If you're one of the 25 per cent of men who start going bald by the time they are thirty years old, things can seem pretty hopeless. However, if your hair is ending up in the plug hole each morning, it may not be as bad as you think.
10 things you need to know about male hair loss
Did you know that hair loss isn't the same as going bald? To help sort fact from fiction we've collated a list of the ten things you need to know about losing your hair.
1. How can I tell if I'm going to go bald?
This isn’t as silly a question as it sounds. Losing your hair isn’t the same as going bald. Male pattern baldness is a genetic condition whereas hair loss per se can be caused by a variety of factors.
If you are losing patches of hair in an apparently random manner you may have alopecia, a condition where a person (male or female) loses patches of hair from parts of their body. In extreme cases this may affect all of the hair on the body. Alopecia is thought to have hereditary and autoimmune factors (where the body mistakenly attacks itself). It is not the same as male pattern baldness.
If your hair loss occurs in a more regular receding pattern, usually from the temples and crown of the head, then it is more likely you have male pattern baldness. But remember – most men go bald. It’s nothing to be afraid of or embarrassed about.
2. How quickly will I lose my hair?
Male hair loss starts at some point in the twenties, but it typically takes 15-25 years to go bald. Half of fifty year olds are quite bald.
However, some men go bald in less than five years. It is almost impossible to put a finger on how long the process will take.
3. Why am I losing my hair? Is it genetic?
If you have male pattern baldness, you are losing your hair because your body is becoming increasingly sensitive to male sex hormones called androgens. The extent to which your scalp is affected by this process is hereditary.
You can also lose your hair because of illness or surgical procedures, stressful circumstances, changes in hormone levels and scalp infections. But in many cases hair loss is not permanent.
4. Is baldness caused by emotional stress or sexual frustration?
Some hair loss is associated with stress although male pattern baldness is a genetic condition found in many men. If you find your hair is falling out in clumps or at unpredictable times, it is most likely to be the symptom of something else. This could be stress related but is unlikely to be caused by sexual frustration. The best thing to do is to see your GP for a check up.
5. Is there anything I can do to stop my hair from falling out naturally?
Everyone loses hair naturally and it is normal for hair to thin somewhat when you get older. But the truth is that male pattern hair loss is a genetic condition that cannot be stopped entirely.
There is a condition called Traction Alopecia, which is caused by constant pulling or tension of your hairs over a long period. You don’t have to be dragged around the floor by your head to suffer from this either – if you often wear tight braids, particularly cornrows, or tight ponytails, you are more likely to get Traction Alopecia. So try not to pull your hair tight excessively. Some experts also recommend exercise as a good way to maintain a healthy head of hair.
6. How can I treat it?
Baldness is a natural process. Firstly you need to ask yourself whether you really want to ‘treat’ it or if you can find a way to accept it rather than try to camouflage bald spots or regain your hair completely.
If you do want treatment, there are two drugs that can help.
Minoxidil lotion (Regaine regular strength or Regaine extra strength) is applied twice daily to the scalp. Not available on NHS prescription, but can be purchased over-the-counter. About 60 per cent of patients benefit from it to varying degrees. Its effects start to wear off as soon as it is stopped.
Finasteride (Propecia) is a medicine taken in tablet form that partially blocks the effects of the male hormones (an 'anti-androgen'). Propecia has been shown to halt further hair loss and promote re-growth of scalp hair in approximately 80 per cent of patients after three to six months. The treatment benefits also stop when you stop taking the medication. Only available on prescription and is available on some NHS primary care trust lists for certain conditions.
You might also consider cosmetic surgery, which is a reliable way to replace lost hair. Methods include transplants, scalp reductions and flap surgery – although all are expensive long-term solutions.
7. What will happen if I treat my hair loss? What are the possible side effects?
Minoxidil lotion: Common side effects are scalp and skin irritation. More rarely it can cause changes in hair colour and texture.
Finasteride: Noticeable side effects are uncommon, but sometimes the medicine can cause a rash, and a small proportion of users may experience reduced libido, erection problems or breast and/or nipple tenderness.
8. Will stress make me go bald quicker?
Stress can cause hair loss but hair loss caused by stress is rarely permanent. Whether stress speeds up the process of hereditary baldness is unknown.
There is a form of hair loss that can be caused by severe stress called telogen effluvium, which interrupts the growth cycle of your hair follicles causing hair to shed. But in the long term this process should correct itself.
9. Will I suffer any psychological problems as a result of going/being bald?
Some men have a genuine fear of going bald and it can cause high stress levels, low self-esteem, reduced sex drive and even depression. But if you understand the causes and accept them you are much more likely to conquer these fears. Most men feel a momentary loss of confidence when they realise they are losing hair but this is often overcome quickly. The only way to ensure you won’t suffer psychological problems is to face up to the realities of baldness and either accept it or seek treatment that works for you.
10. Will the rest of my hair fall out (e.g. eyebrows, eye lashes)?
No. Only scalp hairs are affected by male pattern baldness. Other areas such as the beard or armpits might be affected by alopecia.