There were five of us at the bar that night—all old friends—when I absent-mindedly raked a hand through my hair. Like my father before me, I’ve always had plenty on top. My coarse, thick hair is graying at the temples, sure, but it isn’t yet receding. One friend warned me not to tug too hard. “Even those pills have limits,” he said.
“Who needs pills?” I asked. “We’ve all got a full head of hair.” At which point, conversation screeched to a halt, as though I’d just asked the size of everyone’s bonus. It fell to another friend to break the silence and admit he was celebrating his 10th anniversary with the 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor known as Propecia (now available in generic form as finasteride). The three others followed suit with similar confessions.
Gradually, it emerged that by the time we’d finished college, mine was the only hairline that hadn’t benefited from a doctor’s prescription. Should my good genes one day fail me, however, all is far from lost. A survey of dermatologists, inventors, scientists and surgeons reveals a comforting truth: There has never been a better time to find too much hair on your brush. Here are the top treatments from the rapidly advancing front (hair)lines.
The Magic Pill: Finasteride
The new generic form of Propecia carries warnings of unpleasant side effects (one of which is treatable with that other little blue pill, Viagra). But in terms of success stories—88 percent of men experience no additional hair loss; 58 percent experience regrowth—no other treatment comes close.
Laserlike Focus: iGrow
This helmut full of lasers looks like something out of SkyMall but was nevertheless approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The lasers act like a shot of Red Bull, forcing follicles to step up their productivity. Although the over-the- counter device is just $695, treatment involves six straight months of daily 25-minute sessions (hence the built-in headphones). The return, according to Dr. Abraham Armani, a Dallas-based hair-transplant surgeon, is a not-quite- market-beating 7 percent increase in hair density. igrowlaser.com
HAL for Hair: Artas Robotic Hair Transplant
The problem with so-called strip hair transplants—in which sections of scalp are harvested from the follicle-rich rear of the head in order to replenish the hairline at the front—is that they often result in Frankenstein-like scarring. The Artas system, on the other hand, employs a robotic arm that extracts and transplants individual follicles, minimizing discernible damage. “You’re removing 30 to 45 percent less skin, which means much more rapid recovery,” says Dr. Barry Goldman of New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Within a day or two, you’ll feel like nothing ever happened.” artashair.com
True Blood: Platelet-Rich Plasma Therapy
During this post-transplant procedure, your own blood is extracted, centrifuged and then slathered onto the scalp, increasing the survival rate of new follicles and speeding the proliferation of new strands. “You will get results about six months faster,” Armani says. “And the hairs that do survive will be thicker and healthier.”
The Holy Grail: Hair Cloning
Inside each follicle, certain cells act like traffic cops, greenlighting the production of more hair, explains Colin Jahoda, a professor of stem-cell sciences at the U.K.’s Durham University. Regeneration involves tricking those cells into growing your own hair in a petri dish for transplant. Although the cells have thus far failed to cooperate outside the human body, Jahoda remains optimistic. How far off are viable clinical trials? “About five years,” he says, with the confident air of a man with all his own hair.
Article originally appeared in the Holiday 2014 issue of Bloomberg Pursuits. Click here for more stories -- and to download a free iPad edition.