Female pattern hair loss (FPHL), or androgenic alopecia, is the most common type of hair loss affecting women. It is characterised by progressive shortening of the duration of the growth phase of the hair with successive hair cycles, and progressive follicular miniaturisation with conversion of terminal to vellus hair follicles (terminal hairs are thicker and longer, while vellus hairs are soft, fine, and short). The frontal hair line may or may not be preserved. Hair loss can have a serious psychological impact on women.
To determine the efficacy and safety of the available options for the treatment of female pattern hair loss in women.
We updated our searches of the following databases to July 2015: the Cochrane Skin Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL in the Cochrane Library (2015, Issue 6), MEDLINE (from 1946), EMBASE (from 1974), PsycINFO (from 1872), AMED (from 1985), LILACS (from 1982), PubMed (from 1947), and Web of Science (from 1945). We also searched five trial registries and checked the reference lists of included and excluded studies.
We included randomised controlled trials that assessed the efficacy of interventions for FPHL in women.
Two review authors independently assessed trial quality, extracted data and carried out analyses.
We included 47 trials, with 5290 participants, of which 25 trials were new to this update. Only five trials were at 'low risk of bias', 26 were at 'unclear risk', and 16 were at 'high risk of bias'.The included trials evaluated a wide range of interventions, and 17 studies evaluated minoxidil. Pooled data from six studies indicated that a greater proportion of participants (157/593) treated with minoxidil (2% and one study with 1%) reported a moderate to marked increase in their hair regrowth when compared with placebo (77/555) (risk ratio (RR) = 1.93, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.51 to 2.47; moderate quality evidence). These results were confirmed by the investigator-rated assessments in seven studies with 1181 participants (RR 2.35, 95% CI 1.68 to 3.28; moderate quality evidence). Only one study reported on quality of life (QoL) (260 participants), albeit inadequately (low quality evidence). There was an important increase of 13.18 in total hair count per cm² in the minoxidil group compared to the placebo group (95% CI 10.92 to 15.44; low quality evidence) in eight studies (1242 participants). There were 40/407 adverse events in the twice daily minoxidil 2% group versus 28/320 in the placebo group (RR 1.24, 95% CI 0.82 to 1.87; low quality evidence). There was also no statistically significant difference in adverse events between any of the individual concentrations against placebo.Four studies (1006 participants) evaluated minoxidil 2% versus 5%. In one study, 25/57 participants in the minoxidil 2% group experienced moderate to greatly increased hair regrowth versus 22/56 in the 5% group (RR 1.12, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.73). In another study, 209 participants experienced no difference based on a visual analogue scale (P = 0.062; low quality evidence). The assessments of the investigators based on three studies (586 participants) were in agreement with these findings (moderate quality evidence). One study assessed QoL (209 participants) and reported limited data (low quality evidence). Four trials (1006 participants) did not show a difference in number of adverse events between the two concentrations (RR 1.02, 95% CI 0.91 to 1.20; low quality evidence). Both concentrations did not show a difference in increase in total hair count at end of study in three trials with 631 participants (mean difference (MD) -2.12, 95% CI -5.47 to 1.23; low quality evidence).Three studies investigated finasteride 1 mg compared to placebo. In the finasteride group 30/67 participants experienced improvement compared to 33/70 in the placebo group (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.66 to 1.37; low quality evidence). This was consistent with the investigators' assessments (RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.31 to 1.90; low quality evidence). QoL was not assessed. Only one study addressed adverse events (137 participants) (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.45 to 2.34; low quality evidence). In two studies (219 participants) there was no clinically meaningful difference in change of hair count, whilst one study (12 participants) favoured finasteride (low quality evidence).Two studies (141 participants) evaluated low-level laser comb therapy compared to a sham device. According to the participants, the low-level laser comb was not more effective than the sham device (RR 1.54, 95% CI 0.96 to 2.49; and RR 1.18, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.89; moderate quality evidence). However, there was a difference in favour of low-level laser comb for change from baseline in hair count (MD 17.40, 95% CI 9.74 to 25.06; and MD 17.60, 95% CI 11.97 to 23.23; low quality evidence). These studies did not assess QoL and did not report adverse events per treatment arm and only in a generic way (low quality evidence). Low-level laser therapy against sham comparisons in two separate studies also showed an increase in total hair count but with limited further data.Single studies addressed the other comparisons and provided limited evidence of either the efficacy or safety of these interventions, or were unlikely to be examined in future trials.
Although there was a predominance of included studies at unclear to high risk of bias, there was evidence to support the efficacy and safety of topical minoxidil in the treatment of FPHL (mainly moderate to low quality evidence). Furthermore, there was no difference in effect between the minoxidil 2% and 5% with the quality of evidence rated moderate to low for most outcomes. Finasteride was no more effective than placebo (low quality evidence). There were inconsistent results in the studies that evaluated laser devices (moderate to low quality evidence), but there was an improvement in total hair count measured from baseline.Further randomised controlled trials of other widely-used treatments, such as spironolactone, finasteride (different dosages), dutasteride, cyproterone acetate, and laser-based therapy are needed.