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Old medicine finds new life as inexpensive hair loss treatment

It's for men and women. There are no hormonal effects, and side effects with the pill form are rare.

NEW ORLEANS — When the New York Times ran a headline last week that read "An Old Medicine Grows New Hair for Pennies a Day," local doctors' offices started getting a lot of calls from men and women asking for the prescription.

Braden Brignac, 22, is starting his career in the financial industry. So, casual clothes and a baseball cap to cover his balding head are no longer daily dress code.

“People would make comments, and jokes, ‘You're a 19-year-old bald kid," Brignac said. "So, stuff like that is just a little detrimental to your confidence."

Dermatologist and hair restoration specialist Dr. Nicole Rogers started Braden on Finasteride a year ago. It's a male hormone blocker, but can take three-to-five years to see significant regrowth. So, earlier this year, she started him on oral Minoxidil.

“That's when it started blowing up. It looked great in comparison,” Brignac said.

Jokes changed to compliments.

“They're like, ‘Oh my gosh, this looks awesome,’” Brignac laughs. “Because of how different it was over just a few months span.”

You've heard of topical Minoxidil under the brand Rogaine. It's drops you put on your scalp, but the pill form has been around since 1979 for high blood pressure. And hair regrowth is a side effect.

“I have colleagues in places like Bangkok and around the world. They've been using oral minoxidil for decades," Dr. Nicole Rogers, owner of Hair Restoration of the South, in Metairie. "They never stopped using it, but here in the United States, in North America, we've just sort of come back to the idea as using it as an oral medicine."

It's prescribed off label, meaning the FDA has only approved it as a blood pressure medication. So, people with heart conditions need their cardiologists approval to take it.

It's very low dose, and brings more blood and nutrients to the hair follicle. It's for men and women. There are no hormonal effects, and side effects with the pill form are rare.

“I always describe Minoxidil as a fountain of youth for your follicles," Dr. Rogers said. "It's getting better absorbed, and I also think patients are more consistent with it when they have the option of taking it in a pill form, rather than trying to slather it all over their heads."

“The next thing I know, I'm like, I don't have to wear hats anymore. I can just look great,” Brignac said.

And the best part is it's very inexpensive. Braden pays $27 for a three-month supply, and another person said her month-and-a-half supply only cost around $3.50.

It works for several types of hair loss: Male and female genetic pattern baldness, chemotherapy, wearing tight braids and pony tails, and autoimmune conditions.

It does help body and facial hair grow better too. So, some women may need treatment for that.

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