Richard Paduda, an athletic man with a dark, spiky coiffure, does not look like your typical user of Latisse, the prescription eyelash-enhancing solution that has been endorsed by Brooke Shields and Claire Danes. That’s because he has used it not on his eyelashes, which are fairly lush, but on his hairline, which he noticed last year was beginning to recede.
“I just put three or four drops on each side of my temple once a day,” said Paduda, 32, an insurance worker from Boca Raton, Florida. “The hair in that area, which was real thin and wispy – all those hairs got thick again, dark.”
Paduda is one of a growing number of men experimenting with Latisse as an antidote to encroaching baldness. Made by Allergan, the drug has already won a following among women for helping them grow long, fluttery eyelashes. It was only a matter of time before it made the leap to denuded pates.
Indeed, dermatologists’ offices and Web forums for bald men (yes, they exist: baldtruthtalk.com) began buzzing with excitement over Latisse nearly the moment the Food and Drug Administration gave it the thumbs-up in December 2008.
“First question everyone was asking was, ‘Gosh, if it grows eyelashes, what is it going to do on the scalp?”’ said Dr. Alan Bauman, the dermatologist and hair-restoration specialist who prescribed the drug to Paduda as part of an informal study.
While the FDA has not approved Latisse as a hair-loss treatment – only two drugs have that designation: minoxidil (Rogaine, also a topical medication) and finasteride (Propecia, which is administered in pill form) – there are no laws preventing doctors from prescribing it for that purpose. Bauman said he has been prescribing a generic form of bimatoprost, the active ingredient in Latisse, to combat hair loss since 2007, and that it has worked for about 70 percent of his patients.
“What we found is that where patients were applying Latisse, especially in areas where the hair was thinner and wispier and less pigmented, the hair grew thicker, stronger and healthier,” he said.
Though some users of Latisse have experienced skin discolouration, Bauman said he had never seen any such reaction on the scalp of his patients.
Certainly, Paduda, who used Latisse daily from November through February, is a happy customer. By the third week, he said, both he and friends he asked for reactions were seeing results. “I even busted out the old ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures,” he said. “It was a noticeable difference.”
But Latisse does not appear to be a silver bullet for hair loss. Instead, it appears to work in much the same way as Rogaine or Propecia: All three can strengthen and darken hair that grows from a dying follicle, but none can bring a dead one back to life. The result is an enhanced, refortified hairline rather than a brand new head of hair.
Aside from hair transplants, which can cost about $10,000 each and do not always look natural, the only current hope for complete replacement is hair cloning, the act of producing entirely new hair from the DNA of an existing one, which researchers have been attempting, unsuccessfully, for years.
Dr. Robert M. Bernstein, clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University, is now one of several researchers experimenting with the product.
“It’s just a question of time now” before hair cloning becomes a reality, Bernstein said. “We keep on moving back that time, but I think there’s absolutely no doubt that it’s going to be done.”
He believes hair cloning will be commercially available within 10 years. This may sound like a long time to wait, but “it’s important to remember that baldness is unlike other conditions where you can progress past the point of being helped,” Bernstein said. “Once we have a cure for hair loss, everyone will be able to benefit.”
It has been 14 years since the FDA approved a new hair-loss remedy (Propecia, in 1997), so it is understandable that anticipation for a new one might be running high. One advantage of Latisse is that it needs to be applied only once a day (Rogaine needs to be applied twice; Propecia is taken once daily), and does not seem to cause reactions in people who are allergic to minoxidil.
It is, however, expensive: a month’s supply of Latisse can cost up to $150, and that is in amounts appropriate for use merely on the eyelashes. The potential for Latisse is not lost on Allergan. The company initiated a Phase 1 clinical study in August to determine whether bimatoprost can be used as a treatment in men and women suffering from hair loss (alopecia).
But the fact is that many men – and women – simply do not accept baldness easily.
“Hair has been an evolutionary sign of health and sexuality and youth, and that doesn’t change,” Bernstein said. “Shaved heads look cool, but not everyone wants one, and not everyone looks good with one.”