Amy McMichael, MD, professor of dermatology, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Since both my husband and I have plenty of hair, I have to acknowledge that I don’t have much personal experience on the subject of baldness — but even so, it seems to me that there’s never been a better time for a man to be bald. A shaved head is considered a cool look, so much so that plenty of men who have hair are choosing to go without. That said, going bald doesn’t work for everyone… some scalps are more attractive than others and some men (women too) experience thinning hair as a blow to their self-esteem.
This is exactly the kind of vulnerability that marketers love to exploit. So when I read that the FDA had approved a laser device (the HairMax LaserComb) that can be used by men at home to help hair grow, my built-in consumer protection alarm started buzzing. It got even louder when I saw the price — $495. The laser encourages hair growth by stimulating circulation in the capillary bed and hair follicle. All the user has to do is sweep the device over the scalp for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, three times a week. In the FDA application, the study authors admit they’re unclear exactly how their device works, but they say that there is a possibility that it improves hair tensile strength and rate of growth (and even reduces graying) due to “improvement in micro-circulation.”
I called Amy McMichael, MD, associate professor of dermatology and director of the Hair Disorders Clinic at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, who told me that she — and many other doctors — are skeptical. While there is research that shows that the device helps stimulate hair growth, the results are “modest,” says Dr. McMichael, and in her opinion, the hair growth isn’t significant enough to justify the price of the device.
Acknowledging that “hair loss can be very devastating,” Dr. McMichael urges people who are upset about it to see a dermatologist, as there are some drugs that can safely be used off-label that may be effective. Also, Rogaine (a trace dose of the antihypertensive drug Minoxidil in a solution or foam base) is now available over the counter.
Dr. McMichael stressed that if your hair is thinning and you are upset about it, it is important to act quickly. “Most hair loss is progressive. It can get worse over time,” she notes. “Early intervention is important. It’s much easier to keep what you’ve got than to replace it.”