A receding hairline does not simply involve having less hair. It is a disorder that can be caused by many different factors. Losing one’s hair can have a serious psychological impact on many people—both men and women. But what causes a receding hairline? Will it continue to worsen? Is there any type of treatment that works?
How Does Hair Loss Present Itself?
Receding hairline can affect men or women, but it’s more common in men. Hair loss is usually linked with aging, but many younger people also experience a receding hairline.
Hair loss presents differently in each person.
Progression of Hair Loss in Men
Having a receding hairline doesn’t always mean that a person will be entirely bald later on, but it can be an early sign of a condition called male pattern baldness (also called androgenetic alopecia or AGA).
Usually, there is a distinct pattern that occurs when a male loses his hair. This is different in women, who commonly experience thinning. However, in males, the loss usually occurs in progressive steps which may include:
- a receding hairline that appears to be uneven
- a noticeable “M” shape appears at the hairline
- loss of hair on the top of the back of the head (resulting in a bald spot)
- the area involving the receding hairline meets the bald spot (resulting in larger areas of hair loss)
- complete balding on top (the only remaining hair appearing around the sides and back of the head)
Hair Loss and Receding Hairline in Women
In women, the pattern of hair loss is usually very different than in men. Usually, females do not experience the typical receding hairline that commonly proceeds male pattern baldness.
Eighty percent of men of European descent are affected by hair loss by the time they are 80 years old.
When it comes to women, 40% have visible hair loss by the time they reach age 40, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Women can get a receding hairline; however, it is usually not associated with female-pattern baldness.
Conditions that can cause a woman to get a receding hairline may include:
- Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia: This is characterized by a slowly progressive loss of hair and scarring of the scalp near the forehead. There is no cure for this condition, but medications that slow the loss of hair may be effective in some cases.
- Traction Alopecia: This is a gradual hair loss resulting from constant pulling (from the hair being pulled back into a ponytail, pigtails, or braids).
“For women, the first sign of hair loss that they often notice is a widening of their part, or their ponytail is smaller,” said dermatologist Mary Gail Mercurio, MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology and program director of dermatology residency at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.
Signs That Hair Loss May Be Problematic
Losing hair is an everyday occurrence that happens as part of a normal cycle for most people; it is normal to lose approximately 100 hairs a day. The hair slowly and gradually falls out, then new hair grows back again. But some circumstances may point to a possibility that hair loss is problematic.
In addition, excessive worry about losing one’s hair may indicate it’s best to speak with a healthcare provider about your concern.
In a receding hairline, the hair begins to fall out as a result of damage to hair follicles. Under normal circumstances, as hair naturally reaches its maturity stage, strands fall out and new ones replace it. But when the hair follicles become damaged, there is a risk of scarring and the risk that hair will no longer regrow.
Genes are the most common cause of male- and female-pattern baldness (also known as androgenic alopecia).
According to Mayo Clinic, hair loss is usually related to one or more of the factors, including:
- Hormone changes (due to pregnancy, menopause, thyroid, or other hormonal problems)
- Medical conditions (such as alopecia areata, infectious diseases, ovarian tumors, or other conditions)
- Scalp infections
- Medications or supplements (such as cancer or arthritis medication or drugs for gout, heart problems, high blood pressure, or depression)
- Radiation therapy
- Stress (a stressful event may cause hair loss, but this is usually temporary)
In addition, other factors that may cause receding hairline include:
- Excessive hairstyling (involving the use of heat from blow dryers or curling irons)
- Hairstyles that pull the hair very tight (such as cornrows)
- Hot oil hair treatments or permanents
- Poor diet (lacking in adequate protein)
- Autoimmune disorders
- Tumors (rarely)
Physical or Emotional Stress
Stress can be a major causative factor linked to hair loss. The name for stress-induced hair loss is telogen effluvium. The condition results in the shedding of copious amounts of hair each time the hair is combed or shampooed.
Telogen effluvium may not be noticeable until long after a stressful event is over. It can take up to eight months before the hair loss subsides. Losing hair due to stress is usually temporary, but it can become chronic (long-term) in some instances.
Hair Loss Prevention
There are some preventative measures that can be taken to prevent hair from falling out, according to Mayo Clinic, these include: avoiding hairstyles that pull tight on the hair (such as braids, cornrows, ponytails, or buns), avoiding constantly pulling, rubbing, or twisting hair, using a wide-toothed comb and gently brushing or combing hair, and avoiding harsh chemical treatments on the head such as permanents or hot oil treatments.
In addition, helpful measures include avoiding the use of hot rollers and curling irons (and other heated styling methods), avoiding drugs or supplements that could cause hair loss when possible, quitting smoking, protecting the hair from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight (or other types of ultraviolet light), and using a cooling cap (for those taking chemotherapy, this can lower the risk of hair loss from chemo).
Note, if the cause of a person’s receding hairline is hereditary, it cannot be prevented.
Hair loss can be diagnosed and treated by a dermatologist. Diagnosis may involve a detailed family history to discover clues as to whether the condition is hereditary, a “pull test” to determine how easily the hair falls out, a scalp biopsy (removal of a small sample of scalp tissue) to evaluate the tissue for scalp conditions, and a blood test to screen for medical conditions that could cause the hair to fall out (such as thyroid disease).
Treatment of receding hairline depends on the cause. If a condition such as thyroid disease is causing a person to lose their hair, the treatment would involve addressing the underlying cause—the thyroid problem.
If an immune disorder(such as alopecia areata) is the cause of hair loss, steroid injections in the scalp may help.
Commonly, Rogaine (minoxidil) is used to slow down hair loss, or in some instances to reverse it. Keep in mind that typically Rogaine is only effective in receding hairline that is linked to male pattern baldness and may not work for other types of hair loss. Also, Rogaine is known for being more effective at restoring the hair in small batches, rather than in very large areas of the scalp, so early use of Rogaine will likely produce the best results.
Other Types of Treatment
Other treatment options may include a medication called Propecia (aimed at promoting hair growth). This medication can have some serious side effects, such as possibly increasing the risk of prostate cancer. (However, this is controversial); it is exclusively for men because it involves blocking DHT from testosterone (a male hormone). DHT is thought to inhibit hair growth in men. It also has controversial associations with depression and sexual side effects.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy for hair loss is a three-step medical treatment in which a person’s blood is drawn, processed, and then injected into the scalp. This therapy has been used for problems such as healing injured tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
Surgical hair restoration (involves a transplant of the hair follicles) is another option some choose to pursue, as well as laser therapy (which may help to reduce male pattern baldness), taking Dritho-Scalp (a prescription drug that promotes new hair growth is some people), and corticosteroids (a prescription drug that lowers inflammation around the hair follicles, allowing them to grow new hair). Of course, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any regimen of drugs or supplements.
Biotin, a supplement often touted as improving hair loss, is not in fact supported by data.
Essential oils are often used as well (preliminary studies have shown that lavender oil and peppermint oil may be as effective as Rogaine for hair regrowth).
A study on the effectiveness of Rogaine (minoxidil) treatment for male pattern baldness found that minoxidil, 5% topical treatment was more effective than the 2 percent minoxidil or than a placebo, for new hair regrowth. In fact, men grew 45 percent more hair at week 48 than those who used the 2 percent topical minoxidil.
Another study discovered that mice treated with essential oil of peppermint had clear signs of hair regrowth. A 2016 mouse model study revealed similar results when mice were treated with lavender oil. Although human studies are required to back up these claims, these 2 essential oil studies may offer preliminary information to support those looking for a natural treatment for receding hairline.
Psychological Toll of Hair Loss
The emotional reaction to losing one’s hair can be very significant. In fact, there have been many studies and surveys conducted to evaluate the impact that the loss of hair has on emotional health. One such survey of 2,000 men in the United States discovered that there may be a close association between a man’s work identity and his hair.
In the hair census, as many as eight in 10 men who were surveyed reported that the look of their hair was important and made them look professional and feel confident.
A dermatologist spokesman told BBC News, “The researchers say, hair loss is a common disorder and it can cause considerable damage to emotional health, including loss of self-esteem and confidence.”
A Word From Verywell
Although having a receding hairline commonly causes considerable concern for both men and women, many people have discovered that it is not totally hopeless. There are new medical treatments and procedures on the horizon that may help to slow down the process of a receding hairline. Consulting with a dermatologist or other healthcare provider can help a person with a receding hairline to fully understand the cause of the condition and get a clear picture of the treatment options available.