Topical hair loss treatments have many advantages over oral ones. They are targeted to the affected area, and so can contain higher concentrations of active ingredient than many oral formulations, without the risk of systemic side effects or unwanted hair in areas that are not thinning. In addition, as the hair loss products are topical they can contain ingredients not available in oral format. This includes ingredients which would be broken down and made useless by digestion, or not be absorbed by the body.
Whilst these advantages are considerable, topical hair loss treatments also have their limitations.
Firstly, the vast majority of a topical thinning hair treatment does not penetrate the skin, or penetrates too slowly to give a high dose at one time. Using Minoxidil as an example, Minoxidil can take 4 hours to fully penetrate the skin, whilst a very effective drug it must be dissolved in alcohol, and therefore penetrates the fat-rich upper layers of skin very slowly. This would not be a problem, except for the fact that Minoxidil breaks down in the body; it has a half life of 4.2 hours. This means that as the last of the Minoxidil penetrates the skin, half of the first part to penetrate has already been broken down.
In a second example, as they do not circulate to a significant degree, they cannot target systemic causes of hair loss. DHT is produced in the hair follicles and this source predominantly affects hair growth, but the hormone is also produced throughout the body. This means systemic inhibitors like Finasteride and Saw Palmetto containing Nanocaps are necessary for a complete approach to preventing hair loss. More information on hair loss caused by DHT is available here.
It is therefore logical to assume that some of the limitations of Minoxidil and other topical treatment are due to their poor penetration. One answer is to increase concentration, however this is often not practical, and there is often an optimum concentration. Increasing concentration beyond that optimum will not have much of an increased effect, and may even have a harmful one. Also to be considered in the case of Minoxidil is the alcohol content of the formula, alcohol is damaging and the concentration required to produce 12.5% Minoxidil for example could be harmful.
Another option is Liposomal or Nanosomal technology. This cleverly "packages" the hair loss treatment in a highly-penetrative sphere, so that it enters the skin very quickly and much more effectively. This works very well, the only drawback is that Nanosomes are so good at penetrating they can sometimes penetrate all the way to the bloodstream rapidly, meaning large doses of the treatment are carried away quickly. This swift entry into the bloodstream does carry the possibility of increased side effects, and so users should be extremely careful. Also Nanosomal treatments are often very expensive, in the case of Minoxidil where you have to use it continually this means large hair loss product bills.
The last possibility is to remove or penetrate the upper layers of skin, therefore removing the main barrier to hair loss treatment. Removing the skin using dermabrasion, lasers, chemical treatments or other methods is not practical for thinning hair as they can all remove the remaining hair, and also increase the risk of infection.
Perforating the skin without causing bleeding is ideal as it partially removes the barrier to thinning hair treatment penetration. However this process doesn't remove or damage hair, and doesn't damage the skin's ability to resist infection. Studies show that the absorption of treatments across the skin increases more than fivefold when using a microneedle device to perforate the skin. The additional advantage of this method is that whilst absorption is increased, penetration into the bloodstream is not accelerated as much as with Nanosomal products, and so the incidence of side effects is not increased as much.
As a responsible thinning hair research organisation, Nanogen recommends consultation with a medical professional before using any method which will increase the absorption of topical thinning hair treatment, especially prescription treatments such as Minoxidil. This includes the Scalproller, Nanogen's unique microneedle therapy device designed for hair loss, as many people may find they can use a lower concentration of their treatment; however this should be discussed with a thinning hair specialist.