Androgenetic Alopecia: Causes & Treatment Options
Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Looking a little thin on top recently? Hair loss is a common issue for men, with data published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery suggesting that more than half of all men develop moderate to extensive hair loss by their forties.
When androgenetic alopecia affects men, it’s referred to as male pattern baldness. Symptoms may include a receding hairline, as well as hair loss that affects your crown (the area at the top of your scalp).
Although androgenetic alopecia can be frustrating to deal with, it’s a treatable issue that can be slowed down, stopped and even reversed.
Below, we’ve explained how androgenetic alopecia develops, as well as the symptoms you may notice if you’re prone to this form of hair loss.
We’ve also listed the most effective treatment options for androgenetic alopecia, from hair loss medications to options like hair transplant surgery.
Androgenetic Alopecia: The Basics
Androgenetic alopecia, or pattern hair loss, is a form of hair loss that’s caused by a mix of genetic and hormonal factors.
If you have androgenetic alopecia, you may notice your hairline receding and developing an “M” shape. You may also develop thinning or total hair loss on your scalp, particularly at your crown.
The hormone that’s responsible for androgenetic alopecia is called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. Most treatments for androgenetic alopecia work by reducing your DHT levels or stimulating hair growth directly.
Androgenetic alopecia is treatable. Right now, several medications are available to slow down, stop or reverse this form of hair loss, including FDA-approved treatments such as finasteride and minoxidil.
Hair loss from androgenetic alopecia tends to get worse over time, making it important to take action and start treatment as soon as you notice symptoms.
What Causes Androgenetic Alopecia?
Androgenetic alopecia is caused by a combination of factors that includes your genetics and the effects of male sex hormones called androgens.
More specifically, androgenetic alopecia is caused by a genetic sensitivity to the androgen DHT, or dihydrotestosterone.
Your body creates DHT as a byproduct of testosterone, the main androgen hormone. DHT plays an important role in developing your male features before birth and during adolescence, such as your external genitals, facial hair and prostate gland.
However, as you get older, the link between DHT and male hair loss strengthens. It can have a damaging effect on your hair follicles, causing them to miniaturize and stop producing new hairs.
Researchers aren’t precisely aware of why some men are more prone to androgenetic alopecia than others. However, research shows that men with hair loss tend to have higher levels of DHT than their peers, as well as a greater number of androgen receptors in the scalp.
Other research has found that variations in the AR gene, which is responsible for instructing the body about how to create androgen receptors, may contribute to this form of hair loss.
Contrary to popular belief, although research shows that androgenetic alopecia tends to cluster in families, there’s no evidence that androgenetic alopecia is inherited from your mother’s father or any other specific family member.
Androgenetic Alopecia and Other Medical Conditions
Interestingly, androgenetic alopecia is associated with several other men’s health issues, some of which may be influenced by DHT.
For example, research has found that androgenetic alopecia is linked to coronary heart disease and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). It’s also associated with issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and prostate cancer.
While these links are interesting, it’s important to understand that losing your hair doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily develop any of these conditions, or vice-versa.
Androgenetic Alopecia Symptoms
The most common, obvious symptom of androgenetic alopecia is hair loss, particularly hair loss that develops in a specific pattern.
It’s normal to shed between 50 and 100 hairs per day. These hairs fall out as a natural result of your hair growth process, during which your hair grows to its normal length, rests and eventually sheds as a new hair takes its place.
If you’re affected by androgenetic alopecia, you may notice hair falling out in a clear pattern that affects your hairline (particularly the area above both temples) or your crown.
Over time, this hair loss may cause your hairline to take on an M-shaped appearance, with more skin visible in the areas near your temples.
Androgenetic alopecia can vary in severity. While some men develop total baldness, others only lose a small amount of hair around the hairline or crown.
Treatments for Androgenetic Alopecia
Androgenetic alopecia is treatable. By acting quickly and seeking treatment as soon as you start to notice your hair shedding, it’s usually possible to slow down or stop any further hair loss.
In some cases, it may also be possible to regrow hair along your hairline, near your crown or in other areas with noticeable thinning.
Currently, the most effective treatments for androgenetic alopecia are the medications minoxidil and finasteride. We’ve explained how these medications work below.
Minoxidil is a topical medication that stimulates hair growth. It works by forcing hairs to enter the anagen (growth) phase of the hair growth cycle and stimulating blood flow to your scalp and hair follicles.
Research shows that minoxidil helps to treat androgenetic alopecia. In a large-scale study, 84.3 percent of men with androgenetic alopecia who were treated with minoxidil for 12 months rated it as either very effective, effective or moderately effective at stimulating hair regrowth.
Finasteride is an oral medication that reduces your body’s production of DHT, the hormone that causes androgenetic alopecia. By blocking DHT, it helps to slow down or stop the DHT-related damage to your hair follicles that causes hair loss.
Research shows that finasteride can slow down, stop and even reverse hair loss. For example, two one-year trials found that men with androgenetic alopecia who took finasteride daily saw a measurable improvement in hair growth.
In comparison, the men who took a non-therapeutic placebo continued to lose hair throughout the study.
A 2015 study found that finasteride and minoxidil are the most effective at treating androgenetic when used together.
We offer finasteride online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate. You can buy finasteride and topical minoxidil together in our Hair Power Pack.
Hims has helped thousands of men regrow their hair
Hair Transplant Surgery
Medications like finasteride and minoxidil can produce big improvements in your hair’s density, thickness and overall appearance. However, they aren’t the only options available for treating androgenetic alopecia.
If you have noticeable hair loss, you may want to consider undergoing a hair transplant. This is a type of surgical procedure that involves transplanting DHT-resistant hairs from the sides and back of your scalp to areas with hair loss, such as your hairline and crown.
Hair transplant surgery has some downsides, but it can produce a convincing, natural-looking result when performed correctly. We’ve talked more about this type of procedure, its costs and how it works in our guide to hair transplants.
Hair Care Products & Habits
Because androgenetic alopecia is caused by genetic and hormonal factors, making changes to your habits won’t completely stop your hair loss.
However, making certain changes to your hair care habits may help to slow down hair loss and stimulate the growth of your hair, especially when these changes are combined with treatments like minoxidil and finasteride. Try to:
Use a hair loss prevention shampoo. Shampoos containing ingredients such as saw palmetto and ketoconazole may help to slow down and prevent hair loss. Our Thick Fix Shampoo is designed to promote volume and moisture while reducing scalp buildup.
Eat a balanced diet. Although there’s no food that can prevent androgenetic alopecia, many foods are rich in vitamins and minerals that can stimulate growth and keep your hair healthy.
Avoid overly tight hairstyles. Hairstyles that put pressure on your hair, like dreadlocks or braids, can damage the hair follicles and cause a type of hair loss that’s referred to as traction alopecia. This type of hair loss is different from androgenetic alopecia, but often produces similar symptoms.
Our guide to How to Make Hair Grow Faster For Men offers more information about proven habits that you can implement to keep your hair healthy.
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No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
Learn More About Androgenetic Alopecia Treatment Options
Androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness, is a common form of hair loss that can occur in your 20s, 30s, 40s or later in your life.
If you’re affected by androgenetic alopecia, you can use hair loss treatments such as minoxidil and finasteride to prevent this form of hair loss from becoming worse over time.
Our guide to the early signs of baldness goes into more about the symptoms you may notice if you’re losing your hair, as well as the proven steps that you can take to stop hair loss.