A No-Nonsense Guide Explaining Why Men Lose Their Hair
There I was, just fresh out of college on a cross-country trip to San Francisco, CA – Lombard Street (the curvy one).
But the first thing I don’t notice about this picture isn’t the 30+ lbs that I was carrying around with me, no, it is my fast receding hairline.
If you regularly visit Tools of Men, you know that I don’t shy away about my follicle free head.
But to get where I am today (confident in my hairline), took an immense amount of courage that I never knew I had in me.
There is no way to sugar coat it – balding sucks.
I started losing my hair before I could drink (seriously – I was 20).
While I regularly made trips to the local store to buy minoxidil-infused products, I knew that a thinner hair line was in my future…
…and fast approaching.
If you want to know more about that journey and how to shave your head, then you should check out this article.
However, to not veer too off track, the purpose today is to talk about the Why
Why did I lose my hair?
Why doesn’t other hair just fall out as well?
Why do other men get too keep their hair their entire life?
To answer the Why, I wanted to put together this comprehensive article that tackles all they common questions men may be wondering about their hair line.
Common Terms To Represent the Same Thing
First things first, balding is a beast known by many different names. Whether you say your hair is thinning or balding, same difference.
In the science and medical world, baldness is often known as Alopecia or Male Pattern Hair Loss (MPHL). Both of these terms encompass what it means to bald.
Hair loss is when you lose the hair in certain parts of your head or body. It does not cause any scarring or redness.
It may be due your genes or hormones, which we’ll talk about later.
Before I move on, it should be noted, however, that balding is extremely common. It affects around 80% of men and is a natural process many men are bound to go through.
Hair Growth Phases
To understand hair loss, you first have to understand how hair grows. Each hair follicle on your scalp is independent.
The hair follicles on your scalp and body all go through the same hair growth phases.
So what are these phases?
The three phases are anagen, catagen, and telogen.
What do these words and phases even mean?
Anagen is the first phase your hair follicle goes through. This is the active stage.
When you are growing out your hair, the follicle is in the anagen phase. The anagen phase can last as little as 2 years or as long as 8 years. This is all determined by your genes. This is why some people are able to grow their hair very long while others can’t seem to grow it past their shoulders.
When the anagen phase is finished, your hair stops growing. It enters into a short transition period…
The catagen phase. During the catagen phase, your hair gets turned into what is called a club hair. A club hair gets cut off from your blood supply to stop its growth.
Once the hair has been cut off from your blood supply, it enters the telogen phase. This final phase of the hair follicle, the telogen phase, can last around three months.
At this point, the hair follicle is a club hair and it is completely dead. You lose hair in the telogen phase daily. It’s actually completely normal and healthy to lose around 100 club hairs that are in the telogen phase a day.
Your hair follicles then repeat the process a few months later and start over in anagen.
Because each hair follicle is independent, you do not lose all of your hair at once. Your scalp is constantly going through all three phases of hair growth without you realizing it.
When you start to bald, your hair growth is interrupted. As you age, more of your hair follicles remain in the telogen phase longer.
They stay in this rest period causing your hair to fall out. When the hair follicles cycle back into the anagen phase, they stay in it shorter. This then leads to thinner and shorter hair.
Later on, I’ll talk more about why baldness happens and what it may do to your hair follicles. But for now… what are common ways to bald?
Common Hair Loss Patterns Found in Men
One of the most common hair loss patterns is starting to bald from your temples. This is when you start losing the hair at your hair line first. It can create an “M” shape out of your hairline.
Many men experience this pattern hair loss. This hair loss can be gradual but will start to show a receding hair line.
Another common hair loss pattern is losing hair from the crown of your head. That swirly part of your hair on the back of the head is where this type of balding starts. It may start off as more gradual or it can make your hair loss circular. You may have just a patch gone or all of the hair on the top of your head can eventually be lost.
Or, if none of these patterns describe your hair loss, you may have general thinning on the top of your head.
Causes of Balding
Many men’s hair loss can be chalked up to their genes. In fact, 80% of individuals who are balding can attribute their balding to their genes. Balding can be attributed to multiple genes.
While there is a gene on your X chromosome that helps predict balding, there are also genes on your autosomes that contribute to balding.
You may have heard people say that you take after your mother’s father’s hair patterns. This is because you receive your X chromosome from your mother.
Baldness that is attributed to your X chromosome is often due to your androgen receptors. Androgen receptors are a protein your genes code for. Your body uses your androgen receptors to activate certain genes on your X chromosome.
Androgen receptors take hormones like testosterone and DHT (which we will talk about here in a minute) and use them to activate genes.
It’s a little scientific and confusing but the basis of it is: research has shown that men who are balding have a different version of androgen receptors than non-balding men. In addition to the different version, men who bald also have much more androgen receptors.
Because androgen receptors work with the X chromosome, that is how scientists found out that some balding can be attributed to your mother’s side of the family.
Maybe you look at your maternal grandfather and see the same hairline. Or maybe you look at him and say, “He had a full head of hair until he died! I’m balding in my twenties!”
Well, that’s because while you indeed get your hair gene from the X chromosome (which came from your mom), there are other genes that affect hair loss as well. Research has found that much of balding can be attributed to your autosomes.
Autosomes are chromosomes that are not part of your XY sex chromosomes. You get your autosomes randomly from your parents.
So while your grandfather may have had a full head of hair, maybe your dad does not and you got your autosomes from his side. With autosomes, you only need one copy of the gene for it to affect you. Because autosomes are randomly given at the time of conception, this could explain why some people do not follow their maternal family’s hair loss.
Male pattern hair loss is something that is consistently being studied. We do know that genetic factors play a large role in balding whether it be from your X chromosome and androgen receptors or if it is from your autosomes.
But what if no one in your family is bald? What if you find yourself balding and it’s not a regular occurrence in your genetics?
Balding can also be attributed to hormonal imbalances. These hormonal imbalances can be blamed on two different hormones: testosterone and dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
What is DHT (Dihydrotestosterone) And Why You Should Care
DHT is needed to give you your biological male characteristics like a deep voice and increased muscle mass. DHT is five times stronger than testosterone.
While you have a lot of testosterone in your body, only 5% of it is converted into DHT. DHT is classified as a sex hormone because it is produced within the gonads. While DHT is not inherently bad, it is balding’s best friend.
DHT is actually needed to keep your body hair. The hair on your chest, armpits, and everywhere else on your body needs DHT to grow. But on the flip side…
DHT is your scalp hairs’ enemy. DHT attaches to the hair follicles on your head and makes them shrink down. When these hair follicles shrink down, they stay in the telogen phase longer and the anagen phase becomes so short that soon your hair will not even grow beyond your skin.
Research does not yet know exactly why some people respond to DHT stronger than others. There have been hypotheses on this such as, an individual may have more DHT receptors, more DHT production, or more androgen receptors in the body.
There are some medications for balding caused by DHT. These medications attack the 5-AR which is the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone into DHT. When someone has too much 5-AR, they may find themselves with an excess of DHT and balding.
Medications inhibit production of 5-AR and limit the amount of testosterone that is turned into DHT. While not a quick fix, these medications may help reduce the rate of hair loss, I’ll talk more about hair loss options later.
Truly Going Bald or Patchiness?
There are some instances where you may lose hair but you are not actually going bald. These are behavioral issues that once stopped, hair will resume its normal growth pattern.
One of these reasons for patchiness can be combing your hair too often or too hard.
When you brush through your hair with a comb, it causes stress on the hair follicle. While healthy hair follicles can handle being brushed every day, when the brushing is aggressive or rough, it starts to pull on the follicle.
You can end up damaging your hair follicle and the hair will fall out before it is ready to. It strips away your hair cuticles and causes your hair to be unprotected.
If you find yourself often brushing your hair or brushing through it rough, stop it. Get a brush with soft bristles that are easy on your scalp. Once you are gentle on your scalp, you’ll find your hair growth resumes.
If you are constantly running your hands through your hair, this can result in hair loss as well. By pulling on your hair, your hair believes it should grow closer to the scalps surface. This causes your hair to shorten the follicle length making it easier to pull out.
Also, our hands are not always clean. If you are running your hands through your hair that may have dirt or other substances on them, it can cause the follicles to get blocked from dirty pores and stop your normal hair growth.
While we men often don’t like to fuss with hair care products, what shampoo we use can greatly affect our hair health. If you grab the cheapest shampoo available, you are putting unnecessary chemicals in your hair. These shampoos are harsh on your hair cuticle and strip the hair of its natural protective oils. This will cause breakage in your hair and will weaken the follicle.
There are a lot of guys guilty of this next one… roughly rubbing the towel against your head when you get out of the shower.
Do you think this is good for your scalp? No!
That towel may dry your hair but it is also rubbing each hair follicle in the opposite direction. You are creating a recipe for disaster for your follicle health.
Rough rubbing with a towel when your hair is wet can rip out tangled strands and cause breakage. If you find patchiness all over your head or in your favorite spots to scrub, learn to be gentle with your scalp!
Lots of other things you do to your hair can affect the hair health and cause patchiness.
Are you using any heat on your hair like a blow dryer? What sorts of products are you using to style your hair?
Maybe you do a weekly hair treatment or you obsessively cut it. If you think your baldness is caused by a behavior, be gentle. Check all of your hair care products and then be soft with your scalp so you are not creating more breakage.
How Men Try To Buck The Hair Loss Trend
As time continues, more and more treatment options are available.
Maybe the most well-known treatment is minoxidil, which is the active ingredient in Rogaine. Minoxidil can be prescribed or purchased over the counter. It works best for balding that starts at the crown of the head.
It is a successful treatment option for some men but needs to be used consistently for progress to happen. How it works is minoxidil widens your blood vessels and opens potassium channels which allow more nutrients to be given to your hair follicles. This allows hairs in the anagen phase to grow thicker and longer allowing for less hair loss all over.
Another medication treatment is finasteride. Finasteride slows hair loss and can improve hair growth by about 30%. This medication only works as long as you continue to take it. How it works is it stops the 5-AR from making testosterone into DHT. It reduces DHT by about 70% which allows your scalp to keep its follicle size.
If you are looking for non-medication treatments, you may look at getting a hair transplant. While one of the costliest methods, hair transplants can look very natural and are a quicker fix than taking medication the rest of your life.
Hair transplants are a surgical process that takes hair from a part of your scalp that has successful hair growth. This donor site will only leave a small scar that will remain covered by your hair growth. These hair follicles are then inserted into the balding areas of your scalp. This is natural looking because it’s your own hair that continues to grow.
Active Forums for Anyone in Their Balding Journey
The most important thing to remember is you are not alone!
Whether you decide to try to regrow your hair or shave it all off like bad asses Vin Diesel and The Rock, there are plenty of other guys in your exact shoes.
If you want advice, need someone to talk to, or to just feel like balding isn’t the end of the world, there are multiple online forums with people you can talk to. Check out Tressless, Sly Bald Guys, and Bald Truth Talk.