to spend thousands of dollars and risk your health just to see mediocre or short-term results.
While surgical hair treatment methods – such as hair transplants and and scalp reductions – are popular among the hair loss community, they aren’t the only methods out there. In fact, there are numerous non-surgical methods you can use with the same (or even better) results.
Of course, I recommend you go the natural route. This would mean forgoing hair transplants and medications in favor of oils, herbs, manual stimulation, and diet changes. Is it the easiest or quickest route? No. But, it’s the one with the best long-term results.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Debra Rose Wilson.