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Video: Fight balding

TODAY
updated 6/2/2005 11:00:07 AM ET 2005-06-02T15:00:07

The market is full of remedies for receding hairlines. But what works and what doesn't? Dr. Craig Ziering, a dermatologist who specializes in hair loss, was invited on “Today” to share his advice, along with Jim Curcio, who experimented with a nonsurgical hair-loss treatment.

On average, there are 100,000 to 150,000 hairs on a scalp, according to the American Medical Association. On a typical day 50 to 150 hairs are lost. Baldness kicks in when normal hairs are replaced with thinner and shorter ones or when the loss occurs at a high rate. The hormone testosterone, and its derivative DHT, are responsible for decreasing the size of hair follicles later in life.

"If you have a genetic predisposition, there's circulating DHT and that causes the hair to fall out," said dermatologist Craig Ziering. "So the cycle gets shorter and shorter and the hairs get smaller and wimpier and then have no cosmetic benefit."

In 1989, the FDA banned nonprescription hair creams, lotions, and other external products that claimed to grow hair or prevent baldness. However, advertisements for products that suggest they can re-grow hair are still out there.

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There are currently two FDA-approved treatments for hair loss:
Propecia/Finasteride: This drug was originally used to treat the enlargement of the prostate gland, and was then approved to treat male pattern hair loss. It comes in the form of a pill taken once a day and costs about $50 a month. It stops the conversion of testosterone to DHT, which lowers the levels of DHT in the blood and scalp, according to the AMA.  Side effects could include a loss of sex drive, reversible impotence, and a decrease in the quantity of semen, according to the AMA.

Women are not allowed to take the drug because of a risk of birth defects. Women who may become pregnant should not even handle broken or crushed tablets.

Rogaine/Minoxidil: Rogaine is a topical solution and is applied twice a day. Studies show it may help grow hair in 10 to 20 percent of those who use it, and may slow the rate of hair loss for 90 percent, according to the AMA. When it works, it appears to prolong the growing stage of the hair growth cycle, enlarge the follicles, and cause follicles at rest to grow. It's generally more effective for younger men and those whose hair loss is recent, according to the AMA.

It may take up to four months or longer to show results. It costs under $20 a month and has to be applied indefinitely. New hair is often not as long or as thick as the normal hair. And if use of the minoxidil is stopped, any regrown hair will fall out. Possible side effects include irritation of the scalp.

Hair Club for Men and Women:  They are famous for their "hair systems," a custom blend of the client's own hair with real human hair that's matched to individual requirements. They claim that the process is "semi-permanent, natural-looking and virtually undetectable." Clients are told it'll feel normal and is easy to style, that they can rough it up and even go swimming and their hair will look good.  The Hair Club has an initial fee that starts at $1,200. After that, the majority of clients pay a monthly fee, depending on the frequency of their maintenance.

How does it work? "It's basically glued onto my head,” said Jim Curcio, a Hair Club client. “It's not attached to my existing hair. It butts up against my existing hair."

"Every four to six weeks you go back for maintenance. They clean it up and give you a haircut as your own hair grows in. A few times a year you get an entire new system, depending on the plan you sign up for," he said. "The prices range from $200 to $700 a month. Mine is on the lower end."

What does Curcio think of his new look? "You really don't notice it. It's lightweight and acts and moves like your own hair," he said. "The hair is tied to a mesh which is so fine that it's invisible. People argue over what exactly I had done. I had one guy who asked me when I shaved my mustache off. I haven't had a mustache in years and he's never known me with a mustache. Another guy talked about my new hair gel. It's fun to watch the reactions. Most people say I look 10 years younger."

"There's billions of dollars spent each year on all these lotions, potions, and snake oils. They promise a full head of hair and people become disillusioned with this,” said Ziering.

Ziering also urges consumers to use the FDA-approved treatments. However, he also suggests that if someone wants to try a product — and after all, everybody wants them to work — they should do it in conjunction with an FDA-approved drug so they're not losing more hair, and do it under the guidance of a physician.

"I have noticed that in general, many men who are bothered by their hair loss don't act. They don't do anything about it," said Ziering. "When we ask them why, the number one reason is denial. They just don't think they're that bad off, or they don't think it's going to get any worse. I think the important thing to stress is that hair loss is progressive by nature."

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