Daily Health

Dealing with a Receding Hairline

From Instagram influencers to hair product ads, everyone can feel the  pressure to improve their appearance. Having a full head of glossy locks is portrayed to be the pinnacle of beauty. But with about half of all people experiencing some type of receding hair by age 50, knowing you’re not alone can be reassuring.

For folks who are experiencing a receding hairline, also known as male pattern baldness or androgenetic alopecia, it can be crushing. Some choose to do nothing about their hair loss and instead embrace the bald look. Others want to do something about it. Both choices are valid!

If you’re in the latter camp, we’re here to help. Here’s what you can do to stop a receding hairline. 

What is a receding hairline?

First, let’s unpack the term “receding hairline.” It is often used for any type of hair loss. But this isn’t exactly what a receding hairline is. A receding hairline is not the same as a maturing hairline, which often happens in men around a particular age and is a normal part of biological maturing. A receding hairline is more applicable to hair loss, rather than a hairline shift as in a mature hairline. 

Most men start noticing their hairline receding at some point in their 20s, although it can be later. A receding hairline is the most common sign of male pattern baldness and is caused by the effects of the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is a byproduct of testosterone, the male sex hormone that is responsible for secondary sex characteristics such as a deepening voice and facial and body hair. 

For some men, as they age, DHT can bind to receptors in the scalp and cause hair follicles to shrink, resulting in hair loss.  

But before you start stressing over your luscious locks, make sure your hairline isn’t actually a maturing hairline. There are a few key differences between a maturing hairline and a receding one. 

A mature hairline is when the hairline moves back about a half-inch to an inch from where it used to be. This is a normal part of the maturing process. In contrast, a receding hairline is a far more rapid process than a maturing hairline where the hair at the temples is receding farther back and more progress than the one inch seen in a maturing hairline. 

One myth about a receding hairline is that it only affects men. This isn’t true. While it’s far more common in men, it can also affect a lot of women, and cause a lot of stress for everyone. 

The good news is that there are plenty of treatments to help stop a receding hairline, from topical creams to stimulate hair growth, oral medications, and even hair transplants. But you first need to figure out what’s causing it. Here are a few causes of a receding hairline:

  • Genetics
  • Hormonal changes
  • Illness or stress
  • Lifestyle habits such as smoking
  • Over-treating the hair
  • Medications or treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness)
  • Trichotillomania
  • Use of anabolic steroids

Many of these underlying causes can be discussed with your doctor and consulting the Norwood Scale to see if your full head of hair isn’t so full is something you can do at home. 

The Norwood Scale

Developed between 1950 and 1970, the Norwood Scale is a classification system that helps determine the stages of hair loss. There are seven stages, ranging from a “control stage” to full hair loss. 

The important thing to remember about the Norwood Scale is that it covers all hairlines, not just a receding hairline. 

Stage 1: This is called the “control stage” where hair loss is not usually noticeable. 

Stage 2: Slight evidence of a receding hairline that occurs usually around the temples.

Stage 3: This is when hair loss starts to become more noticeable and the hairline recedes back and starts to form a defined “M” pattern. 

Stage 4: Significant hair loss has occurred. The hairline might start resembling a “U” shape and a bald spot on the crown is noticeable.

Stage 5: While there is still a strip of hair between the front and the crown, this strip will be noticeably smaller and thinner. 

Stage 6: Baldness is almost complete, where the top and the crown now join together. There is a defined “U” shape from the top. 

Stage 7: There is a thin ring of hair around the sides of the head and baldness is almost complete. The remainder of hair that does grow is thinner and weaker. 

How to stop a receding hairline

It’s completely normal to feel concerned about your hairline. Much like the rest of our bodies, our hair can tell us a lot about our health. This doesn’t always mean that hair loss is indicative of problem, it can simply mean different hairlines can be attributed to genetics, hormones, etc. 

If you do want to do something about your receding hairline, here are a few tips:

1. Consult your doctor 

As always, your doctor is always a great resource. This doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong. It simply means you might want to get to the bottom of why you’re losing your hair and explore possible treatments. There may be underlying factors with simple solutions. Once you’ve ruled out reversible causes like hormones, Felix’s healthcare practitioners can help you with next steps. 

2. Finasteride lowers DHT levels

First approved by the FDA in 1997, finasteride is the active ingredient in Propecia which is used for treatment of male pattern baldness. In 2006, a generic version of the drug was approved. 

Finasteride works by preventing testosterone from converting to DHT, thus stopping (or at least reducing) the shrinkage of hair follicles. 

If you plan on trying out finasteride, patience is key. It’s not a quick fix. While it can’t cause your hair to grow back, it can prevent future hair loss. If you take your pills regularly, you’ll most likely see results in three to four months. For full effects, you’ll need to wait around six to nine months. 

Finasteride is usually prescribed at fairly low doses, which helps prevent side effects. However, some possible side effects of finasteride can include:

  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Rashes
  • Breast enlargement and tenderness

Rare and more serious side effects can include:

  • Suicidal ideation
  • Swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, or face
  • Lumps or pain in the chest area
  • Nipple discharge

If you experience any of these side effects, contact your doctor immediately. If you feel suicidal while on finasteride, please stop the medication and go to the emergency department immediately.

Keep in mind that if you do discontinue using finasteride that hair loss will commence again. It also doesn’t reverse hair loss that has already occurred. 

3. Minoxidil stimulates hair growth

Minoxidil is also known as Rogaine, the most known brand name in hair loss and hair growth products. Where finasteride is taken orally, minoxidil is a topical foam you apply to your scalp that acts as a vasodilator, which opens blood vessels and helps bring more blood to the surface. More blood flow means more oxygen and nutrients and for some, that means more hair growth.  

Minoxidil can be purchased over the counter in Canada in concentrations of 5% or lower and can be used in combination with finasteride. 

Some side effects can include:

  • Backaches
  • Changes in hair colour or texture
  • Continuous itching or skin rash
  • Dental problems
  • Cold or flu-like symptoms
  • Eye irritation
  • Muscle strain or spasms

If you experience some of the less common and serious side effects you should seek medical assistance immediately. These can include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain

Even though Minoxidil is available over the counter, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure it’s the right choice for you. 

Keep in mind that Minoxidil is not a cure, but simply an option to delay further hair loss. If you do discontinue using Minoxidil that hair loss will commence again. It also doesn’t reverse hair loss that has already occurred. 

4. Hair loss prevention shampoo

Hair loss prevention shampoo can be added to a finasteride and minoxidil regimen. It can help ward off further hair loss and help keep your hair in top shape. 

Hair loss shampoos generally have active ingredients that help prevent DHT from building up on the scalp. 

5. Stop over-styling your hair

Hair styling products and hair dryers can be hard on the hair. A lot of products can strip your hair of its natural oils, leading to dry, brittle hair. Some of them can impact the health of the hair follicles, leading to hair loss as well. If you do use a hair dryer, set it on a cooler setting and use it gently. 

If you’re a fan of the man-bun, you might want to think about how often you keep your hair tied back and how tightly. Tight elastic bands can actually break the hair or even pull it out at the root, leading to hair loss. The good news is that this is a simple fix: let those luscious locks down. 

6. Think about your diet

What we put in our bodies is just as important as what we put on them. You can use all the hair products you like, but if you’re not eating well, this will have a significant impact on your hair (and skin). 

A healthy diet that is packed with antioxidants is always a good bet, regardless of hair loss concerns. Antioxidants are compounds that fight oxidative stress, which ages your hair. Food like spinach, kidney beans, walnuts, and blueberries are all naturally rich in antioxidants. 

There are also vitamins and minerals you can supplement into your diet, including:

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B-12

If you are supplementing with these vitamins and minerals, make sure to tell your doctor so they are aware of what you are taking. 

6. Assess your lifestyle

There are other types of hair loss that might be impacted by lifestyle, and not all hair loss is as a result of genetics and male pattern baldness. It really depends on what is causing your hair loss. Another reason you should consult a healthcare professional. 

There are some lifestyle factors that you might want to consider. Smoking actually reduces oxygen in the blood, which essentially can suffocate skin and hair follicles, leading to hair loss. That’s to say nothing about hair dullness and fragility (and all the other harmful effects of smoking). 

Of course, as we’ve already mentioned, a healthy diet filled with antioxidants can have a big impact on your locks, as well as a myriad of other health aspects. A healthy diet can also impact stress levels, which is something to consider if you’re trying to keep a full head of hair. 

Let Felix help you with a receding hairline

A receding hairline shouldn’t stop you from enjoying your life or impacting your confidence. There are a lot of options available and finding the treatment that is right for you can take a bit of finesse. Knowing what your options are is the right place to start.

If you want to do something about your receding hairline or if you have questions, Felix’s healthcare practitioners are here to help. Start your Felix assessment today

WRITTEN BY
Felix Team
Updated on:
October 8, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Dr. Sheila Wijayasinghe
Family Physician, MD, CCFP
Disclaimer

The views expressed here are those of the author and, as with the rest of the content on Active Ingredients, are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider.

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