New tools helping women (and men) fight hair loss


by Deborah Knapp

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:39 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 20 at 11:13 AM


A simple DNA test can tell if a person carries the gene for baldness.

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Full, glorious hair -- it is a big part of what defines beauty. But baldness doesn't just happen to men. It happens to millions of women, too.

"Hair loss is quite common in women," said Dr. Brad Limmer, a hair transplant specialist. "I think a lot of women feel they're suffering alone. But the reality is that 40% of women will suffer from androgenetic alopecia."

That's hereditary hair loss, and it comes from both sides of the family. While men start showing signs of losing their hair in their 20s, it is often difficult to diagnosis women at an earlier age.

But now there's a way to know if a woman or a man is at risk for losing their hair; a simple DNA test can tell if a person carries the gene for baldness. The test takes generally three weeks for results.

"I think hair loss in women is often borne in silence," said dermatologist Shelley Sekula. "I think women don't realize that there are things that can be done."

Women who discover they have the gene can start looking for things to slow the process down using the same medications as men, like Rogaine, which is a topical foam.

Experts say that the earlier you catch it, the better medications work. The medications can preserve hair, but are not as effective at regrowing hair.

"The sooner you start therapy, the more hair you hang on to," said Limmer.

Doctors like him have been seeing more women like Mary Beth McAllister.

"You get so self conscious when people look at you, and they're just staring at the top of your head," said McAllister.

But after undergoing her third transplant, she's noticed a difference.

"You're not looking at the top of my head," she said.

The test by HairDX is in clinical trials. Limmer plans to start offering it to his patients even though it may cut down on business.

"It will allow us to diagnose at an earlier age, which I think is critical in keeping patients from needing a hair transplant," he said.