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You may have thought balding is something that naturally happens with age, but genetics can also play a role. There are a lot of myths around hair loss, like the idea that if your mother’s father is bald, you’ll experience it too. Let’s break down what the “baldness gene” means, plus some other common causes of hair loss.
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Is balding genetic?
The short answer? Yes. Balding is in part genetic, but other factors like stress, medications, age, and nutritional deficiencies can also cause hair loss. The name for male and female pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) has two primary components: “androgen” and “genetic.” Androgens are hormones, which have been known to have a role, and there is a genetic component to androgenetic alopecia as well.
Male pattern baldness genetics
Male pattern baldness affects roughly 80% of men by age 80. In studies on twins and balding, around 80% of the variability of who experiences hair loss in both early and late-onset hair loss can be attributed to genetic factors (Hagenaars, 2017).
People with male pattern baldness typically see hair thinning above both temples, receding into an M-shaped hairline. Hair loss can also occur at the crown of the head and, in some cases, can progress to partial or complete baldness.
One of the key factors that plays into male pattern baldness is the level of hormones called androgens. These are sex hormones that contribute to what are considered predominantly male characteristics (like body hair), though women produce small amounts of androgens as well. Increased androgen levels make hairs shorter and thinner, which may contribute to an overall appearance of balding.
The myth that men inherit baldness from their mother’s father is still up for debate. In reality, the genetic component of male pattern baldness is polygenic, meaning it’s influenced by two or more genes (Yap, 2018). Some of the contributing genes are on the X chromosome, and since men get a Y chromosome from their dad and an X chromosome only from their mom, that means some of the inheritance does come from their mom’s side. But the genetics of hair loss is complicated, and there are likely genetic components men inherit from their fathers as well.
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Female pattern baldness genetics
The “baldness gene” in women is a bit of a grey area, but balding in women is thought to be related to a variety of factors. Changes in androgen levels can stimulate hair loss and thinning in women, just like in men.
Genetics can also play a role. Up to 54% of those with female pattern baldness reported family members with hair loss. Women who started to experience some amount of balding before age 40 were especially likely to have family members with hair loss, which further suggests a genetic component (Bhat, 2020).
Unlike men, hair thinning in women is more diffuse. The front hairline typically remains unaffected, with hair loss seen on the top and sides of the scalp. Female pattern baldness rarely results in total or near-total baldness.
Other causes of balding
In addition to genetics, other factors may contribute to balding in men and women. Some examples include:
- Chronic stress
- Nutritional deficiencies
- The use of birth control pills
- Hormonal changes, including menopause, pregnancy, or childbirth
- Certain hairstyles like tight ponytails
- Alopecia areata, an immune condition that causes patchy hair loss
- Trichotillomania, a hair-pulling disorder
- Some drugs and supplements
- Medical treatments like chemotherapy and radiation
How to slow down genetic hair loss
While you can’t completely prevent balding, there are some things you can do that might slow it down. Some examples are things that improve your overall health, like managing stress, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight. Getting a good night’s sleep each night could also be beneficial.
Is there a cure for baldness?
If you’ve already started experiencing hair loss, some treatments can help. Depending on your circumstances, your healthcare provider may recommend medications like minoxidil (brand name Rogaine) and/or finasteride (brand name Propecia; see Important Safety Information) to restore hair loss.
If you’ve tried medications and aren’t seeing results, there are other options including hair transplantation. This procedure involves moving hair follicles from one area of the scalp with hair to parts that are balding.
Newer treatments are also in the works, including laser therapy (also called red light therapy), which could help with hair density (Lueangarun, 2021). Platelet-rich plasma injections are another option that may stimulate hair growth in areas of balding. Ongoing research is being performed to determine whether these treatments are effective.
While baldness is in part genetic, other factors can contribute as well. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and using medications or treatments if appropriate for you can help you, and it’s important to pick the strategy that aligns with your overall goals.
- Bhat, Y. J., Saqib, N U., Latif, I., et al. (2020). Female pattern baldness – An update. Indian Dermatology Online Journal, 11(4), 493-501. doi:10.4103/idoj.IDOJ_334_19. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413422/
- Hagenaars, S. P., Hill, W. D., Harris, S. E., et al. (2017). Genetic prediction of male pattern baldness. PLoS Genetics, 13(2), e1006594. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1006594. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5308812/
- Lueangarun, S., Visutjindaporn, P., Parcharoen, Y., et al. (2021). A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of United States Food and Drug Administration-approved, home-use, low-level light/laser therapy devices for pattern hair loss: Device design and technology. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 14(11), E64-E75. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8675345/
- Yap, C. X., Sidorenko, J., Wu, Y. et al. (2018). Dissection of genetic variation and evidence for pleiotropy in male pattern baldness. Nature Communications, 9, 5407. doi:10.1038/s41467-018-07862-y. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302097/