When I was seventeen, my parents bought the family a camcorder for Christmas. To test it out, I decided to record a music video to the song “Video Killed The Radio Star,” which mostly consisted of me moving slightly while the camera was set to the strobe effect. I wanted to look like I was from the late 1970s (or at least what I thought looked like it), so I put on some hair gel. As I did that, a clump of hair came out from near my temples.
I’ll admit that I got pretty worried, that I was losing my hair. My barber already said my hair was thin and suggested I would likely go bald, so it was on my radar, and not in a good way. I looked in the mirror and everything looked fine. Okay…nothing to worry about…
Fast forward to September 1996 of my freshman year in college, just 9 months later. One day while I was showering in the horrible dorm showers, I noticed a lot more hair than usual in the bottom of the shower.
Later that day I looked at my hairline. It looked different than it had back in January. It had receded in the front of my scalp, across my forehead and temples, and a small bald spot was developing in the back.
I was only eighteen. I couldn’t believe I was really starting to go bald. I already considered myself at a dating and social disadvantage, and I hated that I may have had to add baldness to that. My dad went bald at a young age, and I always worried I would be next. And, my twin brother Jonathan was going through the exact same thing (not a surprise).
I have always been proactive, and fortunately the FDA had approved minoxidil for over the counter use in 1996, and it was showing up in stores when I noticed all of this. I went to K-Mart and bought a three-month supply of the 2% solution, since that was all that was available at the time. A few days later Jonathan decided to as well.
Luckily, since I started using it early enough, that alone caused frontal regrowth as well as growth at the vertex. I have used minoxidil 2% since fall of 1996, and my head has just as much hair as it did then. In fact, in recent years, my hair has actually gotten thicker, and I’ll explain how. Jonathan has used the exact same treatment and experienced the same positive results.
I make no guarantees (so consult your doctor!) of general safety or effectiveness for what I list below. It is simply based on my experience.
I list all the anti-baldness treatments I have used, along with discussion related to them, and they are all available over-the-counter (minus Retin-A), and cost next to nothing. Note that the key to effectively stopping and treating hair loss is to catch it early. In fact, a lot of my success is related to the fact that I caught it in its earliest stages.
I have faithfully used generic 2% minoxidil since 1996. When I started using it, my hair loss stopped immediately, minus some possible initial shedding. Within a few weeks I noticed small, fine, hairs coming in.
Within a few months, I saw normally colored hair growth around my temples and front of my scalp, and I assume in the back as well (since minoxidil has actually been proven to cause growth there). That hair remains to this day (well, not the exact hairs but you get my point).
Without being on sale, minoxidil sells for around $20 for a three month’s supply. Most guys today use 5% minoxidil, which is just as cheap, and more widely available than 2%, but with theoretically more risk of side effects. The instructions say to use a dropperful (1 ml) twice a day. I am down to once a day (if that) thanks to using other treatments. So, for about $20, I get what amounts to a six month supply. Right now you can get generic 5% minoxidil for under thirty dollars on Amazon, for a six month supply.
Now I add a little bit of Retin-A to my minoxidil because it seems to increase its effectiveness. However, that is only available by prescription. If your doctor will prescribe it, you can add some to your minoxidil bottle.
Minoxidil likely works by bringing more blood to the scalp. It doesn’t address the main cause of male pattern baldness, which involves DHT. This article briefly explains how DHT causes baldness if you want to know. So, minoxidil may result in diminished returns after a while for a lot of users. Also, minoxidil alone may not work for every guy, nor will it work for long periods for every guy.
One side effect of using it regularly is dry scalp. I had extremely dry scalp after using it. The solution? This thing called a “pocket hair brush,” which I call a “head scraper.” Give your scalp a vigorous once over with it every few weeks to a month, and you’ll notice you’ll pull up a lot of dead skin. It also may stimulate the scalp and clear any gunk on your scalp that may be hypothetically worsening your hair loss.
Some people claim other side effects (like increased wrinkling, especially around the eyes), but the fact is that it is a commonly used, over-the-counter drug attests to its general safety. While not risk free, it is generally thought to be safe when used topically. I haven’t experienced any of the side effects, at least not that I know of.
If you are concerned about increased wrinkles from minoxidil, the mechanism by which that happens may relate to collagen destruction. Internal and topical Vitamin C could help with that. I have taken 500-1000 mg of Vitamin C a day basically for the same time I have used minoxidil. I have started applying it topically (face and scalp) over the last few months and the results have been great.
Internal Saw Palmetto And Plant Sterols (Phytosterols)
This small study showed that a combination of saw palmetto and beta-sitosterol (a specific plant sterol) taken internally (I assume) had positive results in treating hair loss. This is because saw palmetto and plant sterols may inhibit 5-alpha reductase, which prevents conversion of testosterone to DHT. I have taken saw palmetto extract since around 2001, and plant sterols since about 2007. I take a daily saw palmetto and sterols a few times a week.
I have noticed no negative side effects from taking these chemicals. Granted, I don’t take a whole lot compared to what others do, but I can say that they haven’t negatively impacted me.
Since starting this, I began cutting my minoxidil usage down to once a day, and nothing on my hairline changed. If anything, I saw an improvement in my hair count, so I continue taking them internally.
Topical Saw Palmetto and Plant Sterols
In 2011 I decided to start applying these elements to my scalp topically. That actually resulted in an expansion of my frontal hairline, for the first time since 1996. For the base of the mix, I combine equal parts filtered water + black pepper, slightly gooey coconut oil (let it melt a little), and some sunflower lecithin powder. Black pepper extract has been shown to render topical chemicals more effective. I heat water in the microwave, put some pepper flakes in it, let the water steep until the water is gray, then strain out the flakes.
The lecithin turns the water and oil into a mayonnaise-like consistency. Then I add a few sterol softgels, saw palmetto softgels and whisk it. It turns into a yellowish gel. I apply at the front and back of my hair. If I want to cover my whole head like a kind of shampoo, I mix it with some almond milk.
After using this, my frontal hairline expanded about 1/4 inch, particularly on the front right and left sides near my temple. And, that is using this very lazily, i.e. about once a week. I am currently expanding my usage of this to three times a week and seeing what happens.
One study found that this anti-dandruff shampoo may be just as effective as minoxidil in treating hair loss. That doesn’t mean it will be magic, but could be a cheap part of a hair-loss program.
Nizoral is available from Amazon and drug stores. Online advice from successful users seems to be that the OTC concentration (1%) works well. Shampoo with your regular shampoo first, rinse, and apply the Nizoral. Massage in your scalp and leave on for about three minutes. Use it every third day. Sadly, in some people it can cause hair loss, so watch out for that side effect.
I will update this article if I see any noticeable improvement or side effects.
UPDATE: Since the original publication of this article, I have stopped using minoxidil on Nizoral days, effectively reducing my 2% minoxidil down to once a day, 5 days a week. I haven’t noticed any change in my hairline, either better or worse.
Derma Rolling (Microneedling)
This is the newest addition to my anti-hair loss routine (as well as anti-wrinkle). Most people aren’t exactly lining up to stab themselves with little needles, but this is exactly what derma rolling is. The hypothesis is that the process gently stabs the surface of the skin to stimulate blood flow from the capillaries, without actually damaging the skin.
It may sound crazy, but one study found that microneedling + minoxidil was significantly more effective in promoting hair growth than minoxidil alone, in every measure (hair count, hair thickness, etc). In fact, considering that scalp blood flow is significantly lower in those with early male pattern baldness, dermarolling alone may have some benefits.
Here is a link to Amazon’s listing of some derma rollers. In the study, they used the 1.5 mm length roller one time a week. They also applied minoxidil 5% twice a day, waiting 24 hours after derma rolling. Be sure to learn how to use the roller properly, including sterilizing it correctly.
03/14/2017 Update: I have seen some some fairly significant frontal regrowth since starting derma rolling. The 1/4 inch regrowth line from the sterol cream has gotten noticeably thicker, and expanded, and it seems that hairs in other areas are coming in as well.
I’m not convinced much else that is available over-the-counter will help with baldness, except perhaps topical azelaic acid. This means that I don’t think various supplements like Biotin or Silica will have much of an effect. I do take a lot of supplements, but I don’t think any of them directly impact hair loss, except the two I mentioned above. I do take Stinging Nettle for allergies from time to time, and it may inhibit DHT, but likely no better than the two I mentioned.
I have not mentioned Proecia/finasteride (aka Proscar) in this article. The reason is that I haven’t used it. It is available only by prescription. It is proven effective, and works in the same way saw palmetto and phytosterols hypothetically do, by blocking the effects of DHT. Some people swear by it, while a small percentage of others claim it ruined their lives by causing horrible side effects, including sexual performance related ones. Personally I avoid any pharmaceutical if I can.
Remember, this is just my experience. But, whatever I’m doing, I’m doing it right, for me. I have kept my hair 20 years after seeing it start to recede. A good friend of mine started balding at exactly the same time. He dismissed it. He is completely bald. There is nothing wrong with that, and he owns it perfectly. However, there are things you can do, especially if you catch it early enough!