Male pattern baldness. Chances are, you’ve heard of it, you’ve seen it, and you might even be experiencing it yourself. (Sorry about that one.) Whether you’re dealing with bald spots or thinning hair, we’re here to walk you through what’s happening to your head and talk to you about treatment options.
First and foremost, it’s very common—so common, in fact, that male pattern baldness is the leading cause of hair loss around the world and affects an estimated 50 million men in the United States alone.
Called androgenetic alopecia (though we think “male pattern baldness” rolls off the tongue more easily), it’s a hereditary condition that eventually metamorphosizes terminal hairs into vellus hairs.
Terminal hairs are long, thick, and pigmented. They are most commonly found on the scalp, but also in the pubic region, under the arms, and beard. Vellus hairs are very short, fine, and lightly colored. They are the barely-there hairs on parts of your body that are largely hairless, such as upper arms or forehead.
Why does this happen? Male pattern baldness occurs when your hair follicles have a genetic sensitivity to a male hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This sensitivity affects your hair’s growth cycle.
DHT sounds complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward: “DHT is a modified, more active form of testosterone. In your body, testosterone is transformed into DHT, which exerts stronger effects than testosterone itself,” Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, explains to Men’s Health.
Testosterone converts to DHT with the help of Type II 5-alpha reductase, an enzyme that is held in the oil glands of a hair follicle. If you’re genetically predispositioned for male pattern hair loss, high levels of DHT will bind to receptors in hair follicles in your scalp. This causes the follicles to shrink, and produce shorter, finer, and lighter hair (that’s the terminal-to-vellus transition), until eventually they cease producing hair altogether.
But what about the “pattern” part of things? We’re glad you asked! See, these genetically susceptible hair follicles live on the crown of the head and temples, meaning that this form of hair loss typically follows a pattern of a receding hairline, leaving a distinctive horseshoe shape of hair around the head.
Absolutely not! Two out of three men will experience some form of MPB before they’re 35. So you’re not alone—in fact, you’re in the majority.
However, we know that losing your hair may take a toll on your self-esteem. But before we go any further, we want you to know you’re still the awesome, great person you were when you had a full head of hair. So you can’t let it change how you see yourself. With that said, it doesn’t mean you have to give into going completely bald if you don’t want to.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s no known cure for male pattern baldness.
Science has made amazing strides in understanding the condition in recent years, but it still hasn’t gotten to the (ahem) root causes of what makes you lose your hair. So no, there’s currently no medical treatment that can give you back the head of hair you once had.
We have a better answer for this one! And that’s because there are some great ways to combat the symptoms of hair loss that might even lead to new hair growth—including finasteride (which you might know by its trade name, Propecia) and minoxidil (which also has a recognizable trade name, Rogaine).
You can learn more about these two FDA-approved hair loss treatments here and see if either one is right for you.
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.