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Balding? Thinning? Receding? The Basics of Men's Hair Loss

Whether you’re 20 years old or 60, the first signs of hair loss will set off an internal alarm for any man. But before you start counting every strand on the shower floor, take a moment to learn the basics of balding. There may be more to it than you think.

To understand the causes behind hair loss, we spoke with Trevor Thompson, MD, a dermatologist at Banner Health Center in Peoria, AZ. He explained that there are many potential reasons why a man’s hair may start to thin or recede, and not every case is inevitable.

Male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia)

Androgenetic alopecia is the main cause for 95% of men who report hair loss. Male pattern baldness is influenced by genetics and hormones, meaning the condition is hereditary and the effects increase with age. 

  • 25% of men who suffer from androgenetic alopecia will begin to see hair loss by 21.
  • By their 35th birthday, more than 60% of American men will have some degree of appreciable hair loss.
  • By age 50 the percentage rises significantly, causing substantial thinning in 85% of men.

“Your hair has a growth cycle,” explained Dr. Thompson. “For people with male pattern baldness, that cycle slowly weakens, and certain hair follicles get narrower. They may produce thinner hair for a time. Eventually, the follicle will stop growth completely.” 

For most, hair will begin to thin or recede around the temples first. Further along, hair will begin to thin on the crown (top of the head). In late stages, thinning on the top of the head will meet with the front, creating the familiar horseshoe shape seen in many men.

Less common causes

With androgenetic alopecia accounting for most men’s hair loss, the remaining causes are much less likely. However, they may contribute to a mix of causes for many men. Fortunately, early action can delay hair loss in many situations.

Damage caused by dyeing or styling

Harsh dyes, overheating, and other harmful products can damage your hair and lead to hair loss. 

Alopecia areata

An autoimmune disease that causes hair loss on the scalp or other areas of the body. The most common form involves a few scattered round or oval patches of hair loss on the scalp.

Vitamin deficiencies

If you are lacking nutrients like vitamin B, vitamin D or zinc, it may be affecting the health of your follicles. Be sure to maintain a balanced diet and consider adding multivitamins to your routine.

Excess stress

Your kids and your job may make you want to “rip your hair out” sometimes. But the truth is, that extreme stress can take a heavy toll on the body. When you are devoting all your energy to a physical or emotional stressor, your body must choose where to focus its energy and hair may be low on the list of priorities. 

Medication or treatment

Chemotherapy and other treatments are known to cause hair loss. If your hair loss began soon after a new prescription, you may know what’s to blame. 

Treatments for male pattern baldness

“Time is of the essence;” commented Dr. Thompson “As the hair loss develops, restoring hair growth for men with male pattern baldness can be very difficult.”   

There are also medications to help prevent further hair loss. They can be rubbed into the skin or taken in the form of a pill. The most popular medications are finasteride (Propecia) and minoxidil (Rogaine). Either can be very helpful in prolonging the lifespan of your hair follicles and in some cases can revive dormant follicles.

Low-level laser (light) therapies have also proven to be an effective treatment. Improvement can be seen with other approaches as well including ketoconazole shampoo, pumpkin seed oil, and rosemary oil. Cosmetic options are also improving and helping men to look past the stigmas previously associated with toupees and wigs. 

Additional surgical approaches include procedures such as platelet-rich plasma injections or hair transplantation. 

Dr. Thompson explained that there are many options for men. The key is finding a solution that fits you best. By working with a doctor, you’ll be able to rule out possible contributing factors and discuss the full gamut of treatments. If you are interested in learning more about men’s health or need to speak with a health care provider, visit bannerhealth.com. 

Check out these other men’s health-related articles:

Dermatology Men's Health