The glossy pictures strewn across Dr. Adam Lewenberg’s desk show scores of satisfied hair loss customers, even though their heads are bent and their faces tilted away from the camera.
It is instead the hair that takes center stage. Bald heads, patchy hair, thinning hair, receding hairlines before. Full hair three months later.
The leagues of the balding and the thinning, whose eyes may inadvertently linger on enticing hair growth advertisements on the subway, may not need to look any further.
They may find an answer with Dr. Lewenberg, who sells a hair spray that he says enables clients to sprout a full head of hair.
It’s a cure that the doctor invented himself, and mixes himself in small laboratory in his office on the Upper East Side.
The mixture, a balance of 2% minoxidil lotion and .025% tretinoin, is odorless and colorless. At $35 for a two-ounce bottle, the cost for the first year of hair loss treatment can run up to $1,200 a year. But the benefit, the doctor contends, is worth it. “Everybody’s losing hundred of hairs a day,” says Lewenberg, a hair and skin specialist who developed the spray over a period of nine years. “The idea is to grow more hair than lose it.”
In the 1970s, chemists raced to develop a hair growth product using minoxidil after patients taking the medicine for high blood pressure began sprouting copious hair. In 1986, when Lewenberg first began experimenting with minoxidil, the efficacy of the chemical as hair growth agent was already established.
In 1988, the Upjohn Corporation scored a patent on Rogaine, a minoxidil product, after the FDA approved the substance as a legitimate hair growth formula.
But as a wonder drug, Rogaine didn’t pass the test. Patients with thinning, receding hairlines, or patients, who had experienced hair loss in the distant past, didn’t experience good results.
“The problem with minoxidil was not that people were dying,” said Lewenberg. “The problem was people were not growing hair.”
Lewenberg began experimenting with minoxidil, varying the concentration and the method of application. In the early ’90s, he began to perfect his hair loss solution which, when mixed with tretinoin, increased the absorbency to the scalp. By using it as a hair spray, Lewenberg claims, its absorbency is increased.
“Why they put droppers straight on the skull I don’t understand,” mused Lewenberg, who, at 62, sports a boyish head of hair himself, the forelock combed rakishly sideways. He reaches for a bottle on his desk and sprays several puffs on the crown of his head. Minoxidil, he says, can be used “as a hair spray-forever. As a cream to massage, for rubbing and better sex-no.”
Lewenberg claims his hair loss remedy has gained recognition in the medical community and has satisfied many happy customers. But there are skeptics. A spokesperson for the Upjohn Corporation, for instance, would not validate the efficacy of tretinoin as a hair growth agent.
Over the years, the efficacy of tretinoin and minoxidil have been established in through studies published in several medical journals. Yet thus far, nobody has been able to come up with a patented combination. “The problem is mixing the two compounds together,” said Dr. John F. Ramano, a dermatologist with New York Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital. “A truly stabilized confound is not easy to come by.”
Lewenberg believes he has found that compound. ” A lot of American doctors didn’t believe me four years ago,” he said. “But they believe me now.”
He also claims there is a second secret to his hair loss product’s success-persistence. The doctor asks his patients to use the spray four times a day, and to come to his office every three months so that he can photograph their progress. In his office, Lewenberg has over 2,000 patient files, and twice that many photos. In one set of photos, a patient photographed in January, completely bald apart form a fringe around his ears, had sprouted a luxuriant black mane by late March.