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A receding hairline is an extremely 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 is hereditary, and there is no real way to prevent it.
Fortunately, there are several treatment options for a receding hairline. However, some options are more effective than others. Here’s what you need to know about the causes of a receding hairline and what you can do about it.
Symptoms of 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.
For biological men, the hairline can start receding at any point after the completion of puberty. Hair thinning typically begins above the temples and gradually recedes backward towards the top of the head. For some, this may leave a ring of hair around the head, or the hair may continue to thin to baldness.
Hair loss at the temples that creates a “V” shaped hair pattern is often referred to as a “widow’s peak”. Some people may also notice skin discoloration around the site of the hair loss or a rash on the scalp following hair loss.
What causes a receding hairline?
A receding hairline is a form of hair loss, also called alopecia. The most common cause of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia. This is a pattern of thinning hair that is affected by genes and hormones (androgenic). However, there are many different types and causes of hair loss. The male pattern baldness that causes a receding hairline is caused by a combination of:
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.
Researchers have found that there is more than one gene involved with hair loss. While more research is needed, scientists have identified over 250 genetic areas of interest that could help predict who will be affected by hair loss.
Some hair loss may also be caused by hormonal changes. In biological women, menopause or changes to the menstrual cycle may cause hair thinning, but not always. A hormone called DHT has been linked to hair loss in biological men.
Other causes of hair loss can include:
This list is not exhaustive. If you experience hair loss, speak with your healthcare provider to rule out any serious underlying causes.
What are the different types of hair loss?
Androgenetic alopecia is the most common hair complaint in the United States. Over 50 million men and 30 million women are affected. 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. Male pattern baldness involves the presence of androgens, which is why men are affected more often than women since men typically produce more androgens.
Androgenetic alopecia in women typically begins with hair loss at the part of the hair, followed by increasing hair loss moving outward from the top of the head. Hair loss in biological women will only rarely end in complete baldness, whereas biological men can progress to complete baldness with age.
For most biological men, androgenetic alopecia begins in their twenties, while women don’t typically begin to experience it until their forties or fifties (during and after menopause).
Traction alopecia is hair loss caused by repeated pulling of the hair into tight ponytails, buns, braids, and other hairstyles. Hair loss from traction alopecia will typically grow back when you stop using hair-pulling styles. Instead, try wearing loose ponytails and braids lower on your head, take breaks in between using artificial hair, and change the pattern or braided and twisted hairstyles.
Frontal fibrosing alopecia
Frontal fibrosing alopecia is hair loss that causes scarring of the hair follicles around the front of the hairline, which means the hair won’t grow back. The exact cause of frontal fibrosing alopecia is not known.
While there’s no cure for frontal fibrosing alopecia, medications may be able to slow down hair loss in some cases, especially when treatment is begun in the early stages of hair loss.
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 seek out treatments.
It’s important to keep your expectations realistic when looking at treatments for hair loss. Remember that:
- 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.
Topical minoxidil (2% or 5% solution), available over the counter as Rogaine, is approved to treat male pattern balding. Women are approved to use the 2% solution. Minoxidil encourages hair regrowth, but it’s 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. Hair loss will reoccur once you stop using the product, so to see continued results, you’ll have to use it indefinitely.
Finasteride (Propecia) (see Important Safety Information) 1 mg per day orally is approved to treat androgenetic alopecia in biological men. Like minoxidil, it is also more effective at regrowing hair at the top of the head versus the hairline. More research is needed to understand the effectiveness of finasteride in biological women. It should not be used by anyone who is pregnant or who could become pregnant, as it can cause birth defects.
It’s important to know that finasteride will lower the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level in men. This level is commonly used to screen for and monitor prostate cancer. If you use this medication, make sure that all of your healthcare providers know that your levels may be artificially low.
Corticosteroids can be used to reduce inflammation along the hairline from frontal fibrosing alopecia. In some cases, reducing inflammation may prevent damage and scarring of the hair follicle and allow hair to regrow. Corticosteroids are available topically or by injection into the scalp.
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 hair transplants a potentially good choice for improving a receding hairline.
Alternative hair loss 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.
Make sure to consult with your healthcare provider before you use any alternative treatments for hair regrowth, such as the following:
- 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
- Hair loss shampoo
- DHT supplements
Can you prevent a receding hairline?
If you experience hair loss caused by hair-pulling styles, try alternative styling options that don’t put so much pressure on your scalp. However, since genetics are the primary cause of 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. If you’re concerned about hair loss, Ro can help you figure out the best way to save your hair. A licensed provider can help you rule out any potentially serious underlying causes and come up with the best treatment plan for you.
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.
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Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.