Treating hair loss

Hair loss can be upsetting, especially if it's rapid or unexpected. Depending on why you're losing your hair, you may be able to take measures to reduce the rate of loss. Before beginning any hair loss treatment, you should talk to your GP to determine the cause of your hair loss.

You should visit your GP if:

• You’re losing your hair in clumps

• You’re experiencing itching or burning on your scalp

• You’re developing bald patches on your scalp or body

• You’re concerned about your hair loss

Your GP should be able to determine what’s causing your hair loss by examining your hair, possibly doing tests and, if necessary, referring you to a specialist.

Whatever the cause, you should let your GP know if hair loss is impacting your well-being or causing you distress.


What are the causes of hair loss?

There are several causes of hair loss including:

• Genetics

• Autoimmune conditions

• Stress and mood disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder

Treatments for hair loss vary depending on cause and severity.

Hair loss can be a normal part of growing older and may not always need treatment.

Hair loss that's triggered by a medical condition generally grows back once you’ve made a recovery.


What are the different types of treatments for hair loss?

If your hair loss is causing you distress, there are a number of treatments available. However, it's important to manage your expectations and be aware that there’s no treatment that’s 100 percent effective.


Hair loss treatment options for alopecia areata

Patches of hair loss on the scalp, known as alopecia areata, can be quite upsetting, especially for young women. However, there are a few treatment options that may help.


Not treating it

A GP might first advise you to leave the bald patches alone, as they may grow back themselves. If the hair loss is not too serious, there’s a possibility it will grow back within several months. Changing your hairstyle can help you hide a small bald patch until the hair grows back.


Steroid injections

Steroid injections into the bald areas of the scalp are believed to be the most effective treatment for patches of alopecia areata. By suppressing the local immune reaction that occurs with alopecia areata, the hair follicles can function normally for hair regrowth. This treatment generally requires your GP referring you to a specialist in a hospital.

Unfortunately, steroid injections don't work in every case, but they are an option for treatment of small to medium-sized patches which may be suitable for some people. Injections are given every four to six weeks and it should take about one to two months for hair to regrow. It's not an option during pregnancy.


Topical steroid creams or gels

Rub-on (topical) steroid creams or gels are not as effective as steroid injections, but they can help with regrowth. This may be an option if you can't have steroid injections or if you’re waiting to see a specialist for steroid injections. They can't be used on the face.


More treatment options

Other treatments for alopecia areata include:

• Wigs – many people with alopecia areata opt to wear a wig while their hair grows back

• Tattooing – this can be used to produce the appearance of eyebrows where hair has fallen out 

• Counselling – this can be an option for people who find their hair loss distressing

Some people choose to use complementary therapies, such as acupuncture or aromatherapy. There’s not enough research to back up their effectiveness. You should discuss any alternative treatment you're considering with your GP to make sure it's safe for you.


Male pattern baldness treatments

Male pattern baldness, or androgenetic alopecia, is a common type of hair loss that affects approximately half of men by the time they’re 50.

Hair loss can be a cause for concern for many men. However, be wary of clinics that promise hair regrowth, as they may be very expensive and not effective – age-related hair loss is natural. Most hair loss treatments for it are not available on the NHS, so you will have to pay for them.

If you decide not to undergo treatment, it may help to find a hairstyle that works best for you, such as a short cropped style.


Finasteride & minoxidil

The two pharmacological options for treating pattern hair loss are finasteride and minoxidil. Neither of these are available on the NHS. Both treatments need to be used continuously to maintain hair growth, any new hair will be lost after a few months if treatment is stopped.

Finasteride (available as a generic or as the brand Propecia) is a prescription medicine intended for use by men aged 18 and over. It helps stop the hair follicles shrinking by blocking the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). You take it in tablet form. Taking finasteride has been found to cause some new hair growth with long‐term treatment in two out of three men. It may take three to six months for finasteride to take effect. Women should not use finasteride.

Finasteride and Propecia can be accessed through the Boots Hair Loss Online Clinic. You’ll only be offered treatment through the clinic after completing an online consultation (subject to availability and clinician approval. Charges apply).

You can also ask your GP for a private prescription.

Minoxidil is a topical treatment which can be applied directly on the scalp. You can buy it at a pharmacy without a prescription. It can be used to treat pattern hair loss in men, as well as in women. It's more likely to work for those who are younger, in the early stages of hair loss or who have only a small area of hair loss. It's less likely to work for people who have been bald for many years or who have a large area of hair loss.


Scalp surgery

Scalp surgery is another treatment route. Newer hair transplant techniques are providing better results. However, though a hair transplant is generally effective, it may cause scarring. In most cases, this will be less noticeable with time.

It should be noted that surgery can be quite expensive and it’s not available on the NHS.


Treatments for telogen effluvium

Telogen effluvium happens when there's a higher than average amount of hair shedding. Common triggers include childbirth, trauma, illness, a stressful experience like losing a loved one, sudden weight loss, or hormonal changes. It usually doesn't require treatment as hair grows back on its own after the trigger is removed.


Treatments for anagen effluvium

This usually occurs when cancer chemotherapy, immunosuppression or radiotherapy causes hair loss. Within a few months of removing the cause, hair should return in most cases. However, this type of rapid hair loss can be quite unsettling for the person losing his or her hair. Wigs, scarves and hairpieces may be helpful.

It should be pointed out that no hair loss treatment works for everybody. If you start experiencing symptoms of hair loss and find it unexpected or distressing, you should consult your GP.


Next steps

• If you start experiencing hair loss, visit your GP for a diagnosis

• Once diagnosed, discuss the best course of treatment for hair regrowth with your GP or pharmacist

• Remember that hair regrowth can take a long time and that some treatments will not work for everyone