One of the best parts about our halcyon days as children is that we don’t have to worry about hair loss. Of course, there are a million other benefits that come before that, but the fact that two-thirds of men in America will face some degree of balding before they turn 35—25% of which will experience male pattern baldness before they’re old enough to drink—sees a growing number of men looking to face the problem head-on.
When it comes to men’s hair loss, there seem to be two different camps. There’s the guy who takes it in stride—after all, it’s the age of body positivity and aging gracefully. No muss, no fuss, they rock their shiny heads with pride and live happily ever after. Then there’s the guy who sees his thinning hair and receding hairline as a burden that dulls his self-esteem and affects his social life.
To both guys, if you’re listening: it’s not your fault. The majority of hair loss stems from your genes, meaning you don’t really get much of a say in the matter. The good news is, there’s plenty you can do about it. That is, if you choose to.
Why do men go bald? It’s a question we hear all too frequently here at Byrdie Boy, so let’s take a proper exploration into the reasons men go bald, what we can do about it, and how we can prevent it. To get our facts straight, we consulted Board-certified physician Azza Halim, M.D. and the team par excellence of all things hair loss, the trichologists at Philip Kingsley, and asked the age-old question: Why do men go bald?
Keep reading to see what they had to say.
Meet the Expert
Why do men go bald?
For the most part, it’s genetic, although the specifics are still kind of hazy. Some sources say it comes from your mother’s side, some say your father’s, and some say it skips a generation. What we do know is that while the so-called “baldness gene” may be on the X chromosome (the one given to us by our mothers), there are a variety of other elements at work here.
But what actually causes the hair to fall out can be traced back to three main culprits:
Male Pattern Hair Loss
What it is: Also known by its clinical name of Androgenic Alopecia, Halim explains that this common type of hair loss affects nearly 50% of men after the age of 35. However, the team of trichologists at Philip Kingsley say it could kick in at any age from puberty. They also say it’s not as simple as losing your hair. “If you have male pattern hair loss, this does not mean that your hair is falling out. Rather, it means that your individual hairs are growing back thinner and shorter over several years, through many progressive hair growth cycles.” The reason: a sensitivity in your hair follicles to male hormones called androgens—specifically one called DHT (dihydrotestosterone).
When it hits: “If you have inherited follicle sensitivity, it will be triggered at some point after puberty (which is when your body starts to produce testosterone). From then on, your hair follicles will gradually miniaturize and grow back thinner over the years, reducing the volume and length of your hair and making your scalp more visible. Eventually, hair follicles can become so small that they stop producing hair altogether,” the trichologists say.
What you can do about it: Both the team of trichologists and Halim agree that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating male pattern hair loss. “In order to formulate the best treatment options for each individual, we must first assess the root cause as well as the type of hair loss,” Halim says. She lists various treatment options, from balancing hormones to stave off the further loss and thinning to popular, topical medications (both over-the-counter and prescription-only) such as Minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine) as well as oral medications like Finasteride (the active ingredient in Propecia), all the way up to platelet-rich plasma therapy and hair transplant/FUE grafts.
Your best bet is to see a doctor or trichologist—pronto. “The goal,” Halim explains, “is to diagnose the situation in the early stages to minimize loss, thinning, breakage, and stimulate dormant follicles.” If you end up having run-of-the-mill androgenic alopecia, you’ll most likely find results by sticking to a daily hair care routine that includes anti-androgenic scalp treatments, shampoos, and creams, in order to slow its progression.
What it is: This type of men’s hair loss occurs as the result of a stressful occurrence within the body, whether caused by physical or mental trauma, stress, or certain types of medication. Basically, the hair’s growth phase (anagen) is cut short by said disturbance, resulting in an abnormal amount of hairs shifting to the shedding phase (telogen), causing excessive daily hair fall. How much is excessive? “On average, it’s normal to lose up to 100 hairs per day, provided they are growing back,” say the trichologists. “However, telogen effluvium can result in as many as 300 hairs being shed in a 24-hour period.”
They explain that telogen effluvium might not be as permanent as typical male pattern hair loss, and its severity and impact correlate to the extremity of whatever’s causing it.
When it hits: If you suddenly find yourself with a handful of hair, the trichologists recommend thinking back two to three months for a potential cause, as hair loss caused by telogen effluvium typically occurs six-to-twelve weeks after the event that may have triggered it.
What you can do about it: Even if you’re certain you know what caused your hair to shed, if you think you’re dealing with telogen effluvium, the trichologists say a visit to either your doctor or a trichologist is still your best option. There you can be tested for other factors that can affect hair growth, from nutritional deficiencies (which we’ll get into in a minute) to thyroid function to scalp health, and formulate a plan to deal with it.
There are a few lifestyle factors that some studies suggest could help explain why do men go bald.
Nutritional deficiencies: Halim explains that in certain people, a lack of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, B6, B12, and E, minerals including zinc, and other trace minerals can have adverse effects on hair growth and regrowth.
What you can do about it: She recommends sticking to a diet rich in lean proteins as well as plenty of nuts, seeds, and healthy fats (all rich in omega-3s) to provide your hair with the nutrients it needs to stay soft and healthy. She also points out that exercise is essential to improve overall circulation and deliver oxygen and nutrients to your hair.
Smoking: “Just as smoking has adverse effects on your overall health, lungs, heart, and circulation, it can also affect hair by decreasing the perfusion of oxygen to hair follicles as well as vital nutrients, along with inflammation of the hair follicles,” Halim says.
What you can do about it: Quit smoking.
Underlying health conditions: Thyroid dysfunction, hormone imbalances, various prescription medications, autoimmune disorders, and diabetes can all play a part in hair loss. Halim says that any chronic condition that triggers inflammation or impacts the delivery of vital nutrients and oxygen to our vital organs—scalp and hair follicles included—can result in hair thinning and/or loss, as it prolongs the resting (telogen) phase of the hair cycle.
What you can do about it: Consulting with a doctor or trichologist will invariably involve a blood test which can help diagnose many of the conditions we’ve just listed. From there, you can develop a healthier lifestyle that includes a diet designed to reduce inflammation and other necessary changes.
Is it preventable?
Even though we now know enough to teach a course on why men go bald practically, there’s still that sneaking question about whether or not it’s preventable. Halim sheds some light on that. “To properly answer that question, we need to evaluate all the above factors mentioned. For example, nutritional deficiencies are absolutely preventable. In contrast, the hereditary/genetic component is not. Still, if we know this as part of one's history, we may be able to address treatment options better early on to minimize loss or thinning.”
At the end of the day, don’t get down on yourself for your hair loss. Not only is it not your fault, but it’s also not a bad thing. There are tons of badass guys rocking bald heads, and they’re doing just fine, from Bruce Willis to Vin Diesel. You got this.