There are basically three forms of hair loss products on the market today: oral medications such as pills or tablets, topical medications such as creams or ointments, and shampoos. For men and women suffering from androgenetic hair loss, common male-pattern or post-menopausal hair loss, one or a combination of these products may be effective at slowing, stopping, and, in some cases, reversing hair loss.
To determine which hair loss product is right for you, the first thing to consider is the active ingredient. To date, all effective active ingredients reduce the interaction between DHT and hair follicles. The most common herbal or “natural” active ingredient is saw palmetto. The pharmaceutical industry also manufactures a chemically-derived version of the key ingredient in saw palmetto: finasteride. Another chemically-derived active ingredient which has been shown to be effective in clinical trials is Minoxidil.
It is generally recommended that women avoid treatments using saw palmetto or its chemically-derived equivalent, finasteride. These hair loss products prevent the metabolism of testosterone into DHT, the hormonal metabolite which causes follicles to cease hair productions. While the chemical components in these active ingredients may have additional health benefits for men, such as slowing or reversing prostate growth, the side effects in both men and women can also be severe. In women, saw palmetto and finasteride can cause infertility, birth defects, and an assortment of other sexual and reproductive effects.
Minoxidil effects the interaction between DHT and hair follicles in a slightly different way than finasteride and saw palmetto. As such, topical products containing minoxidil are considered both safe and effective for most women. Lotions and ointments containing at least 2-3% minoxidil are considered most effective for those with advanced hair loss, and some researchers maintain that women can tolerate and benefit from even higher concentrations.
There may be some benefit to less concentrated hair loss products such as shampoos containing these three ingredients: minoxidil, saw palmetto, and finasteride. The small concentration and short time span during which such products have direct contact with the scalp, however, means that reversal of hair loss is an unreasonable expectation. For those who have a family history of hair loss, however, thinning hair may be delayed or slowed somewhat through the use of these over-the-counter products.
When using hair loss products in combination, it is vital to consult a physician, preferably a dermatologist. Overdoses and drug interactions are a real and significant danger when using multiple treatments, even if one is oral and another topical, especially as the leading three ingredients, saw palmetto, finasteride, and minoxidil, all work through similar mechanisms.