Every man experiences hair loss in his lifetime, though its prominence and progression changes from one guy to the next. Some of us are lucky enough to have most of our mane well into our later years, while others wax and polish their domes by their early 20s.
And while those guys who embrace baldness deserve a hat tip, there are still a lot of guys who want to fend off any recession and thinning for as long as possible—and who will do whatever it takes to keep their hair dense. Others may deny that their hair is falling faster than usual, only to realize one day (with a revealing haircut or unflattering photograph taken), that Father Time has indeed come for the crops. That’s the point at which many men take charge of the situation. The good news is that much of your hair is still salvageable when this moment strikes.
Whether you’re taking a preventative stance against inevitable loss, or you’re hoping to revive some recent (and possibly even drastic) thinning, then follow these tips for a full-force fix.
1. Talk to your dermatologist about prescriptive options
This step deserves the top spot on the list because it will carry the greatest impact. The truth behind hair retention is this: Science has the surest solutions. Luckily, the two top drugs, Propecia and Rogaine, are both available in their generic forms (finasteride and minoxidil, respectively), and these two drugs are what you’ll discuss with your doc.
- Finasteride: It’s usually in pill form (1mg), and in higher doses it’s used to treat enlarged prostates. In the 1mg daily dose, it can prevent the body’s conversion of testosterone into DHT (which is short for Dihydrotestosterone). DHT is what suffocates the hair follicles and leads to weakened strand retention, as well as general recession. By eliminating this byproduct from your body, your strands can grow unencumbered, and any existing recession can be significantly stalled. (Note, though, that recession cannot be regrown. Once hair recedes, it’s gone.) The doctor will want to monitor your finasteride usage to make sure you don’t experience any loss of sex drive or ability to have an erection. (This is experienced in approximately 1-2% of users, so it is imperative to monitor closely.)
- Minoxidil:his is a topical foam or serum that is applied directly to the scalp every day (or 2x daily). It comes in 2% and 5% formulations (for women and men, respectively), and stimulates circulation and nutrient delivery to the scalp and follicles. In doing so, it basically strengthens and thickens the hairs to promote fuller, denser growth overall. This is especially effective for guys experiencing general thinning on the crown. It’s available over the counter but is still worth discussing with a doctor, especially if you experience any itching or irritation (albeit very unlikely). I prefer the drop because I find them easier to apply, less messy, and they don’t interfere with any hair styling products. They should always be applied to freshly cleansed or rinsed hair.
Both remedies can be combined for a full-pronged prescriptive approach. It’s believed that you can restore approximately 30% more of the hair you currently have, which for most guys means they can revive anything lost in the last 1-3 years. (Again, remember that you can only revive thinning, but you cannot revive recession.)
It will take about 3-4 months for you to notice initial signs of improvement, but about 6-7 months for you to have visibly impressive results. So, stick it out. Moreover, if you cease treatment, your body will return to its natural state of thinning and receding, so you also need to commit yourself to the long haul. However, given that minoxidil is OTC and a finasteride prescription runs super cheap with a coupon from GoodRx.com, you just need to find a cooperative dermatologist who agrees to draft the prescription and then monitor progress with you.
2. Stock up on supplements
Oftentimes, supplements are a crock: A well balanced diet ensures we get all the nutrients we need, and the rest is flushed out. However, some brands create some seriously powerful hair supplements that deliver real results—especially if you want to take a natural, prescription-free approach to hair loss. There are dozens of ingredients that brands and nutritionists and doctors will tell you to get.
Some of the most important ones to prioritize, however, are those that boost circulation and nutrient/oxygen delivery (like B vitamins and iron); those that help fight the toxins and free radicals that can compromise hair health (like vitamins C and E), as well as those that fortify hair growth (biotin/B7) and others that promise to prevent hair loss altogether (like millet, which strengthens the follicle bulb, or saw palmetto, which can counter testosterone’s impact on follicle destruction).
The best hair supplements can be an investment, but they’re worth it if you want to keep hairs as strong as possible—with or without the scientific options from Step 1. Two brands whose supplements we love are Nutrafol and Prose. It should also go without saying that a naturally nutritious, healthy diet goes a long way, too.
3. Audit your bad habits
Consider this list of things that can significantly hinder hair health (and expedite permanent shedding), and then consider which ones you can change: Alcohol consumption, smoking, drug use, dehydration, high sugar and processed food intake, stress and lack of sleep (less than 7 hours nightly). Some of it is easier to correct than others, but each of these things depletes the body of nutrients or spikes cortisol levels, both of which cause significant damage to your hair (not to mention your skin and all other bodily functions). So, while it may feel silly to go stone-cold sober simply to keep your hair, you can instead cut back on bingeing and consider hair retention one of the many benefits to such a lifestyle change.
4. Don’t over (or under) shampoo
Finding the right balance with your hair care regimen is also important for hair retention. On one hand, you don’t need to shampoo daily, because it can leave your scalp and hair dried up. On the other hand, you don’t want to under wash, either, because it can create a more welcoming environment for bacteria and fungus, neither of which is a friend to your scalp and follicles.
Instead, try to wash every other day, and use a scalp-nourishing conditioner after each wash, to calm and cool the head while also pumping nutrients back into each strand. Conditioner is imperative for your hair’s overall health, and can even be used on the days between shampoos as a rinsing agent and vitamin vehicle. You can prioritize a thickening conditioner if you want it to plump each strand for a day-long fullness, or a volumizing conditioner for a lightweight but nourishing lift.
Some guys think that buying a prescriptive saw palmetto shampoo will be the singular solution to their hair loss. Sorry to burst that bubble: While it can be a nice supplement to an otherwise robust hair retention regimen, a shampoo doesn’t absorb into your scalp and deliver long-lasting benefits like a supplement or topical minoxidil treatment. Remember, overall hair retention starts from the inside, hence why those products that seep into the body or are ingested orally are most impactful.
5. Consider the expensive alternatives
It’s important to note the clinical options that exist for hair retention too, though they tend to be more expensive. Each should be discussed with a dermatologist or hair clinic/surgeon (then again, those individuals are all the gatekeepers, so you can’t get any of these treatments without their supervision). The primary options include (but are not limited to):
- Platelet-rich plasma (PRP): This is where they draw blood, spin it in a centrifuge to extract your own plasma, and then inject it into your scalp in dozens of spots. Plasma carries growth factors that are extremely beneficial for follicle fortification.
- Low-level light therapy: A red-light treatment that zaps the scalp with photons, which in turn stimulate hair growth. A relatively painless and non-invasive option.
- Hair transplants: A procedure whose aesthetic results have improved dramatically in the last decade, thanks to the precision of the extraction and implanting devices available today. This involves extracting follicles from the rear of the head (where they don’t otherwise fall out) and implanting them at natural angles atop the head. Results vary based on an individual’s strand density and donor area hair quality, as well as the amount of follicles needed to cover the transplant region. A consultation with a hair transplant surgeon is the only real way to understand your individual case. It’s worth considering a foreign destination for treatment too, as countries like Turkey have a high density of surgeons (and a society that is extremely accepting of male hair transplants), at rates 1/5 to 1/10 that of the US procedures—sometimes even after factoring in the flights and lodging. (I got my hair transplant from Dr. Serkan Aygin’s clinic in Istanbul, and I don’t hesitate to brag about the feedback. My friends and industry colleagues say it’s among the best results they’ve ever seen. He gets my high endorsement, and the treatment costs just a few thousand US dollars there.)