Ever been told that you have your mom’s nose, or maybe your dad’s eyes, or even your great-grandfather’s cleft chin? Our parents—and their parents and their parents’ parents, and so on—make us who we are. Turns out, we can thank genetics for hair loss, too.
The most common form of hair loss is male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia)—and, as a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reports, heredity accounts for about 80% of a person’s predisposition to it. Although the genetics of male pattern baldness are not fully understood, scientists are working toward decoding it: a recent study by the University of Edinburgh identified 287 genes linked with hair loss.
Male pattern baldness is determined by your hair follicles’ sensitivity to DHT, or dihydrotestosterone, an androgen (male sex hormone) that is a byproduct of testosterone. The androgen receptor (AR) gene creates the receptor on hair follicles that interact with testosterone and DHT, and if your receptors are sensitive, hair loss can occur. The androgen receptor is on the X chromosome, which leads many people to incorrectly assume that male pattern baldness comes from the mother’s side of the family.
In fact, it can actually come from either side of the family. (Quick lesson, in case you snoozed off during your high school biology: A male inherits the X chromosome from his mother and the Y chromosome from his father.)
The AR gene doesn’t deserve all of the blame, however. As Adriana Heguy, Professor of Pathology and Director of the NYUMC Genome Technology Center, notes, “There are genes in basically all chromosomes that have been implicated in androgenetic alopecia, and this is what makes it so difficult to unravel, as we would have to examine the overall contribution that each gene variant (single nucleotide polymorphism, or SNP) play in hair loss, and also how these genes interact with each other and the environment to result in the phenotype.”
To sum it up: Yes, hair loss is genetic—but the exact genetics involved are complex and not fully understood. So instead of placing all the blame on mom or dad, find a solution to keep the hair you have, and get on with your life.
The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.