Hair loss is something most men would prefer to avoid, but if it’s happening to you, you’re far from alone. It’s estimated that around two out of three men will experience some hair loss by the age of 35. The most common type of hair loss, male pattern baldness, affects around seven million men in the UK — that’s equivalent to one in two men.
So what should you know about hair loss?
Family history is the biggest risk factor for hair loss, but hormonal changes, stress, medication and viral infections can also lead to hair loss.
In some cases, you can curb your hair loss with lifestyle changes or treatments, but if you’re losing your hair for genetic reasons, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to stop it from happening.
If your hair loss is caused by stress, medication (such as chemotherapy) or certain medical conditions, it is often temporary and your hair will grow back.
Alopecia areata (a condition that makes your hair fall out in circular patches) and alopecia totalis (a condition that makes your hair fall out all over your head) are two such conditions that cause temporary hair loss. These are both autoimmune conditions — where your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue — that damage your hair follicles (structures that control hair growth).
Stress can also cause temporary hair loss. This is because a stressful event or emotional shock can cause hair follicles to loosen their grip on the individual hairs they hold. You may therefore notice your hair falling out when you wash or comb it.
Male pattern baldness is the most common type of hair loss. It is usually down to genetics and is associated with androgens (a male sex hormone). Androgens regulate hair growth and in male pattern baldness, they cause your hair follicles to shrink as you age. This means you grow shorter and thinner hairs and eventually, your hair growth stops completely.
Male pattern baldness typically starts when you’re in your twenties or thirties and progresses gradually over time. It usually takes 15-25 years to go completely bald.
If you have male pattern baldness, the way you lose your hair, as the name suggests, usually follows a specific pattern.
It starts with a receding hairline at the front of your head, creating an ‘M’ shape to your hairline, as well as thinning hair on the top of your head around your crown.
The areas affected by the thinning will gradually grow until the two meet, leaving a horseshoe shape of hair around the sides and back of your head.
You can’t stop male pattern baldness if you belong to the 50% of men whose genetics predispose them to it. However, you might be able to slow it down. Studies show that smoking can accelerate the rate at which you lose your hair, so quitting means you can enjoy a full head of hair for longer.
Some medications can slow down hair loss too. Minoxidil lotion stimulates your hair follicles to grow more hair. It takes between four months and one year to have any effect, and your hair loss is likely to come back once you stop taking it.
Minoxidil lotion can also cause side effects, including:
Finasteride is another medication that can slow male pattern baldness. It’s taken as a tablet and it works by reducing the production of androgens in your body. Finasteride is considered more effective than minoxidil lotion, though hair loss will come back once you stop taking it and it also takes several months to have an effect.
Side effects of finasteride are uncommon, but in some cases, it can cause itching, swelling and other symptoms such as:
Regularly pulling or tugging at your hair can cause a condition called traction alopecia, where the hair shaft becomes loose in the hair follicle. The hair follicle eventually gets damaged and stops being able to grow new hair.
Traction alopecia can be reversed if it’s caught early and you take steps to avoid it. However, if you don’t take more care with your hair it can become permanent. To avoid developing traction alopecia, don’t wear your hair in an excessively tight bun or ponytail or in braids.
Many men feel anxious about hair loss and can suffer from depression or low self-esteem as a result. Remember that you’re not alone in losing your hair and that it will happen to half of all men.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.
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Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager
Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.
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Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.
Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing
Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.