Losing hair is a completely natural and normal part of life, in fact, we shed 50-100 hairs per day on average without even noticing, but what happens when your hair loss becomes obvious?
Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, is the most common form of hair loss in men, affecting around 50% of males over the age of 50. Whilst most think it’s a purely cosmetic issue, it can affect the confidence and self-esteem of many men, especially if the balding process early. Male pattern baldness is characterised by a receding hairline as well as thinning hair on the top of the head surrounding the crown. It’s a gradual process which can take several years to be noticeable, but almost always takes this kind of pattern.
Many people associate receding or thinning hair with ageing, but for some, hair loss can actually start as early as teenage years. It’s an incredibly common condition, and many celebrities have experienced it, perhaps most notably Prince William. But what exactly causes men to lose their hair, and can it be avoided?
Credit: Frankie Fouganthin
Hair loss causes
With hair loss, it can be fairly easy to determine whether there’s an underlying cause that needs to be addressed, or whether it’s just part of the ageing process (yes, even if you’re only in your 20s).
With male pattern baldness, simply growing older can cause you to lose your locks. Hair loss is most common in middle-aged men, affecting around half of the men over the age of 50. Androgenetic alopecia is also known to affect Caucasian males more than other ethnic groups, but this doesn’t mean that everyone else is immune to it (or that you’ll experience it if you’re Caucasian). However, this doesn’t explain the young men that notice receding hairlines and thinning hair in their late teens or early twenties. Whilst you might be far away from retirement age, genetics can determine whether you’ll experience male pattern baldness, and even what age it might start at.
A common misconception is that you inherit the “bald gene” from your mother, but modern research has shown that it can be passed down from either side of your family. Unfortunately, this means that even if your maternal grandfather has a full head of hair at the age of 85, you could still inherit male pattern hair loss from your dad’s side.
With male pattern baldness, hormones are usually involved. The most common reason for hair loss ins linked male sex hormones known as androgens. This is where androgenetic alopecia gets its name. One of these hormones is DHT or dihydrotestosterone, and when levels of DHT are high, it affects the hair follicles, causing them to narrow. In turn, this causes the hairs in the affected area/s to become shorter and thinner, creating the appearance of baldness.
Despite the fact that it can be alarming to see your hairline creeping further up your head, this type of hair loss is completely normal and isn’t usually a cause for concern, so you shouldn’t need to visit your doctor unless you’re wanting to reduce the appearance of thinning hair.
However, if your hair loss is patchy, sudden, or you notice irritation or swelling on your scalp, these can be warning signs for other conditions and you should make an appointment with your GP to find out what’s causing your symptoms. Some medicines and illnesses can cause you to lose your hair prematurely, especially if it doesn’t start at the temples or the crown. Some conditions that might cause balding or hair loss include:
- Thyroid disease
- Protein deficiency
- Secondary syphilis
- Low vitamin levels
- Iron deficiency
- Weight loss
If you think your hair loss could be due to an illness, treatment, or condition, you should visit your doctor to discuss your symptoms.
The good news about hair loss caused by illness is that a majority of the time, it’s only temporary, and will grow back once you’re better or the condition has been treated. However, the same can’t be said for male pattern baldness, so how can you make your hair grow back?
Hair loss treatment
If you’re struggling to come to terms with male pattern baldness and you want your hair back to how it was a few years ago, there are medicines available that can help. Whilst it isn’t an overnight process, many men that use prescription treatments to coax their hair back out find that the results are well worth the wait. So what’s available for you?
At the moment, there are two medicines that are licenced for treating male pattern baldness, and both are available online.
Firstly, there’s Finasteride; a drug that’s traditionally used to shrink an enlarged prostate. In 1mg daily doses, finasteride has been proven to encourage hair growth, and current studies show that it’s safe to take on a long-term basis.
Finasteride is a DHT blocker. Remember the hormone that we mentioned earlier that’s responsible for male pattern baldness? Finasteride can stop the action if it and actually reverse the balding process. When levels of DHT drop (or are blocked by medicines such as finasteride), the hair follicles are allowed to open up again, and you should notice your hair starting to grow back within 9 months.
Finasteride is an incredibly effective hair loss treatment, but it isn’t suitable for everybody, especially those that are already taking similar medicines to treat an enlarged prostate. To read more about finasteride and to find out if it’s a treatment option for you, please click here.
Secondly, there’s minoxidil – a topical treatment that comes in the form of Regaine for Men. Regaine is a medicated foam that’s applied directly to the scalp twice a day, and you might be able to see results in as little as 8 weeks. However, this also isn’t suitable for everyone, and you might need to visit your doctor for advice on whether it’s safe for you to use.
Regaine for Men, or minoxidil, works by increasing the blood flow to the areas that it's applied to, encouraging hair growth. It isn't currently recommended to use two treatments at the same time, so before you buy finasteride or Regaine for Men, you should do your research to see which one is most appropriate for you to use.
For more hair growth products, including branded treatments and alternatives to finasteride, please visit our hair loss page to read more about the condition and medicines that may be available.
Unfortunately, no hair growth product will cure male pattern baldness, but they can certainly help to reduce the appearance of thinning hair whilst you're using them. If you ever stop using hair loss treatments such as finasteride or Regaine for Men, your hair will start to thin again and any hair that's grown due to the medication will fall out the same as when you started balding.