What Causes Hair Loss in Men?

If you think your hairline is receding every time you look in the mirror, you’re not alone. More than half of men 50 or older have signs of hair loss. It reaches 4 out of 5 men by age 70.

Why? It's usually something you can blame on your family tree, but there are several other possible reasons.

Genetics

Male pattern baldness -- you may hear it called androgenetic alopecia -- is triggered by the genes you got from your parents. Exactly how it is inherited isn't clear, but it does tend to run in families. So if you have close relatives who are balding, you're more likely to have it, too.

Doctors don’t fully understand why certain hormonal changes cause hair follicles to shrink, or why the balding process gradually happens in the same pattern for most men. But it usually starts with a thinning of the hairline above your temples and crown.

Depending on your family history, male pattern baldness can start as early as your teens. Not only will your hair get thinner, but it may get soft, fine, and shorter.

Medical Issues

Temporary hair loss can be a sign of a medical issue, like anemia or thyroid problems. A diet low in protein and iron can also cause you hair to thin.

Hair loss could be a side effect of certain drugs you take for:

Radiation treatment or chemotherapy can cause widespread hair loss, but usually your hair will grow back with time, once the treatments end.

Stress or Shock

Sudden or excessive weight loss, a severe physical or emotional shock, surgery, or even fever and the flu can bring hair loss that could last several months.

Infections

Things like ringworm can create scaly patches on the scalp and bald spots. The hair usually grows back after treatment.

Your Immune System

If you have sudden hair loss that leaves round bald spots about the size of a quarter in various places on your head, you may have a genetic condition called alopecia areata. It often begins in childhood. You’re more likely to have it if a close family member has it.

Your body’s own immune system attacks your hair follicles, causing small patches of hair to fall out. There’s no pain or sickness involved, and it’s not contagious. Your hair may grow back, but it may fall out again, too.

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Impulse Control Disorder

Some people have an urge to pull out their own hair -- from the scalp, eyebrows, or someplace else -- a chronic condition known as trichotillomania. It could affect 1-2% of adults and teenagers.

Grooming

Wearing a ponytail, braids, or cornrows where the hair next to the scalp is pulled tightly can cause temporary hair loss called traction alopecia. In addition, hot oil treatments and perms may damage your hair follicles.

Myths

There are a number of old wives’ tales about hair loss, most of which are false. For example:

  • Wearing a baseball cap or hat may give you “hat hair,” but it does not lead to hair loss.
  • Neither does swimming in a chlorinated pool or salt water.
  • Sunscreen won’t make your hair fall out, but it will protect the areas where your hairline has receded.
  • Hair dryers may cause your hair to be more brittle, but they won’t lead to permanent hair loss.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 9, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: “Hair Loss.”

Mayo Clinic: “Hair Loss.”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Alopecia Areata.”

Mental Health America: “Hair Pulling.”

Robert T. Leonard Jr., DO: “The truths and myths surrounding hair loss.”

Genetics Home Reference: "Androgenetic alopecia."

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