- Hair loss is among the conditions that dermatologists treat the most often.
- One type of hair loss, male and female pattern baldness, is often treated with the drug minoxidil.
- However, a significant percentage of people may not respond to this medication.
- A mail-in test claims that it can help determine whether minoxidil is right for you.
- There are also alternative treatment options if you don’t respond well to the medication.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, hair loss (also known as “alopecia”) is quite common. In fact, it is among the conditions that dermatologists treat the most often.
Hair loss can occur for many reasons, including infections, stress, cancer treatment, or wearing tight hairstyles. Additionally, people may experience what is known as “male or female pattern baldness” or “androgenetic alopecia,” a condition that Mount Sinai notes is related to genes and sex hormones.
According to Dr. Danny Del Campo, FAAD, from Chicago Skin Clinic, minoxidil (Rogaine) is one of the FDA-approved medications used to treat the latter.
Del Campo further explained that minoxidil was originally created as a treatment for hypertension due to its ability to widen blood vessels and reduce blood pressure. However, it was accidentally discovered that it could also induce new hair growth, especially in those with androgenetic alopecia.
Del Campo said it’s not really known exactly why minoxidil helps hair regrow, but it might be because it allows for greater blood flow to the scalp.
Unfortunately, according to Dr. Andy Goren, chief medical officer of Daniel Alain Labs, what many people don’t know is that only about half of men and 30-40% of women respond to minoxidil. Also, it takes about six to nine months to see results, so people may end up wasting time and money before learning that minoxidil isn’t going to help them.
However, Goren said he and his colleagues at Daniel Alain have an answer to this problem: the Minoxidil Response Test (MRT).
Goren said the MRT involves plucking out a hair sample (6 hairs) at home and sending it to their lab in a pre-paid return envelope. Results are available within 7-14 days.
The principle behind the test is that for minoxidil to work, it has to be activated by a specific enzyme found in hair follicles: SULT1A1.
This enzyme, which was discovered by Daniel Alain scientists, can be present in varying levels in different people.
“Our scientists discovered that low SULT1A1 enzyme activity leads to lack of response to topical minoxidil for the treatment of hair loss,” said Goren.
The MRT test determines the level of SULT1A1 that is present in your hair follicles, so it can be used to predict whether you will respond to the medication.
It is currently only available in the United States, with the exception of certain states and territories.
While Daniel Alain Labs has conducted 10 years of research into the efficacy of its test and has published several peer-reviewed clinical studies, Del Campo, who is a board certified dermatologist not affiliated with the company, said he had not used the test and didn’t personally know any dermatologists who were using it so it was not possible for him to offer an unbiased review.
However, it should be noted that there is little other research behind it other than what the company sponsored itself, which raises questions of potential bias.
Bias can occur unintentionally when researchers are emotionally attached to achieving a particular outcome, for example, proving that a product they have a commercial interest in is effective. It is important for other researchers to replicate their results in order to confirm their validity.
At the time of this writing, it was also not possible to obtain many reviews of the product from David Alain customers. There was only one review on the website, although it did give the test 5 out of 5 stars.
Before deciding on a hair loss treatment, Del Campo said that it is important to first get a correct diagnosis.
“There are many different forms of alopecia, and hence, there are many reasons when minoxidil is not appropriate and does not work for that type of alopecia,” he said.
Del Campo further noted that sometimes the reason that people don’t get a good response is that they give up too soon. “… [M]any patients develop irritation when starting minoxidil (more common with solution formulations that contain propylene glycol) and rashes often develop. This is frustrating for patients and is often overcome by using the foam formulations,” he said.
People may also quit prematurely because they haven’t been adequately warned that they might initially see more hair loss and shedding when they first start minoxidil as the new growth pushes out the older hair shaft.
“Even though this is transient in the first weeks, many patients immediately stop treatment if they were not told of this before starting,” he said.
However, in cases where you genuinely are not responding well to minoxidil, Goren said that his team has developed a SULT1A1 enzyme Booster which can help increase the amount of enzyme present by as much as seven times.
This could increase it enough to improve your response to minoxidil.