Hair loss is something that most guys will experience in their lives, and if more of us talked about it instead of joking about it, maybe we’d all have better information. According to the American Hair Loss Association, two-thirds of American men will experience some degree of appreciable hair loss, with 85 percent of men “significantly thinning” by the age of 50. About 25 percent of men who experience hair loss begin the process before they reach the age of 21. In other words, this is a nearly universal experience—which makes the stigma surrounding hair loss all the more confusing.
Odds are, if you’re reading this, you are quite literally already balding or thinning—even if you don’t think you can see it. But don’t panic! First, it’s possible to look great bald. But secondly, there’s a lot you can do.
There are so many triggers that can create balding, so it’s important to have a clear understanding of what actually impacts the process. There is no reason that balding has to be a reality in the 21st century.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start at the root of hair loss.
What causes balding?
Balding is primarily genetic. But contrary to all those fun factoids you’ve heard about it being your mother’s father (or was it your father’s mother?) who caused your current situation, there’s no strict rule to determine who is going to lose it.
What science can confirm is that the exact trigger for male-pattern hair loss is a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, otherwise known as DHT. This comes from testosterone that’s naturally in your body, but if you have male-pattern hair loss, what you’ve inherited is a sensitivity to DHT in your hair follicles. Basically, this sensitivity to DHT causes a “miniaturization of the hair follicle,” which leads to the overall weakening of hair growth. This manifests itself as that all-too-common receding hairline and thinning in the crown of your head (the “bald spot”).
But trichologists and doctors alike also assume that, beyond genetics, lifestyle factors also contribute to hair loss. “Something men don’t really talk about is emotional health and wellbeing, but that’s a trigger,”. So is your diet—a lot of times, men have high-protein diets without lots of greens or folic acids, which are essential in making hair follicles and protein. Adds that poor sleep, some medications, and smoking may worsen things, too.
1. Prescription and OTC drugs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two drugs to treat male pattern baldness:
- Minoxidil (Rogaine): Rogaine is available over the counter as a liquid or foam. Apply it to the scalp twice a day to grow hair and prevent hair loss.
- Finasteride (Propecia, Proscar):This is a pill that you take daily. It’s only available with a prescription from your doctor.
For both of these drugs, it may take up to a year to see results, and you’ll need to keep taking them to maintain the benefits.
2. Hair transplants
The two most popular hair transplant procedures are follicular unit transplantation and follicular unit extraction:
Follicular unit transplantation (FUT)
FUT is the more “classic” method. It involves removing some skin from the back of your scalp where there’s an abundance of hair, removing the follicles from that strip of skin, and then reinserting the hair follicles into the part of the scalp where you’re experiencing hair loss.
Follicular unit extraction (FUE)
In FUE, hair follicles are removed directly from the scalp and transplanted to the bald parts of the scalp.
Keep in mind that a hair transplant is considered a surgery, so it can be expensive and may be painful.
There are also certain risks, including infections and scarring. You may also need to do multiple hair transplant treatments to get the desired outcome.
3. Laser treatment
Laser treatment is thought to reduce the inflammation in follicles that keeps them from regrowing.
There are limited studies to support their effectiveness in treating hair loss, but a 2016 review determined that low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is safe and effective when used to treat male pattern hair loss. More research is still needed.
4. Quit smoking
If you’re a smoker, you’ve probably heard about all the negative effects smoking has on your lungs. But did you know that smoking could cause hair loss — on top of facial wrinkles and premature graying of hair?
Research has determined that there’s a link between smoking and hair loss. To prevent hair loss, it may be a good idea to quit smoking as soon as possible.
5. Scalp massage
Not only do massages feel wonderful, but they can help with your hair loss, too. Massaging the scalp stimulates the hair follicles.
In one small study, healthy Japanese men who received 4 minutes of scalp massage each day for 24 weeks had thicker hair at the end of the study.
6. A balanced diet
A well-balanced diet can keep your hair in tip-top shape. Make sure you’re including a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, unsaturated fats, and lean proteins in your diet, and limit your intake of sweets.
Certain vitamins and minerals found in food are associated with healthy hair.
Try adding in these types of foods:
- iron-rich foods, including lean beef, beans, green leafy vegetables, iron-fortified grains, and eggs
- foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such salmon, mackerel, tuna, flax seeds, egg yolks, hemp seeds, and walnuts
- high-protein foods, like eggs, lean meats, and seafood
Last but not least, make sure you’re drinking plenty of water.
7. Get a checkup
Aside from your genetics, there are several medical conditions that can result in hair loss. You’ll be able to address your hair loss by treating the underlying condition.
The following conditions could lead to hair loss:
- lichen planus
- scalp psoriasis (due to scratching of the scalp)
- alopecia areata
- thyroid conditions
- eating disorders (due to poor nutrition)
- iron deficiency anemia
- hair pulling disorder, known as trichotillomania
- Celiac disease
If you have any of these conditions, or you’re experiencing other symptoms besides hair loss, make sure you visit your doctor and get the treatment you need. Your hair loss should improve as your condition improves.
8. Reduce stress
Stress can really do a number on the body, including your hair. Hair loss may be a result of a stressful lifestyle.
Strategies to reduce stress include:
- regular exercise
- listening to music
- doing yoga
Getting enough sleep is also essential.
There’s some evidence that peppermint oil can help with hair growth. Rosemary oil has also been traditionally used to increase blood circulation on the scalp.
Coconut oil, castor oil, and olive oil are also widely recommended, but research on their benefits for hair growth is limited.
10. Saw palmetto
Saw palmetto is a plant with small berries that’s often used as part of a treatment plan for an enlarged prostate.
While research is narrow on saw palmetto’s ability to treat hair loss, one study showed positive results for men treated with a topical formula.
Biotin is a vitamin found naturally in foods like:
- sweet potatoes
There’s some evidence that taking biotin supplements by mouth may slow hair loss, but most of the research has been done in women.
12. Onion juice
An older study showed that the use of onion juice as a topical treatment resulted in significantly more regrowth than just tap water in people with patchy alopecia areata.
Bhringraj (Eclipta alba), also called false daisy, is a species in the sunflower family with a reputation in Ayurvedic tradition as an herb that supports hair growth.
14. Green tea
Another purported herbal remedy for hair loss is green tea.
An older study in mice on the polyphenolic compounds present in green tea showed promise as a natural remedy for hair loss, but human studies haven’t been done to confirm these effects.
Hibiscus rosa-sinesis is marketed widely in India for hair growth. One older study in mice showed positive effects on hair follicles, but no studies have been done in humans.
16. Be gentle with your locks
Try to be as gentle as possible when brushing or styling your hair. Constantly twisting, twirling, or pulling your hair tight can lead to hair loss.
If you’re worried about hair loss, you may want to avoid the following:
- tight hairstyles, such as pigtails, cornrows, braids, and buns
- hot oil treatments
- chemicals used in perms and hair straightening treatments
- hot curling irons or straightening irons
- bleaching your hair
If you must use chemicals or bleach in your hair, seek help from a trained professional. Don’t try to do it yourself at home.
17. Stop or change a medication
Certain medications can lead to hair loss. Examples include:
- chemotherapy and radiation treatments
- blood thinners (anticoagulants)
- drugs to treat depression
- medications used to treat high blood pressure
- heart medications
- gout medications
- isotretinoin (Accutane), an acne treatment
Remember: If you’re concerned about your hair loss, don’t stop taking the medication right away. See your doctor to find out if you have other options. You might just have to wait until you finish your treatment. In most cases, your hair should return once the treatment is stopped.
See your doctor if:
- you’re experiencing sudden patchy hair loss
- you think that a medication may be causing your hair loss
- you also have a rash
- your skin is scaly