There are three broad categories of male baldness: genetically inherited gradual balding (androgenic alopecia), sudden hair loss due to autoimmune disorders (alopecia areata) and stress-related temporary hair thinning (telogen effluvium).
The first type, also called male pattern hair loss, is by far the most common and visible type of balding. Up to 80 percent of men older than age 50 suffer from it. Left untreated, androgenic alopecia over the course of up to a few decades will lead to complete baldness. It’s caused by a combination of genetic conditions, but it’s not yet fully understood how it’s inherited and how and when it’s triggered. For example, one man can have it from his father, but his brother doesn’t go bald or the onset of balding in the two men starts 20 years apart from each other, etc.
Alopecia areata is a rare autoimmune condition (it affects about 2 percent of men and women) where the body’s immune system attacks hair follicles on the scalp, causing relatively fast hair loss in random circular patches. In up to 50 percent of cases, the lost hair completely regrows within a couple of years.
Hair loss triggered by stress is called telogen effluvium. Stress here refers to physiological stress, not the mental sort. This can include poor eating habit, i.e., a diet poor in nutrients, a lack of quality sleep, the use of certain medications, and exposure to chemicals and environmental factors. Sometimes a sudden climate change you experience may be stress enough to cause temporary hair loss.
No, unfortunately, there isn’t a cure that reverses the damage done by male pattern baldness. At least not at the moment. There’s a lot of research going on to figure out how hair follicle stem cells can be artificially grown and implanted on the scalp. However, before gene therapy like this can go commercial, science still needs to overcome many difficult hurdles. It’s probably going to take at least another decade before such a solution will become commercially available at affordable costs.
That doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to stop androgenic alopecia. On the U.S. pharmaceutical market, there are two FDA-approved medications — finasteride and minoxidil — that have proven to be quite effective in fighting male pattern baldness.
Finasteride was developed by Merck three decades ago and since 1997 has been marketed as Propecia, although today there are many generic versions. It’s a prescription drug that comes as a 1mg once-a-day pill and many men take it for indefinite periods.
The results speak for themselves: in a large clinical trial, 85 percent of men who used finasteride found the balding had stopped after a few months of taking finasteride. For some 65 percent of users, it even stimulated follicles to grow new hair.
Finasteride is taken long-term because the drug stops the progress of male pattern baldness only for as long as you take it. 10-year studies have shown that long-term finasteride use is relatively safe with only minor side effects.
Minoxidil has been around since 1988 and was first sold as the proprietary Rogaine until patents expired and generic versions became available. It’s sold as spray or tonic that can be used directly on the scalp and it functions by accelerating hair growth. Minoxidil and finasteride complement each other and thus will often be prescribed together. See a dermatologist or other healthcare specialist to check whether these two medications could work for you.
Telogen effluvium, i.e., hair thinning caused by stress, will only go away if you deal with the underlying stress. Again: we are talking here about physical stress on your body. Primarily, that means eating more nutritious food — rich in vitamins, fiber and minerals — and getting healthy sleep of at least 7-8 hours a day. These two steps alone will take you a long way in reducing stress on your hair follicles and, unless you are suffering from pattern hair loss or other conditions, the fullness of your hair will fully recover within 6-12 months. To speed up the recovery you may also try taking vitamin supplements, such as Vitamin E. Ask a nutritionist for advice on what supplements may work for you.
There’s also the possibility that the hair stress is triggered by certain chemicals you are exposed to work or medications you are on. A doctor may help you identify what the potential stress sources could be. You may also want to take up regular exercise, such as aerobics, yoga, or meditation, as they improve the body’s overall wellbeing and lower stress levels.