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Aug 09, 2021
5 min read

Receding hairline: causes, risk factors, and treatment

A receding hairline is the most common hair complaint, affecting over 50 million men and 30 million women in the United States. The typical cause is androgenetic alopecia—hair loss due to androgens, a hormone produced by the body. Androgenetic alopecia runs in your family, and there is no real way to prevent it. Fortunately, there are several treatment options.

steve silvestro

Reviewed by Steve Silvestro, MD

Written by Ellyn Vohnoutka, BSN, RN

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

A receding hairline is a common occurrence with age, especially for men. While many embrace their baldness, a receding hairline can be frustrating and challenging for many others. 

Fortunately, there have never been more treatment options available to reverse hair loss. Some options are more effective than others, though. Here’s what you need to know about what causes a receding hairline and what you can do about it.

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What is a receding hairline?

Everyone is born with hundreds of thousands of hairs on their head. Your hair follicles are constantly moving through the hair growth cycle that takes them from actively growing hair to resting to shedding that hair and then back to growing again. Many different conditions can affect how your hair grows (Al Aboud, 2020). 

A receding hairline is a form of hair loss, also called alopecia. The most common cause is androgenetic alopecia. This is a pattern of thinning hair that is affected by genes and hormones (androgenic) (Al Aboud, 2020).

Androgenetic alopecia is the most common hair complaint in the United States. Over 50 million men and 30 million women are affected (Murphrey, 2020).

The receding hairline seen with androgenetic alopecia is also called male pattern baldness. But don’t let the name fool you—it’s a widespread condition affecting 70% of men and 40% of women (Murphrey, 2020).

What are the causes of a receding hairline?

The male pattern baldness that causes a receding hairline is caused by a combination of (Ho, 2021):

  • Age
  • Hormones
  • Genetics

The most significant factor is a genetic response that causes hair to fall out prematurely. Biological males have a five to six times higher chance of developing androgenetic alopecia if their father was balding (Ho, 2021).

Researchers have found that there is more than one gene involved with hair loss. More research is needed, but scientists have identified over 200 genetic areas of interest that could help predict who will be affected (Hagenaars, 2017).

Male pattern baldness requires the presence of androgens to occur, which means it can only start developing after puberty. Men are also affected more often than women since men typically produce more androgens (Ho, 2021).

Are there differences between men and women?

A receding hairline is typically thought of as a problem that only affects men, but this isn’t always the case. Women can experience a condition called female pattern baldness as well, although there are some differences.

The pattern of hair loss is typically different for men and women. Men will usually present with receding hair starting at the temples. The hair loss proceeds in an ‘M’ shaped pattern. Women commonly experience a widening part and thinning at the top of the scalp (Murphrey, 2020).

Another difference is the age at which a receding hairline typically begins. Androgenetic alopecia in most men starts in their twenties, while women don’t typically begin to experience it until their forties or fifties (during and after menopause) (Al Aboud, 2020).

Also, hair loss in women will only rarely end up in complete baldness, whereas men can progress to complete baldness with age (Al Aboud, 2020).

How do you treat a receding hairline?

There is no treatment required for a receding hairline, as it doesn’t cause any physical health issues. However, it can cause self-esteem issues and stress, so some people do seek out treatments.

It’s important to keep your expectations realistic when looking at treatments for hair loss. It would be best if you remembered that (Clarke, 2016):

  • No treatment will completely reverse your hair loss.
  • The response to treatment varies from person to person.
  • Some people will not respond to particular treatments.

Some of these treatments are available over the counter, while others will require you to see a primary care provider or a dermatologist.

Medications

Medications are the most commonly used way of treating male pattern hair loss, but they may have some side effects.

Topical minoxidil (2% or 5% solution), available over the counter as Rogaine, is approved to treat male pattern balding. Women can use the 2% solution. Minoxidil encourages hair regrowth, but it is more effective at the crown of the head than the front hairline. It usually takes 6–12 months to begin to see significant new hair growth. You will need to use this medication indefinitely, or hair loss will reoccur once you stop (Phillips, 2017).

Finasteride (Propecia) 1 mg per day orally is approved to treat androgenetic alopecia in men. Like minoxidil, it is also more effective at regrowing hair at the top of the head versus the hairline. The usefulness of finasteride in women is unclear. It should not be used by any woman who could become pregnant, as it can cause abnormalities in the fetus (Ho, 2021).

It’s important to know that finasteride will lower the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level in men. This level is commonly used to monitor for prostate cancer. If you use this medication, make sure that all of your healthcare providers know that your levels may be artificially low (Clarke, 2016).

Hair transplantation

A hair transplant involves surgically moving hair from part of your head with more hair growth to an area with less hair growth. The most dramatic results are seen when trying to correct frontal baldness. This makes it a good choice for improving a receding hairline (Zito, 2021).

Alternative treatments

There are a host of other hair loss treatments advertised to help with a receding hairline. None have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for hair loss. While some are supported by scientific evidence, others have little to no evidence that they’re effective for hair restoration. They can also be very expensive (Clarke, 2016).

Make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before you use any alternative treatments for hair regrowth, such as the following (Ho, 2021):

  • Medications used off-label for hair loss
  • Red light or low-level laser therapy
  • Herbal supplements such as saw palmetto
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP)
  • Adipose-derived stem cells

Can you prevent a receding hairline?

Since your genetics are the primary cause for a receding hairline, there’s no real way to prevent it. Taking care of your general health and establishing a healthy hair care routine can help you avoid worsening the condition.

Overall, the best way to deal with a receding hairline is to start treatment early when you first notice symptoms. This can help you maximize your success (Mounsey, 2009).

References

  1. Al Aboud AM, Zito PM. (2020). Alopecia. [Updated 2020 Sep 29]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538178/
  2. Clarke, P. (2016). Male baldness. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 45 (4), 186-188. Retrieved from https://www.racgp.org.au/afp/2016/april/male-baldness/
  3. Hagenaars, S. P., Hill, W. D., Harris, S. E., Ritchie, S. J., Davies, G., Liewald, D. C., 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/
  4. Ho CH, Sood T, Zito PM. (2021). Androgenetic alopecia. [Updated 2021 May 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430924/
  5. Mounsey, A. L., & Reed, S. W. (2009). Diagnosing and treating hair loss. American Family Physician, 80(4), 356–362. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2009/0815/p356.html
  6. Murphrey MB, Agarwal S, Zito PM. (2020). Anatomy, hair. [Updated 2020 Sep 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513312/
  7. Phillips, T. G., Slomiany, W. P., & Allison, R. (2017). Hair loss: common causes and treatment. American Family Physician, 96(6):371-378. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2017/0915/p371.html
  8. Zito PM, Raggio BS. (2021). Hair transplantation. [Updated 2021 Mar 6]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547740/