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Hair Loss in Men: Causes and Treatments

a man looks at his hair in the mirror checking for thickness

When you’re losing your hair, people either avoid talking to you about it at all (most people) or they confidently jump into random assessments of the cause—usually something to do with your grandfather, whether they blame your mother’s side or your father’s. For a split second, let’s pause in all this grandpa-blaming and look at the real causes of hair loss. Because knowing the actual cause in your unique case is the first step to designing a treatment plan that will help you restore your hair or prevent further loss.

Causes of Male Hair Loss

Androgenic Alopecia or Male Pattern Baldness

Male pattern baldness, also known as Androgenetic Alopecia, is the primary cause of hair loss in men. In fact, 95 percent of all hair loss in men is due to androgenetic alopecia. This disorder is thought to be caused by genetics and can be compounded by health issues and shifts in hormones.

Androgenetic alopecia gained its name due to the role of androgens (male sex hormones) in hair loss, specifically an androgen called DHT. Some men are genetically predisposed to be more sensitive to DHT’s affects than others, and that’s when hair loss happens. As DHT binds to receptors in the hair follicles, it shrinks them in a process called miniaturization, weakening them and ending their ability to grow hair. To learn more about DHT, visit our comprehensive breakdown of DHT and how it relates to hair loss.

For most readers, this is the cause of your hair loss, but it's far from being the only cause out there.

 medical causes of hair loss are less common than alopecia

Medical Conditions and Hormonal Shifts that Cause Hair Loss

If you know for sure that it's not pattern baldness, look into some of the many medical conditions that can lead to hair loss:

Alopecia Areata If you have hair loss in randomly placed round patches rather than in an overall pattern, either on the scalp or elsewhere on the body, this may be the culprit. This disease can occur if the immune system attacks the follicles. Hair loss can last for years and then grow back, but it usually does grow back. After that the disease may or may not return, but most people have the hair loss recur at least once before the problem goes away for good. This condition can develop in otherwise healthy individuals.
Scalp Infections

Scalp pruritus: A common condition, this is an itchy condition that can be set off by many factors, and may hint of deeper medical conditions. Aggressive scratching can quicken hair loss spurred on by weakened hair follicles damaged by the condition.


Scalp psoriasis: Symptoms include dry, scaly, and inflamed skin on the scalp and itchiness. Scratching of the scale is the cause of hair loss, which if excessive tends to damage the follicle.


Folliculitis: Staph bacteria or fungi can lead to general inflammation of the follicles, whether on your scalp or elsewhere on your body. Small bumps are a symptom, as is hair loss which while normally treatable, can sometimes result in permanent loss.

Trichotillomania This might be one of the least likely causes of your hair loss, but we’ve included it just in case this condition of chronic hair pulling happens to describe you. More common in females, this impulse control disorder is estimated to effect one to two percent of people and involves recurrent pulling of one’s own hair especially in times of great emotional stress or psychological disturbance.
Medication Side Affects Hair loss is listed as a side affect for an enormous list of medications, but luckily the hair fall tends to end once use of the drug stops. Still, if you’re using acne medications, antiobiotics, anti-fungals, immunodepressents, and a host of other pharmaceuticals to treat things from arthritis and high blood pressure to cancer and heart problems, you might want to look into this.
Chemo or radiation therapy It’s well-known that certain chemo treatments lead to dramatic hair loss, and indeed both genders list this as one of patients’ top fears associated with cancer treatment. Chemotherapy drugs are strong enough to tackle cancer cells and they’re unfortunately quite blind to the innocent cells, and that includes the ones on your scalp. Hair often grows back a few weeks post treatment, although it may have a temporary or permanent change in appearance, texture, and color.
Physical for Emotional Shock (Telogen Effluvium) Surprisingly uncommon is hair loss from shock, in which somewhere around 70% of scalp hairs are lost a couple of months after the shocking event. At this point hair can be coming out in handfuls. If you’re not seeing this kind of drama, this is probably not what you have.
Hairstyling (Traction Alopecia) The only way that hair styles can lead to hair loss is if you regularly submit your hair to tight styling that literally pulls it by the roots. This might be the culprit if you’re noticing a sparseness at the margins of your hair where its being pulled the most, creating a receding hairline. Those most susceptible to this problem are those who frequently get braids or cornrows and those in early stages of Androgenic Alopecia.
Hair Products While there is much fear of products damaging the follicle and leading to hair loss, this is less common than one would think, as most products are not absorbed into the scalp. However, look out for the ones to do, and avoid shampoos that can create an overly drying condition, including those that have sulfates on their ingredients list.
a DHT scientific molecule drawing

Identifying the cause is the foundation for treatment

While it’s likely that the cause is simply Androgenetic Alopecia, it’s important to think through all the cause to make sure you’re setting yourself up to find a treatment that will work. Now as you look through the treatment options listed below you should have the knowledge you need to assess which ones will work for you.

Treatment Options for Male Hair Loss

Even if it’s genetic there are still many treatment options available for men who wish to restore their hair or prevent further loss. Men have asurprising range of options to explore—some holistic, taking a whole body approach, some involving surgical procedures, and some pharmaceutical-based. We’ve broken down what they are, how they work, and what hair loss causes they treat.

Topicals, Shampoos, and Hair TonicsThese run the gamut from holistic or botanical to pharmaceuticals with the fact in common that they are all applied directly to the scalp on a regular basis.

Holistic or botanical shampoos

The first line of defense for some men may be over-the-counter shampoos or tonics that purport to aid in hair restoration. These shampoos often use natural ingredients like rosemary, mint, clary sage, lavender, chamomile and horsetail extract. In most cases, these herbal remedies are very good for hair and scalp health, especially if combined with a whole body approach in which other holistic treatments are used such as supplements, DHT-blocking essential oils, and low level laser therapy. Herbs and extracts in natural shampoos are much gentler on the hair and scalp than harsh chemicals that are found in most hair growth shampoos.

As always in choosing a shampoo, avoid anything with sulfates, one of the ingredients that are prevalent in soaps and shampoos  only to provide a satisfying lather.Sulfates are known to dry out the scalp and strip hair from its natural moisture. Those with weak hair follicles should avoid sulfates at all costs. The concern is that after hair falls from the follicle, the open follicle can die when acidic sulfates are present for long periods of time. Even after being washed down the drain, the chemical can remain on your hair.

Minoxidil

Minoxidil is a common ingredient in topical creams used to slow hair loss and promote hair growth. This cream does not work for all men and is known to drop off after extended use, but is relatively safe.

Minoxidil increases the time allowed for the anagen state of hair growth. The anagen state is the active state of growth, which typically lasts from two to seven years. In addition, minoxidil is known to widen hair follicles, which leads to thicker strands of hair.

Though minoxidil is generally thought to be safe, there can be some side effects. Some men experience burning, stinging and dandruff at the site of application. An itchy rash may also occur. Other side effects, like headache, weight gain, heart palpitations, and excessive hair growth in other parts of the body are possible.

In addition to the side effects of minoxidil, it does have to be used regularly to continue working. Unfortunately, it does not work for everyone.

Minoxidil and other topicals can also be combined with other hair growth aids such as laser caps for LLLT treatment or hair promoting supplements.

DHT Blockers

Most treatments for male hair loss focus on blocking DHT. Prescription medication, topical applications, natural supplements, and even shampoos may be suggested by physicians to combat male pattern baldness. Theoretically, if a sensitivity to DHT leads to hair loss, it would seem that blocking DHT would help hair to grow once again. Though this does work in some cases, there are also a great many drawbacks to using medication for hair loss.

The benefits of DHT blockers are obvious. They help to slow down the rate of hair loss in many men. In some, they even stop hair loss or reverse the effects. Unfortunately, the side effects can be far worse than the benefits. Any reduction in DHT, whether through over-the-counter supplements or prescription medication, has a risk of sexual side effects such as low libido and impotence. These may even occur well after a man has chosen to stop using medication. Other side effects include depression and gynecomastia.

 

a bottle of prescription pills for hair loss

Prescription Medications

A doctor may prescribe medication to combat hair loss. Finasteride inhibits the conversion of testosterone into DHT, thereby blocking the primary culprit in male pattern baldness.

While Finasteride has been proven successful in regrowing hair in many patients, it also comes with harmful side effects. Some of these include rash, headache, dizziness, swelling, and impotence, issues which can sometimes continue after stopping treatment.

Finasteride can also be safely combined with solutions such as low level laser therapy (LLLT), certain topicals, essential oils, supplements, and lifestyle changes to greater effect.

Hair Transplants

Hair transplants have long been a staple in the hair restoration industry for men who do not respond to medication, topical creams, holistic measures. The procedure involves removing hair from one area of the scalp and grafting it to the area that is experiencing loss. This  transplanted hair usually falls out soon after, after which new hair growth can sometimes occur within six to nine months.

Hair restoration surgery is often viewed as a last resort as it is expensive, painful, and comes with no guarantees. In fact, only about 60 percent of patients regrow hair using this method. Hair regrowth can be so sparse that men choose to have their scalps tattooed to cover the areas that are left bare.

 

a man sleeps in bed

Holistic Hair Regrowth

One of the most overlooked methods for hair restoration is one that optimizes  the whole body to promote hair regrowth. This approach relies on the idea that proper nutrition, lifestyle, and natural remedies that don’t have side affects on another area of your body are the cornerstones of hair health.

Nutrition is paramount to having strong, healthy hair. A balanced diet that is focused on healthy fats, proteins, minerals and antioxidants provides the perfect foundation for hair growth. Foods that are overly processed, laden with sugar or include artificial additives have been shown to increase the rate of hair loss, and are avoided in this approach.

Exercise, sleep, stressors, and other lifestyle factors are also considered. Low level laser therapy, supplements, and topical essential oils proven to promote hair loss are the most prominent growth catalysts employed in a holistic hair growth routine.

Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

Low Level Laser Therapy, or LLLT, stimulates hair follicles at the cellular level. There are no side effects associated with LLLT, and the  therapy has been proven to be  safe by clinical trials and studies conducted over the course of several decades, making it a good option to combine with other holistic methods or to be used alone.

Low Level Laser Therapy can be applied in a clinic, though it does take multiple treatments for the patient to see results. Conversely, many patients choose to buy a personal treatment device, which allows them to conduct their own sessions at home, usually wearing a laser cap or helmet while sitting for about a half hour every other day.

View testimonials of the illumiflow Laser Cap.

 

a man researches on his computer and sets goals for hair growth

Getting Started

Hopefully this article has given you a solid base to get started from: you understand the causes of hair loss, have some idea of what yours might be, and you know a little bit about all the treatment options. Choosing a treatments obviously must relate back to the cause of your hair loss, that’s a given.

But what some people forget as they power forward to get their hair back is that treatment is a long term project. It won’t work overnight. So it’s important that you consider who you are and what you’re comfortable with before you commit. If you know you won’t be able to deal with the side affects, try something holistic. Personalize your treatment because ultimately it’s a personal decision: this is about you and your hair.  

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Before & After

Before & after photos with results of people that have reversed their hair loss.

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