What is Male Pattern Baldness?
Male pattern baldness is a form of hair loss in men caused by genetic and/or hormonal factors. It is easily the most common cause of men’s hair loss, and will affect more than half of all men by the time they reach their 50’s.
Even though male pattern baldness is more frequent in men who are middle-aged and older, it can happen at any age. Many guys will observe early signs of this condition in their 20’s and 30’s, usually as a receding hairline or a thinning of hair.
If you’re beginning to notice a hairline that’s gradually retreating, or an increasing amount of hair in the drain after a shower, male pattern baldness might be to blame.
Male pattern baldness is also referred to as androgenic alopecia. The primary causes behind male pattern baldness are your genetics and certain androgenic hormones such as testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). (1)
Despite commonly-held beliefs to the contrary, things like wearing a hat or using certain shampoos or hair care products haven’t been shown to increase the likelihood for developing male pattern baldness.
Of course, it’s all-too easy to go into full-blown freak-out mode when you start to notice you’re losing your hair. The good news is that there are quite a few options available that can help you to keep the hair you have, and even regrow the hair you’ve lost.
Symptoms of Male Pattern Baldness
Obviously, the main symptom of male pattern baldness is the actual loss of hair. But hair loss caused by male pattern baldness can happen in a variety of ways, including the thinning hair and receding hairline. (2)
Also, hair loss due to male pattern baldness can happen very gradually. You may not even notice any signs of hair loss for a long period of time, then suddenly one day you notice it staring back at you in your reflection: the tell-tale signs of hair loss.
For most guys, the first sign of hair loss is a receding hairline. Male pattern baldness is the culprit behind the typical “widow’s peak”, or that M-shaped hairline where the corners are receding more than the front of the hairline.
Of course, not all hairlines recede in this exact pattern. Some men experiencing male pattern baldness have hairlines that recede evenly. That said, most guys will see the widow’s peak pattern of hair loss that’s a hallmark of male pattern baldness.
Hair Loss at the Crown
Hair loss at the hairline isn’t the only form of male pattern baldness that men can observe, however. If you’re a prime candidate for male pattern baldness but you don’t notice a receding hairline, you could very well be experiencing a thinning and loss of hair at the back of your head, near your crown.
Since it’s not as easy for guys to spot this type of hair loss in the mirror, it frequently goes unnoticed until it’s at a more advanced stage. The simplest way to check for yourself is by using a handheld mirror, or just take a photo of the back of your head with your cell phone.
General Thinning of Hair
A general thinning of hair, called diffuse hair loss, or diffuse thinning, is a type of hair loss that results in an overall thinning of the entire scalp, without there being any noticeable issues with your hairline or crown.
Even though it occurs less frequently than thinning at the hairline or near the crown, diffuse hair loss typically ends up being due to male pattern baldness. Generally, you can spot this form of hair loss best under bright lighting, or when your hair is wet.
What Causes Male Pattern Baldness?
Male pattern baldness is caused by a genetic sensitivity of the hair follicles to the hormone DHT (dihydrotestosterone). (3)
DHT is a male hormone (aka, androgen) that is produced by the body naturally. DHT is actually a byproduct of testosterone, which means that a portion of the testosterone in the body is regularly converted into DHT.
DHT is crucial for the development of your male characteristics. We’re talking manly things like body hair, a deeper voice, increased body mass, sexual development, and more. Unfortunately, DHT is also the primary cause for male pattern baldness.
DHT causes hair loss by binding to hair follicles in the scalps of genetically predispositioned men. As a result, the hair follicle eventually shrinks, causing hair growth to slow, and ultimately preventing the follicle from producing new hairs.
For those lucky enough, this genetic predisposition to DHT-sensitive hair follicles doesn’t exist, and they experience little, if any, hair loss. On the other hand, some men are born with a high sensitivity to DHT, and can experience hair loss very early on, as early as their early 20’s, or even as a teenager.
Bottom line: The greater the sensitivity of your hair follicles to DHT, the higher the likelihood you’ll experience hair loss.
Factors That Increase Your Risk for Male Pattern Baldness
- Genetics – If you have have a family history of baldness, whether on your mother’s or father’s side, you have a higher probability of experiencing male pattern baldness at one point or another. It’s a common misconception that the “baldness gene” is inherited only from your mother.
- Age – The greater amount of time that your hair is exposed to DHT, the higher the likelihood that you’ll experience hair loss. This is a primary reason why male pattern baldness most commonly occurs in men in their 40’s and beyond.
- Medicines and Treatments – Prescription drugs and medical treatments taken to increase the production of testosterone (and therefore, DHT) can increase the rate and severity of male pattern baldness. If you use testosterone-based medications to treat low testosterone or andropause, this could contribute to faster hair loss.
Hair Loss Treatment and Prevention
Although no one has found a cure for male pattern baldness, there are still many options to choose from to help you address the issue. The important thing to note is that the sooner you start treating your male pattern baldness, the greater your chances for slowing down and preventing further hair loss.
- Prescription Drugs – There are currently two medications that have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of hair loss in men. Minoxidil is a topical treatment that helps to stimulate hair growth, and finasteride is a prescription medication that inhibits DHT production in the body.
- Hair Transplantation – Hair transplant surgery is a surgical procedure where portions of your scalp containing healthy hairs from the back and sides of your head are inserted into other areas of your scalp affected by hair loss. An inconvenient and expensive procedure, hair transplantation is not covered by most insurance companies.
- Scalp Micropigmentation – Scalp micropigmentation, similar to scalp microblading, are classified as “permanent” cosmetic procedures that change the pigmentation of your scalp, making it appear as though you have more hair in thinning areas, such as at the crown. For men who already shave their heads, it can also create a realistic appearance of a full hairline with the look of a couple of days growth. Although it’s referred to as permanent, the pigmentation only lasts for a few years.
- OTC Hair Loss Products – For less invasive treatments, there are some over-the-counter products available that have shown encouraging results in stopping or reversing hair loss, including popular brands like Profollica and Procerin. These types of supplements typically work by blocking DHT production in the body, or in the scalp directly, and/or by supplying nutrients directly to hair follicles. Those using some of these products have reported overall positive results of hair regrowth for men, with most
- Laser Devices – A promising area in the world of hair restoration is laser light technology, which has shown remarkable results for many men. Using laser or LED lights, these devices work by increasing blood flow to the hair follicles and stimulating new growth. Although relatively expensive, these devices are a safe, effective, and non-invasive way to treat hair loss.
Hairpieces – Even though they won’t help to regrow any of your real hair, toupee’s and weaves can deliver really nice results when used for filling out thinning areas and disguising your hair loss.
Other than transplant surgery, none of these treatments are permanent, and require ongoing use. It’s also important to remember that these treatments are most effective when you start to use them at the first signs of hair loss.
Bald Can Be Beautiful
As we have learned, whether or not you develop male pattern baldness comes down mostly to your genetics. Even though there is currently no cure for this type of hair loss, there are many alternatives available that you can choose from to help mitigate the problem.
Of course, if you’re the type of guy who’s not hung up about it, you can just accept it and move on. Plenty of men prefer to shave their heads or keep a close-cropped haircut. If you can wear it like you own it, sporting the bald look can be a great choice.
Mark McIntyre is the founder of MaleHealthReview.com and acts as it’s chief contributor. He is a fitness trainer and avid mountain biker who also enjoys camping, hiking and fishing. Besides managing Male Health Review, Mark is also a guest columnist for several blogs related to men’s health. More about this author…