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What actually causes hair loss in men? Plus, the tips you need for thinning hair

What you need to know about hair loss

a man with a receeding hairline
Brooke Cagle / Unsplash

They say age isn’t anything but a number. However, that is something of a misnomer with thinning hair. Age is a common, natural cause for thinning hair — sorry. Your hormone levels change as you blow out more candles on your birthday cake. You naturally shed hair regardless of age. However, your mane doesn’t grow back as fully as you get up there in years.

There are various tips and tricks out there for managing age-related hair loss — products like Rogaine, hair cuts, or embracing baldness. However, not all thinning hair is triggered by age, and some reasons can be fixed with haircare pivots (but not all). What causes hair loss besides the date on your birth certificate, and what can you do about it? Here’s what to know.

man getting hair cut
Dmitry Zvolskiy / Pexels

What causes hair loss?

Many lifestyle factors and conditions may be to blame for your receding hairline. A dermatologist is your best bet for determining the reason for your thinning hair, especially if age isn’t the cause. However, this guide might help clue you into what may trigger your hair loss. From stress to styling woes, here are some reasons you may notice a changing mane.

Genetics

Like age, this reason for thinning hair isn’t controllable. Early balding runs in some families, which is why your father or brother may also lament that their hair thinned at a younger age than their pals, too. Scientists are still trying to determine the reason, but hormones are likely to blame. Testosterone makes a hormone called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT). If your hair follicles are sensitive to DHT, hair loss can happen — and it’s believed genes are one of the reasons this sensitivity happens. (Age is another one — go figure.)

2. Stress

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m so stressed, I’m pulling my hair out?” Well, you may not need to pull your hair out. Stress-related hair loss is known clinically as telogen-effluvium. Massive life changes, such as a job loss or death in the family, can cause significant stress. Your body is so focused on soothing the stress that hair growth goes by the wayside, and you’ll notice more shedding than usual and hair thinning. Bald patches in particular areas on the scalp are less likely. Also, you may not see this hair loss until three months post-stressor.

3. Heat styling

There’s a chance your hair can’t stand the heat. When you style hair frequently using high heat, the cuticle (outer layer) gets damaged. The inner layer (the cortex), which usually gets protection from the cuticle, weakens, too, and you begin the shed. You may also notice bugaboos like dry scalp, frizziness, and split ends if heat styling is to blame.

4. You have folliculitis

Folliculitis is a fancy word for a skin condition triggered by inflamed hair follicles. This condition is often the result of a bacterial infection. The first signs aren’t hair loss but rather tiny, almost zit-like bumps near your follicles (AKA where your hair grows).

An infection with bacteria often causes it. At first, it may look like small pimples around the tiny pockets from where each hair grows (hair follicles). The more inflamed the area, the more likely you will start losing hair.

5. Underlying conditions

Some underlying conditions like lupus and thyroid disease can trigger thinning hair. Moreover, people on certain medications or undergoing treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer, may experience hair loss. If you’re concerned about your health, flag the issue with your healthcare professional. A primary care provider can perform work-ups and send you to the correct specialist.

a man with full hair in a park
Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

How to ward off hair loss

While you can’t control every reason for hair loss, you can control some.

  • Reduce stress. Ensuring you’re getting enough sleep and taking care of your mental health. You don’t have to go through stressful times alone — therapists can help. Exercising (even simple walking) or phoning a friend may put you in a more peaceful state of mind.
  • Treat underlying conditions. If you have lupus or a thyroid condition, your provider will prescribe treatment. Taking medications as directed is vital for your overall health — including your mane’s.
  • Use a heat protectant. When heat styling, use a spray that protects hair up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Limit heat styling. Give hair a day off here and there, or find other ways to style your mane that aren’t so harsh. If in doubt, try a cool cap.
  • Diet. While little research proves a direct link between diet and hair loss (graying is another story), consuming a nutritious diet is never a bad idea. Protein is necessary to produce keratin, which helps with hair growth, for instance. Ensuring you get plenty of lean or plant-based proteins like beans can’t hurt.
Man standing in cold with scarf. and hair blowing in wind
Sebastian Voortman / Pexels

Age is one cause of hair loss, but there are others. Genetics, stress, and heat styling may play a role. Sometimes, hair loss can be triggered by an underlying condition or medical treatment. While you can’t control age or genes, you can take some steps to slow hair loss or avoid other causes of the issue. Reducing the number of days you heat-style your locks is one tweak you can make to your haircare routine. Also, consuming a nutrient-dense diet and managing stress can help. If you’re struggling with hair loss (or anxiety, for that matter), reach out for help. Your primary care doctor can refer you to the correct specialist to help your physical and mental health.

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BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on healthline.com and parents.com. In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
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