New research may lead to a topical medication could delay male pattern balding, also called androgenetic alopecia. The research was conducted by L’Oreal in Paris, and it looked closely at hair follicles and stem cells that cause hair to grow. They hope to one day develop a cream or shampoo that staves off the male pattern balding by encouraging hair to “wake up” from its domancy phase.
The hair growth cycle has three phases: anagen, catagen and telogen. The anagen phase is when the follicle creates a hair, and the hair grows for several years. The hair follicle begins to shrink in the catagen phase, and the hair falls out. The follicle becomes dormant in the telogen phase for several months. Then the cycle starts over.
In male pattern balding, however, the follicles in areas sensitive to hormones get smaller and smaller, producing thinner, smaller hair. Eventually, the follicle stops producing a hair and remains in the telogen phase forever.
The research at L’Oreal investigated the stem cells in the skin that begin the process of growing new hair and wake the follicle out of the dormant telogen phase. They found stem cells that help grow hair near the surface of the skin, and deeper in the skin. The deeper reservoir of stem cells are in a low-oxygen environment, which is healthier for these stem cells. This research showed that in balding scalps, the oxygen levels around these cells were altered. This means they were less efficient and seemed to prevent a new hair from growing.
L’Oreal may be able to encourage these hair follicles to come out of the telogen phase and enter the anagen phase by developing a topical treatment for hair loss.
The “Holy Grail” of hair loss is the cure for balding – specifically, growing hair. Today, the only permanent treatment for male pattern balding is a hair transplant, where the more tenacious hairs from one part of the scalp are transplanted to the balding areas. Nutritional supplementation for the hair has also been shown to mitigate or delay balding and help hair transplants grow in faster.