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The early signs of balding – or of male pattern baldness (MPB), as it is medically known – are easy to spot, as they are common to the vast majority of men with the condition. A receding hairline and a bald spot at the crown are the most familiar.
MPB is the most common cause of hair loss in men, and it can begin as early as your teenage years. By the age of 50, 50% of men will experience some degree of balding.
However, baldness doesn’t set in overnight: it’s a very gradual condition that often progresses slowly over many years. As a result, it is possible to halt and even to reverse this hair loss – particularly if you get started with treatment as soon as you see those early signs.
Identifying the First Signs of Balding
It’s a fact of life that we lose hair every day, and anything between 50 and 100 hairs shed daily is completely normal. This shedding is just the result of your natural hair growth cycle – old hairs being evicted so new hairs can grow in their place. There’s nothing to worry about with this type of hair loss.
However, there comes a time when the amount of hair you lose might not seem so normal. So, how can you tell healthy shedding from the hair loss and thinning hair that comes from male pattern baldness (MPB)? And what are the common signs that the balding process has begun?
In this article we’re looking at the early signs of balding. We’ll consider what counts as MPB and what doesn’t, and we’ll give you some tips on how to halt the hair loss too.
Why Do Men Go Bald?
Male pattern baldness (MPB) is responsible for 95% of the hair loss experienced by men. It’s an extremely common condition: half of all men will have MPB by the age of 50.
Whilst it generally develops very gradually – as in, you won’t see all your hair fall out overnight – in the most severe cases it can lead to complete baldness at the front and top of the head. This can happen over the course of decades, or only in the space of a few years. There is no scientific agreement on how long it can take.
What causes MPB?
The main culprit is a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is converted from testosterone by the enzyme 5-alpha reductase (5-AR). When this happens at the site of the hair follicle, this is bad news for your hair. DHT causes the hair follicle to shrink and become less healthy, and, as a result, the hair it produces becomes weaker and grows more slowly too. After a while, the hair follicle may stop producing hair altogether.
Your genes can make you more sensitive to the effects of DHT, which is why MPB often runs in families. Genetics are complex though, so don’t go thinking you’re fated to get granddad Jim’s exact bald spot!
Other less common causes of hair loss in men include: stress, medical conditions such as alopecia areata, and medical treatments like chemotherapy. Micronutrient deficiencies such as a lack of iron or B vitamins in the diet can also contribute to hair loss.
Bear in mind, though, that these will not produce the same kind of hair loss as MPB. As a result, they will follow a much different pattern to that more common condition.
The Early Signs of Balding
At first, it might be difficult to spot the common signs of balding caused by MPB, as hair loss is so gradual. It can help if you compare two photos of yourself, with similar lighting, taken at least several months apart. Early signs that you have MPB include:
- Receding hairline: If you take a look at the Hamilton-Norwood Scale and its seven stages of male pattern baldness, you’ll see a receding hairline is usually the first indication that the balding process has started. Hair starts to be lost at the temples, creating an “M” shaped hairline.
- Crown hair loss: Another early sign of MPB is where your hair starts to thin at the crown (just off the top of your head – or the vertex) and begins to produce a bald spot.
- Less healthy hair: In the areas where your hair is thinning, you may also see that individual hairs are weaker and more brittle, and they take longer to grow than hair in less-affected areas.
- Excessive hair loss after a shower: It’s totally normal to lose a few hairs when you wash, dry, and comb your hair. However, if you’re noticing a lot of hair left behind on the towel or comb, that could be a sign of MPB beginning.
- No change to hair on the sides or back of your head: The hair follicles in these areas are not as sensitive to DHT. So, if you have thicker hair there while you’re losing it up top, that’s a strong sign that your hair loss is caused by MPB.
If you experience sudden hair loss, you have multiple bald patches, you’re losing hair in clumps, or you have an itchy or burning scalp, it’s likely that your hair is caused by a different condition to MPB and you should seek medical advice.
Hair Loss Treatments to Tackle the First Balding Signs
It may be that further hair loss doesn’t faze you – you’re happy to go for a close cropped hairstyle and let nature take its course.
However, if you’re keen to treat your hair loss then it’s best to start early, when you first notice the MPB warning signs. That’s because the longer you leave it, the more damage the DHT does to your follicles – and the harder your hair loss will be to stop.
Finasteride is a tablet taken once a day, which blocks the enzyme 5-AR from converting testosterone to DHT. According to one study, it reduces the amount of DHT in your hair follicles by two thirds.
This means that your hair is protected from the harmful effects of DHT – and that it is more able to produce strong, healthy hair again. Finasteride is a good choice if you want to tackle your receding hairline early on, promote regrowth, and return to styling it in the way that you want.
Important note: Finasteride should never be taken by women; it is only licensed as a treatment for male pattern baldness.
Minoxidil is a topical hair loss treatment available as a foam, spray, or solution, which is applied to the areas of the scalp where hair is thinning. Whilst it doesn’t tackle the activity of DHT directly, Minoxidil does help to increase blood flow to your scalp, bringing the oxygen and nutrients necessary to revitalise your hair follicles. If you want to target specific areas of hair loss, then Minoxidil could work well for you.
For a comprehensive approach to hair loss treatment, you can also try combining Finasteride and Minoxidil. Together, they provide positive results for more than nine out of ten men.
Note on side effects: Side effects from taking Finasteride and/or Minoxidil are rare, and when they do occur they tend to be minor. For more information about side effects, check out the following articles:
Can You Regrow Hair on a Bald Spot?
When you’re in the early stages of MPB and a small bald spot develops, you do have a good chance of being able to regrow hair in that area – as long as you have the right treatment. That’s because the hair follicles, though damaged, can still be revived with the help of Finasteride or Minoxidil.
On the other hand, if your MPB has been developing for a while and you have large areas where no hair has grown for some time, it won’t be possible to regain full coverage. With treatment, however, you might be able to thicken up the hair around the edges of the bald areas. And this could give you a little extra flexibility regarding hair styles, along with a bit more confidence at the same time.
Spotting the early signs of balding is key if you want to get the most out of the proven hair loss treatments. Finasteride and Minoxidil are very effective for early-stage MPB, whether it’s a receding hairline, a bald spot, or general hair thinning that you want to tackle. If you leave it too long, though, it can be difficult to treat.
Hair loss doesn’t have to be final if you get help quickly. While your MPB is still restricted to smaller areas, this is the ideal opportunity to give your hair follicles a bit of TLC.