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Male-pattern baldness

4-minute read

What is male-pattern baldness?

Male-pattern baldness is the most common type of hair loss that affects all men to some degree as they get older. For a few men, this process starts as early as the late teens. By the age of 50, half of men have some degree of hair loss.

Some men aren't troubled by this. Others, however, suffer great emotional distress associated with a lack of self-esteem and, in some cases, depression.

What causes male-pattern baldness?

Male-pattern baldness is usually inherited and can affect men and women. It is caused when hair follicles are oversensitive to the male hormone, testosterone. This causes the hair to become thinner and shorter.

The involvement of testosterone in balding has led to the myth that going bald is a sign of virility. But men with male-pattern baldness don't have more male hormones than other men. Their hair follicles are simply more sensitive to the hormones.

What are the symptoms of male-pattern baldness?

Male-pattern baldness is so called because it tends to follow a set pattern. The first stage is usually a receding hairline, followed by thinning of the hair on the crown and temples.

When these 2 areas meet in the middle, it leaves a horseshoe shape of hair around the back and sides of the head. Eventually, some men go completely bald.

How is male-pattern baldness diagnosed?

Male-pattern baldness is not a disease, so it won't affect your health. However, if it's causing you distress, consult your doctor to get a diagnosis.

They can diagnose male-pattern baldness by examining you.

How is male-pattern baldness treated?

There is no cure for male-pattern baldness, but treatments can slow down the process.

Your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist. The 2 most effective treatments are medicines called minoxidil and finasteride. Minoxidil also comes as a lotion that can be rubbed into the scalp.

Other treatments for hair loss include wigs, hair transplants and plastic surgery procedures, such as scalp reduction.

Note that there is not enough evidence that some treatments work, including laser, plasma injections, hair tonics or nutritional supplements.

Living with male-pattern baldness

You can wear caps or hats to protect your head from the sun. Synthetic keratin hair fibres (spray on hair) can camouflage thinning hair in some men.

Most men accept male-pattern baldness as a part of ageing and don’t have treatment. If you are very upset by losing your hair, your doctor may refer you to a counsellor.

Can male-pattern baldness be prevented?

If you have inherited the genes responsible for male-pattern baldness, there's little you can do to prevent it from happening.

However, you can improve the health of your hair follicles by:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • avoiding shampoos containing harsh chemicals (choose organic shampoos)
  • eating more calcium for healthy hair

As a general rule, it's easier to maintain existing hair than to regrow it, and once the hair follicle has stopped working it cannot be revived. So, if you have male-pattern baldness and it concerns you enough to consider treatment, the sooner you seek treatment, the better

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Last reviewed: October 2020

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