Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/5/2021
Whether you’re seeing more hair in the sink or less hair on your head, hair loss is a worrying proposition for most men.
A full head of hair is something many of us take for granted in our youth, only to watch it slide (quite literally) down the drain as we age.
But it doesn’t have to be a lost cause. There are several products on the market today that help you retain and thicken your coif with regular application. To understand how they work (and which ones might be right for you) let’s first explore why you lose hair in the first place.
Hair loss is not necessarily an abnormal thing. In fact, even men with a great head of hair lose a certain number of hairs a day. A little in the bed, a few on the collar, a handful in the drain: none of this is necessarily a cause for concern. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), for instance, says that a normal man sheds up to 100 strands of hair daily, out of a head full of around 100,000.
Hair follicles normally fall out as part of a three-phase cycle, consisting of the anagen phase, the catagen phase, and the telogen phase.
In the anagen phase (where 90 percent of your follicles should be), the hair grows normally. But the catagen phase signals the beginning of the end of its cycle. Lasting just a few weeks, the catagen phase is basically retirement for the follicle: it’s alive, it’s hanging in there, but it’s not very productive. Finally, the telogen phase begins. In this phase, the hair is effectively dead, the follicle is dormant, and waiting to fall out. About nine percent of your hair in this phase at any given time, if you’re functioning normally.
Hair loss, then, is either a result of an imbalance in these phase proportions, or a system-wide failure of dormant follicles to return to the growth phase at all. Depending on why, how, and where it happens, hair loss can have many names, but most men experience hormone-induced male pattern baldness, also known as androgenic alopecia, which typically presents as regressing hair lines, balding at the crown, and thinning hair generally.
If you have androgenic alopecia, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that androgenic alopecia is one of the most common forms of hair loss, and to a certain extent it can be both treatable and, possibly, reversible.
The bad news is that after a certain point, dead follicles are never going to produce again. So it’s best that you treat hair loss as soon and as effectively as possible.
Other than transplants and some weirder, more extreme treatments (laser combs?!), the best way to thicken thinning hair is with topical or oral medications.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, there are several products that can help you thicken your hair. They include minoxidil and finasteride.
Finasteride blocks a hormone called DHT, which is what effectively causes androgenic alopecia. Research shows that taking finasteride daily can reduce DHT levels by as much as 70 percent, which can slow down and even reverse the effects of male pattern baldness.
Minoxidil, meanwhile, works by a different mechanism: it encourages the regrowth of dormant hair follicles. Studies show that using minoxidil over a 48 week period increased thickness and can boost your total hair count as much as 18 percent.
There are non-prescription treatments available as well. Though admittedly less proven, a popular supplement called saw palmetto may also reduce DHT levels, particularly when taken alongside other medications like finasteride. You can typically find it in the ingredient list for a hair thickening shampoo. Our What to Look For in a Men’s Hair Loss Shampoo guide can help you look for the most effective shampoos for different hair types.
The obvious next step in getting yourself thicker hair might be buying one of these products, but before you hit checkout on an online shop or visit your local pharmacy, it might be best to consult a healthcare professional. Some of these products may cause mild or moderate symptoms, and your healthcare professional will be able to tell you what to look out for.
Likewise, your hair loss might require other treatments. It might also be a side effect or symptom of some other issue, and only a doctor or healthcare provider will be able to effectively help you diagnose what’s going wrong.
Whether you’re seeing the clock (and follicles) tick away, or unsure if you’re even losing hair, the best time to ask questions and get answers is now. Waiting is only going to further the extent of any hair loss you’re experiencing. And that damage might not be reversible.