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What causes hair loss at a young age?

What causes hair loss at a young age?

Hair loss is very common, especially in men over 50. However, it’s also possible to experience hair loss during your teenage years.

While people may poke fun, teenage hair loss can have a serious impact on your confidence, and point to various health conditions.

If you’re experiencing hair loss as a teenager, you’ll no doubt have lots of questions about causes, prevention and everything in between.

What is the common age for hair loss?

It’s normal for men to experience thinning hair as they get older, but hair loss can unfortunately start as soon as 15 or 16 for some.

Hair loss in teenagers

Hair loss in young men often starts gradually. If it’s caused by hereditary male pattern baldness, it begins as a receding hairline or thinning hair on the top of the head.

The American Hair Loss Association estimates that a quarter of men with genetic male pattern baldness will begin to lose their hair before they are 21.

Genetic hair loss is less common in teenage girls, but they may experience hair loss caused by stress, certain hairstyles or hormone imbalances.

Hair loss under 30

It’s fairly common for genetic hair loss to begin or progress in your twenties, with 16% of men aged 18-29 experiencing moderate to extensive hair loss.

Female pattern baldness is less common in women under 30. However women may also experience hair loss from other factors during this timeframe, such as postpartum hair loss or a receding hairline due to PCOS.

Hair loss under 50

About 3 in 10 men aged 30 years and half of men aged 50 years have some level of balding. So it’s not an uncommon problem, and something lots of men will go through.

Women tend to experience hair loss over 50 rather than before. 

Causes of hair loss in young people

If you’re experiencing teenage hair loss, no doubt you’ll want to know what is causing your symptoms. There are a wide range of conditions and lifestyle factors that can contribute to hair loss at a young age, here are some of the most common:

  • Genetic hair loss

    Hereditary hair loss is male and female pattern baldness. It’s the most common cause of hair loss in people of all ages, and cannot be cured.

    Contrary to popular belief, genetic baldness can be passed on by both sides of the family, so you can never be sure who to blame!

  • Male pattern baldness

    Genetic male pattern baldness begins as either a receding hairline or bald spot at the top of the head.

    The thinning of the hair on the crown and temples can increase until the bald patches meet, but many men choose to shave their hair off before it gets to that point.

    The vast majority of men will experience male pattern baldness of some kind by the time they’re in their 60s, but it can begin in your teens.

  • Female pattern baldness

    Female pattern baldness presents differently to its male counterpart. Rather than causing a receding hairline or round bald spot, it causes thinning hair and hair that falls out sooner than it should.

    It’s usually less noticeable than genetic male baldness, and doesn’t cause total baldness, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with. Female pattern baldness is less common in teenage women.

  • Alopecia areata

    This cause of hair loss in young men and young women is thought to be an autoimmune condition. This means a condition where the body attacks itself, rather than germs.

    In the case of Alopecia areata, the immune system attacks hair follicles and causes small circular patches of hair loss. It can be triggered by stress, illness or medications, but no exact cause has been identified. The condition usually begins before the age of 30.

  • Malnutrition

    Malnutrition can cause a whole host of issues, teenage hair loss being one of them. Lack of appropriate nutrition can be caused by undereating, overeating or deficiencies, which can stem from eating an unbalanced diet, eating disorders or digestive conditions.

    The good news about hair loss caused by malnutrition is that it can be preserved with a healthy, well balanced diet and investigations into any unexplained deficiencies.

  • Improper hair care

    You may be in denial when it comes to how your hairstyle and hair care choices impact your teenage hair loss, but the fact is that tight hairstyles such as braids and buns, plus damaging treatments such as bleaching, can all contribute to hair loss at a young age.

    No fashion fad is worth permanently damaging your hairline for, so if this resonates with you, consider laying off the hair bands and bleach!

Tips to prevent hair loss in young adults

Preventing and treating hair loss in young people depends on the cause.

Medication

While there’s currently no complete cure for male pattern baldness, much time has been spent on developing effective and accessible treatments in recent years.

The most popular is a drug called Finasteride or its branded version, Propecia. It’s a tablet which contains an active ingredient called finasteride that can prevent further hair loss and potentially reverse the process.

Diet and supplements

There’s no getting away from the fact that the texture and health of your hair has a lot to do with genetics, which can make it feel like luck of the draw. But you can optimise your natural hair with good nutrition.

Several vitamins and nutrients are important for hair health, including:

  • Iron
  • Zinc
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D

Foods high in iron include red meat and leafy greens, and Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables. Red meat is also high in zinc, as are legumes, nuts and seeds.

Vitamin D is harder to get through diet alone, as the body mainly creates it via sunlight - making it a tricky one to get enough of in Ireland. The government advises everyone in Ireland, not just those worried about teenage hair loss, to consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement during the autumn and winter months.

Hair care advice

Taking good care of your hair is important in stopping or preventing hair loss in teenagers.

Lay off the tight hairstyles

If you regularly wear your hair in tight buns, ponytails or cornrows, you are risking what’s known as traction alopecia. This is where the strain causes hair to break or fall out, which can permanently damage hair follicles over time.

Avoid harsh chemicals

While we understand that you want to use your hair to express your style, keep in mind that excessive use of hair dyes, bleach and harsh hair products can contribute to hair loss in young women and young men.

If you must colour or bleach your hair, go to a reputable hairdresser if possible, and give your hair time to recover in between treatments.

Be kind to your hair

Basics tips such as being careful when brushing your hair, using heat protectant (and better yet, minimising the use of heat on your hair), and using gentle shampoos don’t go amiss when preventing teenage hair loss, too.

How to cope with hair loss in young women

Hair loss in young women can be difficult to cope with on an emotional level. Constant comparison to demanding beauty standards and endless “perfect” social media content can make you self conscious and unhappy in your appearance. This can be especially distressing during teenage years.

Luckily, many causes of hair loss in teenage girls are treatable and or preventable.

Hairstyles for hair loss

Looser hairstyles that reduce pulling can help to reduce and prevent hair loss. Try to mix up your hairstyle repertoire with a mixture of hairstyles that will give your hair and scalp a break.

You could also consider hair extensions or a hair topper to add thickness to your hair and boost your confidence. Some women even use makeup to create the illusion of a thicker hairline.

Aim to use less heat on your hair and opt for heatless hairstyles such as loose braids, or you could even try fun tips such as dressing gown curls.

Treatment for hair loss in young women

Some treatments may be suitable for teenage girls with hair loss, depending on the cause.

  • Minoxidil

    Minoxidil is a topical treatment that’s usually used for female pattern baldness, making it more commonly used in older women. It is applied directly to the scalp and can stop hair loss and encourage regrowth.

  • Finasteride

    Finasteride (Propecia) is not a suitable hair loss treatment for women as it can be harmless to a baby if you were to get pregnant, and its effect on older women is yet to be studied.

  • Hormonal treatment

    If hair loss in young women is caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), it may be treated by balancing hormones with contraceptives or other medications. This is something your doctor will be able to advise you on.

  • Lifestyle factors

    Lifestyle changes can be made to help reverse symptoms if hair loss in teenage girls is caused by stress or poor nutrition.

    Therapy and stress management techniques such as mindfulness can help to reduce stress, and speaking to your doctor about your diet is also a smart idea.

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How to cope with hair loss in young men

Hair loss in teenage males can be just as distressing as hair loss in teenage girls. Men are often seen to have less pressure when it comes to their appearance compared to women, but this is an oversight, especially during the teenage years when it’s easy to be self conscious.

Treatment for hair loss in young men

As well as seeking support from friends, family and those also experiencing hair loss at a young age, there are some treatments available.

The sooner you notice hair loss and treat the cause, the better your chances of preventing its progression.

  • Finasteride

    If you experience male pattern baldness as a teenager, one way to treat it is with Finasteride (or it's branded version Propecia) and it works by stopping the enzyme that turns testosterone into dihydrotestosterone from doing so. DHT is what causes male pattern baldness, so reducing the amount of this in the hair follicles can reduce how fast you lose your hair, and even help new hair to grow.

    Finasteride comes in tablet form and is taken daily. It takes about three to six months of daily use before you see results.

  • Hair regrowth cream

    Another potential regrowth treatment is minoxidil. This treatment can also be used to treat hair loss in young men. Like Finasteride, it must be used daily, and it’s only effective for as long as you take it for.

  • Hair transplant options

    Hair transplants have become more popular in recent years, partially down to celebrities making them more well known. They work by taking healthy hairs from your body and transplanting them onto the balding area in the hope that they will grow again and replace lost hair.

    The process is done under local anaesthetic, and can take up to eight hours due to the fiddly nature of grating thousands of hair follicles.

    Although hair transplants can be life changing for many men, they aren’t guaranteed to be successful. They’re also a very expensive option.

    It’s also important to bear in mind that the younger you have a hair transplant, the more likely you are to continue to lose hair after the procedure. You should weigh up whether a hair transplant is worth the cost before making a decision.

  • Hair replacement systems

    These are a fancy name for good quality hair pieces made with human hair. They can last for up to three to five months and be styled just like natural hair.

    Hair replacement systems can be a great option for men experiencing hair loss at a young age and are far more affordable than a hair transplant.

Hairstyles for hair loss in young men

Some men choose to forgo treatments altogether and embrace genetic hair loss with flattering hairstyles for hair loss.

Short styles such as the buzz cut or crew cut can make thinning hair look thicker and disguise hair loss, or you could grow a beard to distract from hair loss and accentuate your facial features.

Conclusion

Hair loss in teenagers can be distressing, but there are ways to take back control and either prevent or treat the cause, whether it’s with lifestyle changes, medication, or hairstyles.

The first step in addressing hair loss in young people is to find the cause, which you can do so with the help of your doctor. Then you are able to access hair loss advice and hair regrowth treatment.

References

https://www.americanhairloss.org/men_hair_loss/introduction.html
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9865198/
https://patient.info/mens-health/male-pattern-baldness
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302097/
https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/types/alopecia/causes

    Authors and editors

    Reviewed and updated by: Our clinical team Date reviewed: 22-04-2024