Male pattern hair loss. Image credit: Flickr
Male pattern hair loss. Image credit: Flickr

Also called male pattern baldness or androgenetic alopecia, male pattern hair loss is a condition wherein scalp hair thins out gradually, becoming almost unnoticeable after some time when untreated. Baldness typically happens after 15-25 years of persistent male pattern hair loss. The hair problem may affect both genders and is the primary reason why humans (especially men) lose hair.   

There is no specific start date for male pattern baldness. Some may develop the condition during their 50s and 60s, and then there are others experiencing hair thinning and hair fall in their early 20s or teens. Simply put, this type of hair loss can happen at any age. The hair loss could be in the form of a receding hairline, thinning vertex or crown, or general thinning.

Causes

Male pattern baldness is hereditary – the individual could have inherited the condition from either the father or mother’s family. Generally, an individual suffers from male pattern baldness when he’s sensitive to dihydrotestosterone’s (DHT) effects. DHT is an androgen and sex steroid hormone derived when the cells of the scalp skin convert testosterone into dihydrotestosterone. In other words, DHT is a byproduct of testosterone.

Hairs are usually made in the hair follicle – a tiny pouch below the skin surface. Under normal conditions, the hair grows and stays active (in anagen phase) for three years, on average. The hair then falls out and makes way for another hair. This cycle of shedding and fresh growth continues throughout life. When the hair follicles are affected by DHT, they shrink down. As a result, the follicles don’t stay wide or thick enough to make way for thicker hair. And new hair growth turns much thinner.

DHT shortens the hair’s anagen or growth phase, causing follicle miniaturization. An enzyme called 5-alpha reductase regulates production of DHT, which is found in several body tissues – the scalp being one among them. For reasons unknown, DHT only affects scalp hair and not facial or body hair. Also, not all hair follicles get targeted at the same time, which makes balding a gradual process.

Complications/Effects

There are no fatal or medical complications to male pattern hair loss. But, as with every hair loss condition, there’s a major impact on quality of life. Men may despise their appearance when losing hair, which could at times affect their physical and mental well-being. Also, the risks of skin damages relating to the sun such as sunburn go up. Hats and suntan lotions can help avoid problems relating to sun exposure.

Treatment

Currently, minoxidil (topical medication) and finasteride (oral drug) are the only two medicines that can inhibit DHT production and help regrow hair. Even if there’re minute hair strands, regaining decent amount of hair is possible. But hair regrowth is impossible in case of balding. Scalp flaps, hair transplantation and similar techniques can help restore scalp hair. Wigs and hair weaves, on the other hand, help camouflage appearances.

Treatments and their effects may vary between individuals. A treatment is considered successful or effective if it even manages to arrest hair fall. This is because the hair shedding would have continued if the treatment wasn’t sought. Hair regrowth should only be considered a bonus effect. For best results, it’s important to find a solution for the hair loss as soon as possible. The lesser the hair loss, the better are the chances of full hair regrowth.