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DHT: How it Causes Your Hair Loss and How to Stop it

Medically approved by
Dr Earim Chaudry
Last updated
4th May 2021

In 30 seconds…

It’s the most common cause of hair loss in men, but what is DHT? Also known by its full name, dihydrotestosterone, DHT is a sex hormone derived from testosterone. It helps men develop those male traits like body and a deep voice. However, if you are genetically sensitive, it can shrink your hair follicles and prevent them from producing healthy hairs.

The result is a condition known as androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness, the cause of 95% of cases of hair loss in men. But, as we know the specific cause, we also know how to treat it. You just don’t need to accept balding any longer. 

Treatments including Finasteride are known as DHT blockers. These reduce the amount of DHT in your system by targeting the enzyme responsible for its production: 5 alpha reductase. Finasteride reduces the amount of DHT in your scalp by 60% – and promotes hair regrowth in 80% of cases too. 

What is DHT?

If you have been researching the science of hair loss treatments, you may have come across it already. DHT stands for dihydrotestosterone, so no guessing why we shorten it! It’s an androgen, a male sex hormone, that is derived from testosterone. However, DHT is much more powerful.

Testosterone and DHT are found in the bodies of both men and women. For men, they play a key role during puberty, helping to develop the physical features associated with adulthood, such as facial and body hair, increased muscle mass, and a deep voice. These hormones also have benefits as you age, helping you to hold onto muscle strength and fertility over the years. 

Now, while it has its benefits, DHT isn’t all good news – particularly not for your hairline. That’s why every man concerned about male pattern hair loss needs to know all about it. 

In this article, we’re discussing DHT, what it does to your hair, and what you can do to stop it. We’ll be introducing the key medicine to block DHT too. Let’s take a look. 

How Does DHT Cause Hair Loss?

The thing about DHT is that it is continually being produced by your body. An enzyme known as 5α-reductase breaks down the testosterone in your system – in a normal and healthy process of which DHT is the byproduct. While this is perfectly natural, the trouble is that this process can happen right inside your hair follicles, those little ‘capsules’ that each create a single hair. 

Follicle Miniaturization

Unfortunately, not everyone’s follicles welcome that hormone. In most men, the follicles are actually sensitive to it – meaning that, in its presence, they undergo a process of miniaturization. This is just a scientific way of saying they shrink, weaken, and stop producing strong and healthy hairs. 

It is exactly this that causes your receding hairline. But it’s a bit of a race against time. The longer you leave follicles that are weakened, the less likely they are to ever be revived. 

The Hair Growth Cycle

To make matters worse, high DHT levels also affect your hair growth cycle. Normally, each follicle produces a hair over a 2-6 year period, which includes a growth phase (or anagen phase), a transition phase, and resting phase. However, too much DHT shortens the growth phase and lengthens the rest, making new hair growth slower. 

Unfortunately, hairs that do manage to grow end up thinner and more brittle than before.

Genetics

If you’re already prone to male pattern baldness (MPB), then your hair follicles will be more sensitive to the effects of too much DHT. MPB is a condition that’s heavily influenced by your genetics. If your dad had thinning hair, or displayed the classic signs of MPB, we’re sorry to say you’ll probably follow his lead. 

However, you may have an advantage over your dad – or you could be nice and let him in on the secret. There are ways to stop DHT. These can give your body a boost to produce new, healthy hair.

DHT Blockers: What are They and How Do They Work?

Things don’t need to be all bad, however. While DHT can cause havoc to a hairline, there are ways to intervene. An effective DHT blocker is your best option here.  

Technically, DHT blockers are any chemicals that prevent DHT from binding to the receptors in your hair follicles. However, they are much more accurately known as 5α-reductase inhibitors. They are much less a physical obstruction around your follicles than a brake on the power of the enzyme that produces DHT in the first place.

Importantly, though, while various products and natural remedies claim to have DHT blocking powers, there’s really only one treatment that is supported by hard scientific evidence. That’s Finasteride.

Finasteride

Finasteride (also known by its brand names Proscar and Propecia) is a prescription tablet that’s taken once per day. As noted above, it works by inhibiting that enzyme, 5α-reductase, that is responsible for the production of DHT. If taken correctly, on a daily basis, Finasteride can lower the DHT levels in your scalp by up to 60%.

So how do we know it works? By looking at the science. For example, a 2003 study found that 83% of men treated with Finasteride stopped losing hair. Another study from 2012 discovered that the drug encouraged hair growth in 87% of participants. Not bad, right?

What we should point out is that the benefits of Finasteride can only be maintained with consistent, long-term use. We usually recommend that you give it at least three to six months before you see results with Finasteride. After stopping treatment, the positive effects usually start to wear off after about six months and disappear after nine to 12 months. Great hair takes some commitment!

The Finasteride Plan

Works for 9/10 Men

The most effective oral treatment for receding hairlines and balding crowns. Just one pill a day.


Best for
Receding Hairlines
Effectiveness
9/10 Men
Contains
One-a-day tablets (Finasteride)

Important note: Finasteride is only suitable as a treatment for male pattern baldness and should never be used by women.  

Natural DHT Blockers

You may have already come across some natural or herbal remedies that are marketed as “DHT blockers”. These include pumpkin seed oil, caffeine, and pygeum bark. Tempting as it might be to think that hair loss can be reversed by the power of nature alone, there is little or no scientific evidence that these products really work.

Some remedies, such as pumpkin seeds, do indeed contain micronutrients that contribute to healthy hair. However, Finasteride is the only product currently available that is a true DHT blocker.

Other Effective Treatments for Hair Loss

DHT blockers are not the only way to tackle hair loss, however. While Finasteride remains the most effective MPB treatment, others work a treat too. 

Minoxidil

One way to treat MPB without using Finasteride is with a drug known as Minoxidil. Also known by its brand name Regaine, Minoxidil is a topical medication that’s applied directly to the scalp twice a day.

Minoxidil works by increasing the blood flow to your scalp. As blood brings nutrients and oxygen with it, this helps bring the hair follicles back to life and revitalises your hair growth. Research has demonstrated the Minoxidil works for more than six out of ten men, and results are usually seen within three to six months. 

By the way, for the best chance of tackling MPB, try a two-pronged approach. It’s possible to combine treatments and use both Finasteride and Minoxidil at the same time. This way you’ll block DHT and revitalise your follicles.

Supplements

You can also aim to enrich your diet with foods that promote healthy hair growth. Key micronutrients to factor in are biotin (vitamin B7/vitamin H), zinc, and selenium.

Biotin is a B-vitamin that helps your body turn food into energy it can use. In addition, it boosts your levels of keratin, a protein found in your hair, nails, and skin. Biotin can be taken as an oral supplement, or can be found in food sources including eggs, nuts, and wholegrains.

Zinc and selenium are both important minerals that contribute to healthy hair growth and body tissue repair. Zinc is found in oysters, beef, green leafy veg, pumpkin seeds, and lentils, while selenium is found in brazil nuts, meat, eggs, dairy, and cereals. Supplements are also available if you find your diet isn’t providing enough of these minerals.

The Minoxidil Plan

Just two spray applications per day

The most powerful spray for direct treatment to the scalp. Just two spray applications a day.


Best for
Thinning at the crown
Contains
Daily Spray (Minoxidil)

Important note: Overconsumption of zinc and selenium has been shown to increase hair loss, so medical advice should be sought before taking a supplement.

Key Takeaways…

So, what is DHT? One of the main culprits responsible for hair loss, DHT causes your follicles to shrink, weaken, and ultimately become unable to produce any new hair.

However, it can be beaten. Finasteride can block the effects of DHT to help you grow a new, healthy head of hair. And if you really want to be sure about success, you can support Finasteride treatment with Minoxidil and a diet rich in hair-boosting micronutrients too.

With effective treatment options to choose from, hair loss doesn’t have to be a fact of life.

References

  1. L DrakeM HordinskyV FiedlerJ SwinehartW P UngerP C CotterillD M ThiboutotN LoweC JacobsonD WhitingS StieglitzS J KrausE I GriffinD WeissP CarringtonC GencheffG W ColeD M PariserE S EpsteinW TanakaA DallobK VandormaelL GeisslerJ Waldstreicher (1999). The effects of finasteride on scalp skin and serum androgen levels in men with androgenetic alopecia: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10495374/

  2. Jerry Shapiro, Keith D. Kaufman (2003). Use of Finasteride in the Treatment of Men With Androgenetic Alopecia (Male Pattern Hair Loss): https://www.jidsponline.org/article/S0022-202X(15)52935-7/fulltext#s0035
  3. Akio SatoAkira Takeda (2012). Evaluation of efficacy and safety of finasteride 1 mg in 3177 Japanese men with androgenetic alopecia: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21980923/

     

  4. Young Hye Cho, Sang Yeoup Lee, Dong Wook Jeong, Eun Jung Choi, Yun Jin Kim, Jeong Gyu Lee,  Yu Hyeon Yi, and Hyeong Soo Cha (2014). Effect of Pumpkin Seed Oil on Hair Growth in Men with Androgenetic Alopecia: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4017725/

  5. Jan Rundegren (2003). A one-year observational study with minoxidil 5% solution in Germany: results of independent efficacy evaluation by physicians and patients: https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(03)03692-2/fulltext

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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