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Receding Hairline: Stages, Treatment, and Who's at Risk

By Raina Cordell, RN
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer T. Haley, MD, FAAD on March 03, 2021
Learn the causes and signs of a receding hairline, and find out how it can affect women and men differently.

Have you noticed your forehead growing taller or more visible skin around your temples? These are signs of the early stages of a receding hairline. Losing hair can be an unexpected experience, but knowing its cause, what stage of hair loss you’re in, and when to seek treatment can help. Let’s explore these more. 

What Causes a Receding Hairline and Who’s at Risk?

A receding hairline can happen in both men and women, although it’s more common in men. Here are some other things that could make your hairline more likely to retreat.

Age. Hair loss can start any time after puberty and becomes more common with increasing age. More than half of men over the age of 50 experience hair loss, while women are more likely to lose hair after menopause, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Hormones. These can play a role in hair loss in both sexes. Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is a by-product of the hormone testosterone. When hair follicles become sensitive to DHT, it causes a type of hair loss known as androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness. In women, this type of hair loss may be related to a hormonal condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Family history. Androgenetic alopecia is a genetic form of hair loss, and it’s a common cause of a receding hairline. Having a family history of baldness makes you more likely to experience a receding hairline and to follow the same pattern of hair loss.

Medication or treatment.Hair loss may be a side effect of certain types of medications or treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation are known to cause hair loss within a few weeks of beginning treatment. If you think a medicine may be making you lose hair, ask your doctor if that’s a possible side effect.

Stress. According to Medical News Today,  you may have temporary hair loss or a receding hairline if you’ve been through a stressful event. That could include things like: 

  • Giving birth
  • Getting surgery
  • Losing a loved one
  • Prolonged illness
  • Severe emotional stress from any cause

Lifestyle. Certain choices you make could also play a role, including: 

  • Smoking 
  • Frequently coloring or chemically treating your hair 
  • Regularly wearing your hair tightly pulled back
  • Too little protein in your diet
  • Fad diets or nutrient deficiencies

Receding Hairline Stages

The signs and symptoms of a receding hairline can differ in men and women, but they tend to follow the same patterns or stages. Some of the earliest signs include “mild thinning recession of the hairline and widening of the part,” Lindsey Bordone, MD, a dermatologist at ColumbiaDoctors and an assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, tells WebMD Connect to Care. 

Bordone says another early sign “is when individual hairs become finer and have a softer, lighter feel akin to baby hair.” A receding hairline can be uneven at first, but usually develops into an “M” shape. Next, a bald spot develops on the crown of the head. Eventually, these two areas meet and leave a horseshoe around the back and sides of the head.

The Norwood scale is a popular tool for diagnosing and tracking the stages of a receding hairline in men. The Ludwig scale is common among women. 

Receding Hairline Treatment: Get Help Now 

Depending on the cause, it may be possible to reverse a receding hairline. Talk to a doctor or a dermatologist about your symptoms, and ask what your treatment options are

Some types of hair loss are caused by a medical condition, so it’s a good idea to reach out to a medical professional if your symptoms concern you.