It could be so easy. Just accept the fact that 80 percent of men will start losing hair in their 40s and 50s due to genetic factors and eventually go bald. After all, there’s no health-related reason to fret over hair loss. It’s not like you are losing your liver. You can live a perfectly healthy life without a single strand of hair on your scalp. Even your virility and mating success won’t be significantly impacted (truth be told, by your mid-40s you are past your fertility peak anyway).
However, rather than coming to terms with genetic baldness (which also is called male pattern hair loss), most men go to great lengths to preserve their hairline and some fall prey to spurious remedies. That fear of hair loss has deep cultural roots, dating back to the ancient Egyptians and Greeks. They tried everything from rancid animal fat and urine to sulfurous compounds and ground-up donkey hooves to stop balding. They also sent many a hair protection prayer to the gods.
Many of these early cures, including prayer, remained in use through the middle ages and Renaissance, adding several herbs to the list as well as such exotic things like cow saliva. Over the past two centuries then doctors began advocating lifestyle changes, such as refraining from masturbation, not washing your hair, or avoiding certain foods. Electric shocks then also were a popular cure attempt for a while in the late 19th century.
Needless to say, none of the ancient cures were effective in treating genetic balding. In fact, the only thing that really worked — as the Greeks already realized and wrote about — was castration. Eunuchs didn’t go bald. That’s simply because without testicles they would produce no testosterone, and it’s this hormone that’s needed to fuel the biochemical process that is the primary cause for pattern baldness. So, hair or balls? Thank goodness, today there are drugs available for treating hair loss (more on this below), so that you won’t ever have to make that difficult choice.
That the Western World’s obsession with hair loss has survived for five millennia to this day is surprising, as men in other cultures didn’t think it to be such a great problem. The aristocratic elite of the Mayan culture even deliberately shaved their heads, as some African tribes still do this today. Buddhist monks and nuns also shave their hair.
Even today the internet is full of natural remedies and methods that claim to stop pattern baldness and trigger new hair growth. Let’s take a look at the most popular ones.
An online search will propose hundreds of herbs, veggies, and fruits that allegedly heal or improve hair loss. It’s an exhaustive list, including thyme, coconut, sandalwood, pumpkin, all kinds of nuts, garlic, green tea, and aloe vera. Honey, a plant product, is also on that list. The typical advice is to use these remedies as paste or oil on the scalp.
Generally speaking, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that any botanical cure works against hereditary pattern hairs (and it’s this type of genetic baldness that accounts for around 95% of all hair loss in men aged 40 and older). Of course, many of these herbs and fruits contain vitamins, phenols, iron, zinc, and other substances that are generally good for hair health.
And some of the oils indeed improve the skin health of the scalp or make hair a little shinier. Eating fruits and vegetables also works well for repairing temporary hair loss that was caused by a bad diet, illness, a seasonal change in climate, etc. However, genetic pattern baldness won’t be stopped or reversed by any of them.
Pattern baldness happens because your genetic makeup at some point in your life accelerates the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). The excessive DHT output damages the stem cells in hair follicles, causing the latter to shrink and permanently lose hair. No herbal remedy can stop this process once it started.
Taking vitamin supplements will benefit your body in many ways but it doesn’t work magic against pattern baldness. Biotin, Vitamin A, B12, C, E, and iron often are advertised as hair protecting vitamins. For example, many shampoos are fortified with Vitamin E.
In short, the evidence that they are of any use against pattern hair loss is thin. Only Vitamin E holds some potential, as it’s a powerful anti-oxidant that can lower oxidative stress in your body. Research suggests that high oxidative stress levels may trigger pattern baldness early or speed up its progress. So, maintaining healthy Vitamin E levels may benefit your hairline, even though it doesn’t cure baldness. A simple blood test will show whether your Vitamin E levels need a boost through supplements.
In some corners of the internet masturbation still gets a bad rap for allegedly causing baldness because of a) increased testosterone production and b) protein waste through excessive semen discharge. The same logic would apply to sex, but that’s rarely discussed. Without getting into the details here, the masturbation claims are nonsense. Unless you go for a full-blown castration, abstinence won’t improve the chances of keeping your hair.
No, none of these help. It’s not even worth going into the details of why not. Feel free to talk to a dermatologist for a second opinion, but he or she will tell you the same. These are quack solutions that don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny.
Despite some 50 years of serious pharmaceutical research on the subject of hereditary baldness, no medical cure has been found so far. Once the genetic triggers of pattern hair loss are switched on, they can’t be switched off again. However, there are effective medications that can stop baldness from progressing, i.e., once you start taking the medicine you won’t lose hair anymore.
The caveat is that you are only protected for as long as you take the drug. When one day you discontinue using it, pattern baldness will resume its natural course without mercy. So, the available drugs aren’t really a cure, but at least they can be an effective treatment.
Propecia (developed and sold by Merck) is the most popular drug for stopping pattern baldness. It’s also available in its generic form (finasteride) and is one of only two U.S. approved drugs for treating pattern hair loss. It’s only available upon prescription and taken orally once a day. 85 percent of male finasteride users experience a stop in hair loss within six months of treatment. And for 65 percent of them some hair in previously empty follicles will start regrowing.
Rogaine (generically known as minoxidil) is the second FDA-sanctioned treatment option for pattern baldness. It can be bought as spray or liquid and is applied on the scalp. By widening blood vessels, minoxidil increases hair growth in healthy follicles and thus makes the overall hair appear thicker. Doctors will often prescribe the two drugs together as they complement each other well and have no contraindications. Talk to a dermatology specialist to learn which of these two medications could help protect your hair.