Bald-Faced Lies About Male Hair Loss
Authored by Ryden Anderson
We’ve talked a lot on this blog about the negative effects many guys experience as they get older—feeling like you’re losing your vigor, your vitality, or your virility—but there’s another thing age takes from a lot of us: our hair. While balding won’t directly affect your energy, fitness, or health like low T can, for a lot of guys it can feel like you’re losing your mojo all the same. And articles claiming that “studies show” that women are more attracted to a full head of hair (even if those studies are paid for by hair-restoration companies) don’t help matters. Sex appeal is all about confidence, after all—especially for us guys—and it can be hard to feel sexy when you’re debating between a comb-over and a toupée.
There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding hair loss (of course), from old wives’ tales like the one my mother told me growing up to full-on lies you’ll hear in ads from shady companies peddling “miracle cures.” So if you’re losing your locks—or just worried that you might—read on as we comb through these myths and nit-pick the lies from the truth about male pattern baldness.
Myth: Balding Is an Old Man’s Problem
One of the most enduring myths around male pattern baldness (known to doctors and other nerds as androgenic alopecia) is that it affects only old guys. The truth is, baldness can begin at any age after puberty and is often genetic. For example, I was friends with a pair of brothers in high school. When the older brother started taking pills to prevent balding in our senior year, I thought he was crazy. His younger brother must’ve thought so too—and he ended up losing enough on top to go full-on cue ball before we were 30. Now pushing 40, the older brother still has a full head of hair. An ounce of prevention, friends…
About two-thirds of guys will experience some form of male pattern baldness before they turn 35. And for some, it can start a lot earlier. The treatments available today are more effective at retaining hair than regrowing it, so if you think you’re seeing more hair in the shower drain and less on your head, don’t ignore it: balding’s (mostly) a one-way trip. If you love your locks, talk to your primary-care provider sooner than later.
Myth: Baldness Comes from Your Mother’s Side
Many believe that the “baldness gene” comes only from the mother’s side of the family. In fact, this group includes my own mom, who told me a version of this myth—that my hair loss was determined by my maternal grandfather, who died with a full mane of white hair—to assuage my fears of ending up like my horseshoe-headed dad. What a pack of lies! (Not about her dad, of course: as with his secrets about the war, Bucky took all his hair to the grave.) As a result, I spent years in denial about my own balding.
While there is a key baldness gene on the X chromosome (which men inherit from their mothers), other factors contribute to male pattern baldness, and those can come from your father’s side. The truth is that genes from both your parents help determine whether you’ll end up turtle-waxing your scalp. So don’t do what I did and buy into this mother’s-side malarkey.
Myths About the Causes of Baldness
When it comes to the causes of androgenic alopecia, there’s no lack of myths out there. Some are well-intentioned misconceptions, while others are the deliberate deceptions of snake-oil salesmen claiming they’ve found the one “true” cure. One of the benign variety is that wearing hats causes baldness—either because the hat “starves” your hair follicles of oxygen necessary for growth or because the hat “strains” the follicles. There’s no truth to either version of this myth: hair follicles get their oxygen from your bloodstream, not the air. And far from straining your follicles, hats can help protect your hair health by shielding your scalp from heat and cold. If you’re seeing a few hairs inside your cap at the end of the day, that’s normal: we all shed a little each day as part of the follicles’ life cycle. If you’re seeing more hair than usual in there, though, talk to a medical professional about it. Leaving the headgear at home won’t help: it’s not your hat, it’s your jeans—I mean genes.
Another common myth is that frequent shampooing accelerates hair loss. Just like the hair in your hat, a few stray hairs in the shower drain is totally normal. And rather than harming your hair, regular shampooing can help keep it healthy by reducing surface DHT (dihydrotestosterone—more on that in a moment) and inflammation that do contribute to hair loss. A clean scalp is a happy scalp—and besides, greasy hair isn’t a good look on anyone.
And one myth you’ve almost certainly heard is that stress causes male pattern baldness. Unless you’re so stressed that you’re literally pulling your hair out, this too is false. (And even if you were, that wouldn’t technically be male pattern baldness.) Very high stress levels over a sustained period can contribute to certain types of temporary hair loss such as telogen effluvium. But those are temporary conditions that will typically reverse themselves once the stress has passed. Male pattern baldness, on the other hand, is irreversible (without medical intervention) and is primarily caused by a genetic sensitivity of your hair follicles to DHT
Testosterone and Balding
Perhaps the oldest persistent myth about balding is that bald men have more testosterone. I’ve mentioned dihydrotestosterone (DHT) as a culprit contributing to balding a couple of times now, so you may be wondering whether that means that testosterone is responsible for male pattern baldness. The short answer is no. And between you and me, I think it’s a disinformation campaign cooked up by Big Bald to convince the world that chrome domes are more virile because they have more testosterone. (Wonder whether they’re compensating for something….) In all seriousness, though, DHT, which is a derivative of testosterone, does play a role in hair loss, but there’s no correlation between testosterone levels and baldness. It’s not the amount of DHT in your system that determines whether you’ll lose your locks; it’s how sensitive your follicles are to DHT’s effects. And that, once again, is determined by your genes. So if your hairline’s receding, blame your parents, not testosterone.
We’ve saved the best for last. Many people believe that there’s no solution for male pattern baldness, that it’s just another unavoidable fact of aging we have to accept. Good news: this is another myth! “Wait a minute,” I hear you saying, “just two paragraphs ago, you said that male pattern baldness is irreversible.” Well, yes, I did, and yes, it is—without medical intervention. Treatments like finasteride and minoxidil have been scientifically proved to slow hair loss and even regrow hair. I’ve been taking finasteride myself for just over six months, and I’m already noticing a real difference.
Last time I got my hair cut, my barber commented on how much fuller it looked. And in the mirror, I can see my hairline starting to… unrecede? derecede? It’s filling in up there, anyway. And finasteride’s mostly targeted just at keeping the hair you have. I’d probably be seeing even more dramatic results if I were using minoxidil, which helps to regrow hair. And there are even new treatments, like platelet-rich plasma therapy, that have been recently approved or are in clinical trials. So if you’re worried about going bald, there’s no reason to despair. Just talk to your primary-care provider about treatments that can slow, stop, or even reverse male pattern baldness.