The Baldness Epidemic
If you’re a man and you’re losing your hair, you likely have the male pattern baldness (MPB) type of androgenetic alopecia. Well over half of men will lose at least some of the hair in their lifetime, which could lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and even loss of sexual confidence. Unless you’re fond of wearing hats all of the time or have an attractive scalp worthy of a shaved head, this condition follows you everywhere you go and is noticed by everyone you see. You may not have to stare at that shiny sunspot on your head everyday, but your co-workers, girlfriends, and friends do. Laugh off the jokes if you can, but you’re stuck with this for the time being unless you make some major changes.
The Birth of the Bald
You probably know the early signs: receding hairline, thinning crown, and if left too long, the dreaded horseshoe around your ears and back of your head. You may have had a full head of hair in your 20’s (or not, some people start thinning as early as their teens!), but your baldness was always predestined. As with most things, blame your genes. In this case, it’s the genes controlling sensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) a derivative of testosterone. For afflicted men, DHT attacks the follicles in certain areas such as the forehead and crown, impacting their ability to absorb nutrients and shortening the growth phase of follicles. At first, the follicle may grow fine, colorless hair, and then no hair at all. Oddly enough, the follicles in the horseshoe area are not impacted by DHT.
It is still commonly believed that male pattern baldness is passed down from the mother. While this may be partially true, as one of the genes increasing the risk for baldness is located on your X chromosome, there are other genes at play that can come from both sides. Genetics is anything but simple.
Grading Male Pattern Balding
The earlier you start a treatment for baldness, the better your outcome will be. As such, it’s important to make sure you grade your baldness properly to see where you fall on the baldness scale. The standard grading system for male pattern baldness is called the Norwood Classification scale and rates baldness from 1 (minimal to no hair loss) to 7 (horseshoe coverage only or less).
Knowing your grade will help you determine what treatments would be appropriate for you, and you may be asked to inform your doctors by phone of your grade prior to initial appointments. It is also important to ask how successful any hair loss professional has been with your particular degree of hair loss.
Male Pattern Baldness Mythbusting 101
As with many pervasive conditions that do not yet have a complete cure, myths about the cause and treatment of baldness are everywhere. If you’re worried that sexual activity (or lack thereof), sun exposure, hair products like shampoo or gel, or wearing a hat are causing your hair problems, don’t. There’s no consistent research that these choices have an impact. And, for the most part, your diet doesn’t have an effect either. Save yourself some time, energy, and money and make sure you’re getting the right information from a qualified professional.
Hair Loss Treatment Options
There are a few effective hair loss options out there, and how effective they are for you depends on your degree of hair loss. In general, you have two choices for managing your hair loss: conceal or replace. If you’re further along toward a full horseshoe, a full hair restoration system (i.e. a wig or toupee) may be your only option. Early in the hair loss trajectory you may get great results from hair fibers (a concealment solution), minoxidil (Rogaine®) or topical ketocanazole.
When you’re in the middle of the hair loss spectrum, more expensive and invasive treatments may be necessary. Finasteride (Proscar®, Propecia®) and dutasteride (Avodart ®) are medications that reduce levels of DHT, but must be taken daily and you may experience side effects. Hair replacement surgery should be your last option due to the cost, risk, and overall inconvenience. An alternative treatment you can consider at this stage is Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy (PRP). In PRP, platelets and growth factor proteins are extracted from a patient’s blood and injected into the scalp to promote increased blood flow, hair growth, and healing.
Whatever you choose, stay safe and good luck!