As a man, realizing you’re beginning to lose your hair can be a very stressful experience. But instead of standing around in front of a mirror trying to come up with clever ways to hide a receding hairline or worrying about how much worse it can get, take action and arm yourself with the information you need to successfully win your battle against hair loss.
After all, our goal is to help you Look Your Best so we’re going to do exactly that in this three part guide. This part (Part 1), will be an introduction to balding, common hair loss myths, and the Norwood Scale so you get a solid foundation of what you’re dealing with. Part 2 will provide an overview of the best treatments available to save your hair and Part 3 will talk about the hairstyles that look best on balding men. (Part 2 and 3 are coming soon!)
Balding doesn’t have to be a death sentence to your attractiveness. A receding hairline doesn’t mean you’ll have to live the rest of your days being “ugly” or “past your prime”. There are ways to help salvage your remaining hair so you can continue to look your best for years to come.
But before we get into specific advice and routines, we’re going to talk a bit about why hair loss happens in the first place. That will help explain how it’s treated and why there’s technically no “cure” for balding.
What Causes Hair Loss?
The proper term for genetic hair loss is male pattern baldness (MPB) or androgenic alopecia. MPB is caused by a combination of genetics and hormones.
Unfortunately, some people just didn’t get a good roll in the genetic dice game and were born with the genes for hair loss. You’re not alone — it’s believed as many as 80% of men younger than age 70 have some form of balding.
If your family tree shows a history of males losing their hair as they age then you should expect it to happen to you at some point (if it hasn’t already). That being said, it’s a myth that balding on your maternal side is a good predictor of your own future. While it’s true that the MPB gene is passed on the X chromosome (the female one), whether or not your father experienced hair loss is actually a much better predictor that you’ll be dealing with MPB yourself at some point in your life.
As for the hormonal side of things, there is evidence that men with higher levels of the hormone DHT are more likely to go bald than men with lower DHT levels. A small percentage of the testosterone your body produces each day gets converted into DHT which plays a role in maintaining your prostate health but unfortunately also shrinks sensitive hair follicles eventually causing them to thin out.
As you’ll see in Part 2, many of the treatments used for hair loss are also used to treat enlarged prostates. This is because most medical treatments block the conversion of testosterone to DHT for both issues.
Male pattern baldness, is determined then more accurately by how vulnerable your hair follicles are to androgenic hormones (DHT). By slowing down the conversion of testosterone to DHT we slow down or completely stop your hair loss.
More recent research also suggests that balding men have higher levels of a protein called prostaglandin D2 on their scalps compared to men not experiencing any hair loss. This protein is thought to block the growth of hair follicles and as it is further studied new treatments (alongside the ones we talk about in Part 2) can be developed which specifically target the protein to prevent hair loss *fingers crossed*.
Common Balding Myths
Now let’s dispel some of the more popular myths surrounding MPB so you can quit worrying about the things that will make no difference.
Wearing a Hat: Ever see someone balding with a hat? It’s a pretty common sight (although it does suggest a hint of insecurity doesn’t it?) There are also people out there who are afraid of wearing hats because they heard doing so will make you lose more hair, or “accelerate” the process.
Sleep safe knowing that wearing a hat has absolutely NO effect on hair loss. There is no evidence that shows or study that has found wearing hats makes you more likely to bald. How this one got started — we don’t even know.
Using Hair Styling Products: The ingredients used in hair products like sprays or gels will NOT affect your hair in any serious matter. Everyday hair products are “neutral” – they won’t help or hurt your hair loss. Using specialty hair products designed for hair loss are a completely different story — some work, some don’t as you’ll learn in Part 2 of this series.
Shampoo: Whether you decide to shampoo your hair or completely skip out, neither choice will have any impact on your hair loss. Shampooing your hair too often won’t have an effect either, unless the friction created by you rubbing it into your hair is enough to cause the follicles to fall off — in that case just go easy on your scalp.
The ingredients used in most everyday shampoos will not have any kind of effect. That being said, there are SOME shampoos specifically designed for thinning hair which can either re-grow or prevent further hair loss. We talk about those more in Part 2.
Tanning: UV rays age our skin and are even bad for our teeth but there isn’t any evidence that they activate the balding process or contribute to hair loss. Seriously, don’t stress over getting some sun — your hair will be fine.
Stress?: If you’ve ever used the phrase ”makes me want to pull my hair out” it isn’t that much of a stretch to conclude that stress correlates with hair loss. The good news is that regular everyday stress – the type you get when you’re yelling at drivers in traffic or are late to a meeting — has no effect on the hair loss that’s associated with male pattern baldness.
That type of hair loss is called “telogen effuvium” and there isn’t any evidence that psychological stress leads to increased rates of balding in men with alopecia. That being said, you don’t want that other kind of hair loss anyways so do yourself a favor and relax. Besides, stress makes you less attractive in more ways than one (link).
The Stages of Hair Loss
Male pattern baldness is a process that follows through a predictable series of stages in all men thanks to its genetic and hormonal causes we talked about above. These stages are shown in the Hamilton-Norwood scale, below:
The Norwood scale is used by physicians as a classification tool to asses how much your hair loss has progressed.
Stage 1: No visible hair loss has occurred.
Stage 2: The hairline has slightly receded which often forms a widow’s peak. This is the “mature” or “adult” hairline. Most men will reach this stage at some point in their life. While it doesn’t always warrant treatment, you MUST monitor to see if it progresses.
Stage 3: A noticeable recession of the hairline, and/or the beginning of thinning at the crown (also called the vertex). If you’re at this stage then you can safely conclude it’s MPB. The sooner you act, the sooner you can prevent any further hair loss.
Stage 4: Noticeable hair loss at the crown. Everyone interested in keeping their hair NEEDS to be using hair loss treatments by this point
Stage 5: The separation between the hairline and the crown diminishes.
Stage 6: The signature horseshoe, U-shape takes form.
Stage 7: Only a little hair remains at the sides, and none at the top.
Understanding what Norwood stage you’re currently at will help you make better choices when it comes to choosing a hairstyle. We talk about which hairstyles work best with each stage in the third part of this hair loss series.
An important thing to remember is that not everyone reaches the 7th stage of the Norwood scale. Many people will begin balding, stop at a stage indefinitely and then continue losing hair again after some time.
The lower you are on the scale, the better chance you have of salvaging your hair entirely. Norwood stages 3 and 4 have the most to gain, whereas results for stages 5 and onwards while not impossible, will be much harder to come by.
This is why if you notice you’re beginning to lose your hair, do something about it! You really can’t afford to just sit back and wait hoping one day it’ll stop as you lose more and more strands of hair each day. Unless you’re fine with your balding but then you wouldn’t be reading this guide would you?
Check soon for Part 2 where we’ll talk about the different treatments for balding and which are most effective.