Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about male pattern baldness: Understanding hair loss in men

Samantha | 12 April 2018

We take an in-depth look at the causes, symptoms and signs of male pattern baldness.

According to Peter Bailey, (Unilever’s Global Technical Manager, Hair Care), male pattern baldness can be determined by both your genetics and age.

“Baldness is much more common in men than women primarily due to a difference in genetic coding” – Peter Bailey.

As such, dealing with issues like thinning and hair loss in men can be unavoidable – and unexpected.

In order to understand how and why men’s hair loss occurs, we delve into the biology behind shedding, how your hair cycle comes into play and how to deal with male pattern hair loss from a-z.

Male pattern baldness: Hair loss in men


male pattern hair loss man with bald head walking in street
Men’s hair loss: the facts. Credit: indigitalimages.com

What causes male pattern baldness?

Hair loss, thinning and male pattern baldness are visibly caused by a change in the hair’s natural growth cycle. To understand how this happens, you first need to know about the four stages of hair growth and shedding.

The hair cycle: An overview

First phase = Anagen (growing) lasts two to seven years and determines the length of our hair.

Second phase = Catagen (transition) lasts about ten days. The hair follicle shrinks and detaches from the dermal papilla in this stage.

Third phase = Telogen (resting) lasts around three months. Around 10-15 percent of hairs are in this phase and while the old hair is resting, a new hair begins the growth phase.

Fourth phase = Exogen (shedding) which is part of the resting phase where the old hair sheds approximately 50 to 150 hairs daily. After the Exogen stage, the follicle then goes back into the Anagen phase and the new hair starts to grow.

Male pattern baldness is caused due to a shortening of the whole cycle (manly in the Anagen phase). Each time a follicle goes through a cycle, it reduces in size, leading the thinner fibres.

“Eventually, a terminal hair will become a vellus hair with no pigment. Ultimately, the hair will then stop growing completely,” confirms Peter.

In men, the overriding mechanism behind hair loss is testosterone derived. Peter explains, “testosterone is metabolised to dihydrotestosterone, if an individual has the receptor for DHT, then the Anagen phase gets shorter with each cycle and eventually the man goes bald.”

Translation: it’s a (genetic) disruption in the hair’s natural cycle that causes hair loss in men.

Man with beared and sunglasses and slicked back bald hair look
Signs of male pattern baldness revealed. Credit: indigitalimages.com

What are early signs of male pattern baldness

Excessive shedding (more than normal) can be one sign that your natural hair cycle is shifting. “Normal shedding can be around 50-150 hairs per day,” confirms Peter.

“But we have seen some people shedding up to 600 hairs a day with no problem in terms of baldness, so for each individual, their normal amount of hair shedding will be different.”

Other signs of balding or permanent hair loss include a visibly receding hairline around the front, back, and sides of your head or patches of hair loss.

Most men experience hair loss or frontal baldness on the top and front of their heads first, especially around the crown area. But with any hair loss, all balding patterns can be different from person to person.

Bald man with beard and glasses
Going bald? Here are the facts. Credit: indigitalimages.com

How to stop male pattern baldness: What you need to know

According to Peter, male baldness and hair loss in men are determined mostly by your genes.

“The process of switching off the hair follicle (as highlighted in the hair cycle chart above) is down to genetic programming.”

It’s key to remember that men’s hair loss can also be driven by illness or certain medical treatments such as chemotherapy, so if you’re concerned about hair loss or any scalp issue, consult a medical professional for help.

As age and biology factor into the causes of male pattern baldness, it’s not possible to stop the process entirely. There are, however, treatments like Rogaine (which uses minoxidil as an active ingredient) or Propecia (finasteride) that can help to slow down hair loss

Peter confirms, “Minoxidil has clinical efficacy data and is approved by the US FDA. It is sold as a hair loss product in the United States.”


How to tackle hair loss in men


Male pattern baldness man looking in mirror with hand in hair
How to deal with hair loss in men.

Work with what hair you have

Whether you’ve experienced accelerated hair loss or are just starting to notice a slight amount of thinning, tackle male hair loss or almost bald hair with a custom style.

We’ve curated a gallery of the best haircuts for balding men that will take you through what looks can (and can’t be achieved) with all hair lengths and textures.

Asian man with bald hair
Go on, show off your bald head in all its glory. Credit: indigitalimages.com

Assess your options

Do you go down the comb-over route to hide a balding patch or get a headstart by shaving all of your hair? Whatever you decide, think about what suits your face shape best and how an updated hair routine fits into your everyday lifestyle.

If you used to have a low-maintenance cut but now want to switch to a thin-hair-hiding style, make sure you’re clued up on the best products and techniques to do so.

Your first step? Head to our dedicated ATH men’s section for some ground-level inspo.

male pattern baldness grey man in blue shirt
Think about how you will tackle male baldness in the future.

Think about future maintenance

Less hair doesn’t necessarily equal less grooming responsibilities. It’s still important to make sure you’re washing your scalp as needed and looking after your hair health as usual.

If you have any obvious bald spots, also make sure to apply an SPF to them before going out in the sun or covering up with a hat to protect any exposed scalp skin.