HAIR ∙ 6 minutes read

From sprays to steroids: the best alternatives to a hair transplant

By Kirsty Mason | Medically reviewed by Dr Luke Pratsides

Hair transplants are becoming increasingly popular and it’s no secret that Wayne Rooney didn’t wake up one day with a surprisingly full head of hair. The treatment can be a fantastic solution for many people who are experiencing hair loss, but there are plenty of reasons why you might not want to undergo a hair transplant. For example, they’re costly, the procedure is fairly invasive, and there is no guarantee that hair loss won’t continue after the treatment.

The good news is that you don’t have to go under the knife to treat hair loss and there are lots of alternatives that can produce highly successful results. We’ve broken down alternative treatments to a hair transplant by price, effectiveness, and time taken to show results.

1. Finasteride

Finasteride (the generic version of Propecia) is taken as a daily tablet and it halts hair loss on the head and in some cases, it may stimulate regrowth

The body naturally converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Hair follicles can become sensitive to DHT, causing them to shrink, which leads to hair thinning and baldness. Finasteride works by inhibiting the enzyme (5-alpha-reductase) which converts testosterone into DHT. The reduced DHT levels then prohibit the hair follicles from shrinking further.

This product is for men only and is suitable for mild to moderate hair loss, rather than full hair loss. It can take around 6 months before you see results and once treatment is stopped, any improvements made are likely to be reversed, so it’s important to take finasteride consistently as directed.

Affordability (£ - £££): £

Effectiveness: Continuous results for 9 out of 10 men

Time to take effect: 3 to 6 months

2. Light treatment

Low-light laser therapy (LLLT) is another treatment which reduces hair loss and promotes hair growth. Although the functionality of this treatment isn’t fully understood, it’s thought that it alters cell metabolism by stimulating the hair follicles through irradiation. This process strengthens the weaker cells in the scalp, and hair regrowth takes place.

You will need multiple treatments to see results. LLLT is often used in conjunction with minoxidil.

Affordability (£ - £££): £££

Effectiveness: Statistically significant improvements in 9 out of 11 studies 

Time to take effect: Several weeks, with continuous top-up treatments necessary

3. Minoxidil (topical spray)

Minoxidil can be applied as a spray and it works to reduce hair loss in a number of ways:

  • Hair loss and hair thinning occur when hair follicles decrease in size. Minoxidil reverses the miniaturisation of hair follicles, leading to thicker and fuller hair.
  • Minoxidil dilates blood vessels, increasing blood flow around the hair follicles, which stimulates hair regrowth and provides the hair follicles with nutrients.
  • The anagen phase (which is essentially the ‘growth’ phase) of the hair cycle is extended, allowing hair to grow longer.

Some people experience a slight increase in hair loss when they first start using minoxidil but this is normal and due to an accelerated growth phase during the initial phase of the treatment. To be effective, the spray must be applied twice daily, every day and if treatment is stopped, you’ll no longer see results.

Affordability (£ - £££): £

Effectiveness: Studies demonstrate evidence of increased hair growth in the majority of cases

Time to take effect: 2 to 4 months

4. Minoxidil (foam)

Regaine contains the same active ingredient as the topical spray (which is minoxidil) but is a foam, rather than a spray. The product has the same effect on the hair (increases size of hair follicles, stimulates blood flow, and prolongs growth phase), but is applied by pumping the foam over the affected area.

Affordability (£ - £££): £

Effectiveness: In a one-year observational study, 62% of men reported a reduction in hair loss

Time to take effect: 2 to 4 months

5. Steroid injections

Steroid injections are only appropriate for certain types of hair loss, such as alopecia areata. This is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body fights its own immune system, attacking the hair follicles and causing hair loss. Steroids work by blocking the immune system, allowing hair to grow. 

This treatment is not suitable for male pattern baldness, which is the most common form of hair loss.

Affordability (£ - £££): £££

Effectiveness: One study shows 6 out of 10 participants responded well to treatment

Time to take effect: Depending on the severity of the disorder, you’ll see results anywhere from a few weeks to a few months

6. Scalp reduction surgery

Donald Trump’s hair gets a lot of attention and even has its own Twitter account. Although unconfirmed by the man himself, his daughter, Ivanka Trump, has reportedly spoken of his scalp reduction surgery. 

This cosmetic procedure may be recommended when hair loss is in the appropriate area and is done under local anesthesia. The surgeon cuts out the affected area and sews the skin together. It’s only suitable if the hair loss is in the right place and the skin has enough elasticity to stretch and stitch together.

Affordability (£ - £££): £££

Effectiveness: Results vary depending on individual circumstances

Time to take effect: Instant, although you may initially experience increased hair loss

The bottom line

If you don’t like the idea of a hair transplant, there are plenty of alternatives such as finasteride, light treatment, minoxidil, steroids, and surgery. As different treatments work for different types of hair loss, it’s a good idea to speak to a medical professional who can recommend the best treatment for you.

Related articles:

Thomas’ hair regrowth story

The 3 most common types of alopecia

Grant’s hair regrowth story

Why do some young men experience hair loss?

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