Why Men Lose Hair

A sore subject, if there ever was one

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Photo by Isi Parente on Unsplash

It’s a sore subject, but many men will eventually end up balding or losing at least some hair as they get older, which will be mostly on the crown and temples of their heads.

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It comes from a condition called male pattern baldness, which is often hereditary (scientifically known as androgenic alopecia). If the cause of balding is genetic, there isn’t much you can do to prevent it completely, but there are steps to slow it down or even stop it in its tracks.

Male pattern baldness happens because of DHT, or dihydrotestosterone.

Testosterone is the principle male hormone (women have it too, just in lower quantities), and DHT is essentially a stronger form of testosterone.

Men naturally produce DHT. It’s thought about 10% of testosterone in adult males gets converted to DHT, and it’s converted by an enzyme called 5-alpha reductase (5-AR)

DHT is the chemical which binds to hair follicles on the head and ‘switches them off’.

Interestingly, the same effect doesn’t seem to apply in hair follicles on the face or any other part of the body. It seems, for some baffling reason, hair follicles in a man’s head may be ‘programmed’ to switch off as he ages.

There are a few different ways to treat it, but before embarking on any course of hair-loss treatment be sure to consult a doctor or trichologist (hair specialist). The following treatments tend to slow genetic hair loss. Hair loss could be caused by other conditions like thyroid issues, other forms of alopecia, nutritional deficiencies or even adverse reaction to other chemicals.

A health professional will be able to give you an idea about any hair loss you’re experiencing and it’s imperative you seek a professional opinion first.

So how can you slow it down?

Minoxidil

We’ve all heard of Rogaine (or Regaine, if you’re in the UK), which is probably the world’s most popular hair loss treatment.

It comes in the form of liquid spray of foam and is applied straight to the affected areas of balding.

Minoxidil works simply as a vasodilator, which means it stimulates blood vessels to expand. It allows more blood to flow to hair follicles, in turn providing them more oxygen in order to stimulate them to grow more hair.

Other vasodilators can also be used for this purpose, like Minox-VE (a minoxidil-free vasodilator), and these topical treatments need to be applied at least once daily (twice daily for Rogaine).

In most men it can stop further hair loss but it’s not like miracle grow for plants — it’s possible for hair to grow back using minoxidil but it very much varies person to person.

A study of around 1000 men using it showed very effective hair regrowth in 16% and no hair regrowth at all in 16%. The other 68% had moderately effective regrowth.

Possible side-effects include scalp irritation, headaches/light-headedness, unwanted facial hair growth or flushing. As with any type of drug, side effects are possible but often minimal with minoxidil use. If you experience any of these effects stop using it and call your doctor.

It takes about 3 months for daily minoxodil use to show results and is only effective for as long as a person keeps using it.

Finasteride

Probably the faster growing hair loss treatment, known much better by the brand name Propecia.

All hair loss medicines or supplements need to be used daily to have an effect, and finasteride is no different. It comes in pill form to be taken everyday, and works by blocking the mechanism of the enzyme I mentioned earlier; 5-alpha reductase.

5AR is what converts testosterone to DHT, and DHT is what binds to hair follicles, thereby shutting them off. By blocking 5AR there’s less DHT in the body and therefore less follicles being shut off.

This means slowing down of hair loss, and in many cases also regrew hair. One American study showed an astounding 85% of the sample size regrew hair within the first 3 months of use.

Finasteride, which is also used for certain other conditions (like enlarged prostate), can have some pretty potent side-effects. DHT is the strengthened version of testosterone, the principle male hormone, and decreasing it has some negative potential.

Common side effects could include decreased sex drive, trouble getting or maintaining an erection or ejaculation disorder. Rarer, more serious side-effects could be skin rash, lumps in the breasts or swelling in the throat, lips, tongue or face.

The chances of side-effects vary greatly from person to person, and they seem to be rare, but it’s important to keep an eye for them.

Finasteride seems to be the most effective hair-loss treatment on the market, but anyone considering it should consult a health professional first and, if experiencing any side effects, stop and contact their doctor.

Natural Supplements

There is a huge choice of supplements out there which can help reduce hair loss. Certain nutrient or mineral deficiencies, like low levels of zinc or iron in the body can lead to hair loss and supplementing these can help slow the recession.

Supplements like biotin, saw palmetto, niacin, vitamin-C and whole loads of others could help. There are plenty of herbal options like peppermint oil or nettle leaf as well — a quick search which reveal a plethora of options.

There are hair-loss products which combine many of the nutrients and minerals thought to help, like Nourkrin, which is more convenient as it packs many of them into one supplement.

Hair Transplant

A procedure where hair follicles are taken from elsewhere (often the back or sides of the head) and transplanted to thinning areas. The transplanted hair will thin and fall out within a couple of months and new hair should grow in place within 6–9 months.

Procedures cost anywhere between $2000–15000 depending on where it’s done and how much hair needs to be transplanted. The most popular place is Turkey, where the costs are low but the level of specialism is high. It’s a minimally invasive procedure and recovery can take a few weeks.

This is more of a permanent fix which and is increasing in popularity globally, just type into Google and see the number of ads which come up. Not much is known about if DHT will eventually switch off even the transplanted hair follicles, for after all they’re still coming from your head — but they’re taken from places where DHT seems to have less effect on the follicles (around the sides and back of the head — not much is known as to why).

A successful hair transplant will definitely give a person more hair but medicines for slowing down hair loss may also still need to be taken.

Male pattern baldness is something which many men will suffer and many men will feel self-conscious about. Science always seems to be finding new ways to treat it and the number of solutions are likely to increase as time goes on.

Before embarking on any course of medicine, action or treatment, please consult a trichologist or medical professional first to ensure the treatment is correct for you. It’s a lot worse trying something without a professional opinion and finding it makes the problem worse or comes with horrendous side effects.

Happy hair-growing!

This piece is meant for informational purposes only and not as advice. The author does not take any responsibility for any damage or otherwise which may be caused by embarking on any course of action detailed above. The author advises to seek professional advice before taking any course of action.

Rajeet enjoys mixing cocktails and bombarding strangers with philosophy. (Aspiring) Polymath. London

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