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Why do I have a receding hairline?

Why do I have a receding hairline?

A receding hairline or partial baldness can seem especially distressing. However, hair loss is a common condition, and is usually a natural part of growing older. This article looks at the cause of receding hairlines, how hair growth works, and effective treatment options.

Receding hairline causes

Whilst there are many types of hair loss, male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia) is the form responsible for receding hairlines and thinning hair.

Male pattern baldness is also the most common form of hair loss. The term ‘pattern’ comes from the pattern hair loss tends to follow, starting from one of three distinct areas of the scalp: the temples, crown, or mid-frontal area.

What are the symptoms of a receding hair line?

In the case of a receding hairline, hair loss tends to start in the temples and move backwards, forming an ‘M’ shape. The spread is usually even, seeming to move from hair follicle to hair follicle, so you aren’t left with isolated tufts.

How is a receding hairline diagnosed?

The Noorwood Scale demonstrates the progression of each of these three patterns of hair loss. 

Hair growth and hair loss explained

It’s first important to understand that head hair is different to hair found on the rest of your body. There are between two to five hairs for each pore on your head which grow from clusters of hair follicles. Each cluster has a ‘primary’ hair and ‘secondary’ hairs.

These hairs grow for two-six years at a time (the anagen phase), then transition to a period of rest for five to six weeks (the telogen phase). Once follicles move back to the anagen phase, the ‘resting’ hair is pushed out, resulting in hair loss.

Whilst this process is entirely ‘normal’, it becomes slightly altered for those with Male Pattern Baldness:

  • Hair follicles shrink and stop producing secondary hairs, leading to thinner hair
  • The telogen phase increases, leading to greater shedding of hair
  • The anagen growth phase becomes shorter, limiting the opportunity for regrowth.

Once the primary hair is lost, a bald patch starts to appear.

Receding hairline and age

A receding hair line is closely linked to the ageing process. The glory years of male pattern baldness usually fall between a man’s 30s and 50s, with the condition affecting around half of all men by the age of 50.

However, some can be affected significantly younger: Prince William is an obvious example. Interestingly, hair lines recede to a degree for almost all males during puberty.

Once hair loss starts, it usually continues for the rest of your life, although the rate at which you lose hair may change. The age at which hair loss starts, the rate at which is progresses, and the cause of male pattern baldness itself, are entirely down to genetics.

What can I do about my receding hairline?

Outside of treatment, there are few things you can do to stop a receding hairline.

Changing your lifestyle will not work if male pattern baldness is the cause of your hair loss. Whilst some men experience temporary hair loss due to stress, illness, certain medications, and dietary deficiencies, the most common cause of receding hairlines is embedded in your genetic make-up and can’t be ‘cured’.

Just to clear up a few myths, cutting your hair will not encourage it to grow any quicker, massaging your head to increase circulation won’t affect hair growth, and excessive amounts of sex will not lead to hair loss.

Hair loss treatment options

The prescription treatment, Finasteride can help reduce hair loss. Up to 90% of men who use it seen an improvement, whilst two-thirds benefit from renewed hair growth. However, since there is no cure for hair loss, any positive results will only last for as long as treatment is taken. These treatments are only suitable for men. 

Over-the-counter lotions and shampoos, such as minoxidil, are also available. You can also get Regaine for women, so this is an option if you're experiencing female hereditary hair loss. 

If you have the cash and inclination, hair transplants are also available. Following this procedure, hairs resistant to hair loss (usually found at the back of the head) are relocated to bald patches. This can be a very effective counterweight to hair loss, although success rates can vary dramatically.

Luckily, for those looking for a less invasive alternative, a flourishing industry of hair pieces and wigs exists. Better still, embrace hair loss as a natural part of the ageing process and save yourself a lot of effort!

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Authors and editors

Reviewed and updated by: Our clinical team Date reviewed: 29-11-2023