Male Pattern Baldness Explained: Can Balding Be Reversed?

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There is a particularly crushing moment in the classic 90s sitcom Seinfeld, where the character of George Costanza has his recently-acquired toupée thrown out the window by Elaine Benes, who didn’t much care for it to begin with. Before the rug was unceremoniously tossed onto the busy streets of Manhattan, George -- who suffers from male pattern baldness -- jubilantly exclaimed that with his personality and his new head of hair, he is back in the game. Ah well. That’s a shame.

Hair is an odd thing. Really, it is, when you think about it. We are a relatively hairless species among our fellow mammalian Earthlings, but evolution decided to leave some hair in certain locations on our body, one of them being the top of our head. In spite of its usefulness, the head hair doesn’t seem to stick around nearly as long as with other parts.

The hair under our arms doesn’t fall out or disappear, neither does our pubic hair or facial hair. Of course, there are those who suffer from various conditions, or who experience shedding and baldness as a consequence of certain procedures or medicinal substances. But I am not talking about them. I am talking about your run-of-the-mill guy, who has a good chance of developing male pattern baldness by the time he hits his midlife crisis, and a great chance of it developing by the time he begins to set into his autumn years.

Okay, we get it. It’s rampant. Here’s male pattern baldness explained.

What Is Male Pattern Baldness?

Man looking at his hair loss in the mirror.

Man examining hair loss.

Male pattern baldness is the name given to the condition known as androgen alopecia. It is highly common in men and women, though it expresses itself differently in each of the sexes. With men, this baldness tends to first manifest itself as increased shedding, noticeable and continued recession of the hairline, or bald patches which appear seemingly out of nowhere (usually on the crown of the head).

This form of alopecia can start at almost any time after puberty, and the chance of acquiring it increases as the male ages. By the time he is in his 50s, the average man has a 30-50% of suffering from pattern baldness. By the time he is in his 70s, that number goes up to 80%. If there is already a history of male pattern baldness in the family, that number increases significantly since genetics closely tie into acquisition of the condition.

Male pattern baldness is a normal condition which primarily affects the crown, the temples, and the middle to frontal scalp. In many cases, the hair recedes in an M-like or V-like pattern. The hair which remains is often of a horseshoe pattern.

What Are The Causes of Male Pattern Baldness?

There is a single cause for the male pattern baldness taking place: namely, it is the shrinking of the scalp’s hair follicles, or roots. The follicles shrink to such a degree that they can no longer support the growth and nourishment of existing hair, nor aid or otherwise support the growth of new hair. Once that happens it’s good bye hair, hello scalp.

There are three main catalysts which contribute to the onset of androgenic alopecia, according to the majority of researchers: the first is genetic predisposition, the second is age, and the third is sex hormones. These catalysts can also be interconnected, and other factors can be thrown into the mic, such as psychological stress, reaction to medication, a disease or illness, and deficiencies of all sorts.

Breaking this apart a bit, we can see that some catalysts are external, and some are internal. But no matter which one or ones occurs, the cause is the same. This is crucial to the understanding of possible treatment and/or prevention. I suppose the biggest question is: can you stop it?

Can You Stop Male Pattern Baldness?

Thinning hair.

Hair loss and thinning.

Essentially, no. But you can stop it from spreading further and from strengthening its hold on the scalp. This can be done in different ways, and I will discuss some of them in this article. It is important to note that once the process has started, it can be difficult to slow down. Difficult though not impossible. It takes commitment and dedication, and even then it is maintaining that which is already there.

Male pattern baldness seems to be imprinted into our DNA. There is only so much you can do against the forces of nature and biology. So, no. You can’t stop male pattern baldness, but you may be able to stop it from gaining a real foothold or spreading. I’ll get into that more later. Right now, let’s see what the classic telltale signs of male pattern baldness are.

What Are The First Signs of Balding?

The first sign of balding is noticeable thinning on the top of the head. Shedding in greater amounts than usual is also an initial clue, though there are times where more shedding is very normal, so it may be difficult to tell at first. Maybe you will start finding larger-than-usual clumps of hair accumulating at the shower drain. Or perhaps you will notice more hair than usual on your brush or comb.

Another sign is the recession of the hairline. Sometimes this can only be observed by someone on the outside, since you see your hairline every day (pretty much), and so it is difficult to make the call. You may notice it yourself if you look at older photographs of yourself, and see where your hairline was. Under normal circumstances, this is not something that happens overnight. It is often a fairly long and slow process, but this also gives you a chance to notice it and mount a serious defense for your locks.

Can Male Pattern Baldness Be Prevented?

Hair loss solutions.

Man looking at hair.

To a degree, yes, but only to a certain degree. There are forces of nature which are at work here, and which are stronger than any pharmaceutical drug. We must remember that the tendency for male baldness is great, and that this is true across the board. Furthermore, because male pattern baldness has so many variables, it is not possible to understand every outcome or set of circumstances. 

When it comes to prevention, it is the same as with almost any medical condition. The earlier you catch it and diagnose it, the more chances you have of beating it. Or if not beating it, than certainly handling it in a better way, physically and mentally. The earlier you start treatment, the more hairs you can save. You can strengthen and thicken roots and hairs which exist, even if that root is shrunken and petite, and the hair is thin and wispy. But as of today, there is no clinically-proven way to revitalize a non-existent follicle or reattach a fallen hair by using topical drugs.

Minoxidil And Male Pattern Baldness Explained

With the discovery of minoxidil’s hair-strengthening abilities -- originally selling as a pill to treat blood-pressure issues --  a great surge of hope comes for balding men. Could it be that a cure for baldness was right around the corner?

Others were skeptical, and rightly so. How could a topical drug win against a condition which possesses such a large genetic component and such a high rate of prevalence? They didn’t think it possible. It is their assumption that if there is a predisposition to baldness, verily it will be his fate sooner or later.

In the late 1980s, the harnessing of minoxidil’s properties creates a potential great product. The product’s name is Rogaine, and it still sells to men and women all over the world. Minoxidil and male pattern baldness are forever associated. Results with Minoxidil vary because of all the other factors involved, but it seems to be doing its job. The precise mechanism is still not fully clear, but it seems that minoxidil helps follicles and hairs grow.

Remember, there are possible side effects to every drug, minoxidil included. Do your research, and please don’t be content with speaking solely to a single physician or pharmacist on this matter. Some take money to represent Big Pharma, and they push certain meds or procedures accordingly. By all means, diagnose your condition with an MD, get solid advice from a trained pharmacist -- but don’t take their words as written in stone. There are alternatives which you could pursue.

Why Pattern Baldness Needs To Be Stopped Before It Starts

Man smiling with eyes closed and pumping fists.

Happy man with beard.

Once the baldness train starts rolling down that hill, there is little you can do to stop it from reaching its final destination. 

Male pattern baldness can be hindered and delayed, but not stopped or reversed. It all comes down to when you take action, really. With so many factors involved, there is a lot you can do to induce healthy growth among the hairs on your head. And this stays true regardless of whether or not you are losing them.

You can add or take away certain foods from your regular diet. Decide to use a hair-strengthening shampoo with follicle-friendly essential oils. Stop using certain hair products which could be doing you potential harm. Regularly massaging the scalp, increases blood flow to the follicles and stimulate growth. There are so many ways to go about this, so don’t feel like pharmaceutical drugs are the only answer.

Conclusion

Male pattern baldness is where many of us guys are headed. That’s just a fact. Until such time as science is able to clone hair or find another solution, this is what we have to deal with. Different pharmaceutical solution are at our disposal, but these require an investment of time and money. It’s a commitment, and once you stop using the drugs, your hair will act naturally and most likely thin out and fall.

Hair transplants are also a viable option, and many choose to take that road. Rogaine is not perfect for every type of baldness, so there are those who skip ahead and go for hair restoration at a clinic. Hair grafting is also an expense and a commitment, so take that into account.

By the way, let’s not forget that many men are fine with balding. They accept it as a natural transition, and they take it with grace. With some people, however, male pattern baldness causes substantial amount of psychological stress, sometimes leading into the darker territories of anxiety and depression. This remains true even though it is more unusual to keep your hair than to lose it!

Eventually, George Costanza was happy that his good friend Elaine through out the toupée. He was glad to be his usual, insecure, paranoid, neurotic self again. There is a lesson here, unlike from most (if not all) Seinfeld episodes: it’s better to be yourself, with or without hair, and to not be defined by your external appearance. Easier said than done, I know, but the point still remains.

And don’t worry about George’s toupée. A homeless guy found it and kept it, and it happens to fit his head quite nicely!

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