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“Thinning hair,” “hair regrowth” and “hair transplant:” three keywords that will send you straight to listings for your local dermatologist.
It may be surprising, but when you’re losing your hair, they’re the people you want to comb for (sorry) in your area.
You might think of dermatologists as “skin doctors” and assume they can only help with your complexion or other skin issues, not hair loss. But hair follicles are located in the skin, and the two are most definitely closely related.
Hair, skin, nails — it’s all the dermatologist’s domain, but if you’ve started experiencing hair loss or thinning, you probably want to know if they can actually help you.
Below, we’ve explained why to see a dermatologist for hair loss, including how they’ll diagnose hair loss and the treatments they’ll prescribe.
But let’s answer your most pressing question first — can they help?
Good news: dermatologists aren’t only concerned with acne and psoriasis. While the most famous ones may specialize in pimple popping on social media, they’re also concerned with the hair that adorns your largest organ (that’s your skin, in case you didn’t know).
Dermatologists are hair specialists too — in fact, they’re the best medical professional for that job. A dermatologist will typically spend more than a decade in school, learning all sorts of sciencey stuff, including how to diagnose and treat various skin and, yes, hair disorders, making them perfect for the job.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, your dermatologist spent four years earning their bachelor’s degree, four years in medical school, one year as an intern and three years, minimum, as a dermatology resident.
So, yeah, they’ve learned a few things along the way — including how to help your hair loss.
When it comes to your hair, specifically, a dermatologist can:
Determine what’s causing your hair loss
Diagnose the problem and identify what sort of hair loss is occurring
Recommend the best course of treatment or refer you to other doctors for hair loss
Your barber might be able to confirm you’re looking thinner upstairs than last year, but that hardly serves as a diagnosis and certainly won’t help you get prescription hair loss treatments. A dermatologist can give you both a diagnosis and treatment.
A dermatologist’s first goal is to determine the reasons for your hair loss. When you visit a dermatologist for a hair loss diagnosis, they’ll do the following:
Ask you some questions. You’ll typically be asked about your medical history, any medicines you’re taking, your lifestyle and how your hair loss has progressed over time — is this new or has it been gradually worsening?
They’ll also ask your age. The prevalence of male pattern baldness increases with age, so while it’s possible to begin seeing hair thinning in your 20s or 30s, the likelihood you’ll experience it goes up with each decade of life.
Do a physical exam of your scalp. They may also look at other parts of your body to ensure the hair loss is localized to your head.
Run some tests. A dermatologist may pull on your hair to test its health and whether it’s fragile. This is called, creatively, a hair pull test. They may also use a “card test” to examine the density and shape of your hair strands.
Your dermatologist may recommen
Order additional tests if n
ecessary. These may include taking blood to look for iron deficiency (anemia) or thyroid problems, taking a fungal culture to look for a fungal infection or doing a scalp biopsy (also known as a punch biopsy) to get a sample of your scalp. Your healthcare provider may also look for the telltale signs of ringworm, which can lead to a tinea capitis diagnosis. They’ll also discuss hormonal changes, steroid use, high blood pressure and other issues that may be indirectly associated with hair loss or hair shedding
All of this will provide the healthcare provider with clues about what’s causing your hair loss, and therefore, what your diagnosis is.
Hair loss in men is commonly associated with the following alopecia types:
Androgenetic alopecia. Also known as male pattern hair loss, is the most common type of hair loss. It is hereditary hair loss and can begin anytime after puberty. In men, androgenic alopecia follows a predictable pattern, hence the name male pattern hair loss. It generally begins as thinning around the temples, which then spreads backwards across the head, as well as thinning at the crown, which spreads outwards in a circle. Diagnosing androgenetic alopecia is generally a matter of examining the scalp for that predictable pattern, noting it has a gradual onset and asking about your family history of hair loss.
Telogen effluvium. If your hair is coming out in clumps and you have had a recent traumatic event or extreme psychological stress, you may receive a diagnosis of telogen effluvium. This is a type of temporary hair loss caused by extreme mental or physical stress.
Alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is a condition that affects the immune system and one of the rarer causes of hair loss. Symptoms may appear as thinning hair all over the body. Autoimmune diseases may be managed differently than hereditary or stress-induced hair loss.
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Finally, your dermatologist can recommend treatments for hair loss after they diagnose you. Ultimately, this is likely why you’re seeing them: because you’re looking for a treatment.
Most of the time, they’ll prescribe medications. Your dermatologist can set proper expectations about the effectiveness of medication, but they generally take several months to show improvement. Also, the treatment must be consistent — if you stop using these treatments, your hair loss will resume.
There are two FDA-approved treatments available for male pattern hair loss: topical minoxidil and oral finasteride. Minoxidil can be obtained over the counter without a prescription, but finasteride will require a prescription from your dermatologist. Both medications typically have minimal side effects.
Finasteride. The oral medication finasteride is what’s known as a 5 alpha-reductase type 2 inhibitor, which affects your production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — the hormone that messes with hair health and causes hair loss. It’s FDA-approved as an oral medication, but also available off-label as a topical treatment. Finasteride is especially effective when combined with minoxidil like in our topical finasteride & minoxidil spray.
Minoxidil. The generic version of Rogaine, Minoxidilworks by allowing more blood (and therefore oxygen and nutrients) to reach the hair follicles. This is true of both minoxidil foam and minoxidil solution — two of the most popular ways to use minoxidil.
Other treatment options for a receding hairline include platelet-rich plasma (PRP), hair growth products like saw palmetto and laser therapy — though again, talk to the dermatologist to find the best treatment for your specific needs.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
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If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
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Dermatologists are where you want to go for any hair care question beyond “does this look that I picked up on TikTok seem stupid on me?”
If you’re losing hair, remember the big picture as you try to combat your bald spot:
Supplements, changes in hairstyles and hair products can reduce the appearance of hair loss, but an effective treatment plan for hair loss or products for new hair growth should come from a healthcare professional.
Dermatologists are the appropriate medical professional to seek out when you’re experiencing hair loss. A board-certified dermatologist has studied diseases of the hair and skin for many years and can help you determine what’s causing your condition and the best course of treatment.
If pricing is a concern, check out our guide to how much seeing a dermatologist costs, where we explain insurance coverage and other ways to cover costs.