The future is uncertain enough for all of us. There’s the inevitability of change, jobs and relationships come and go and, hell, as much as we plan for it sometimes, the future has a mind of its own.
There’s also the uncertainty that comes from being a man who is losing his hair. While not as potentially life-altering perhaps, as other changes in our lives, the prospect of going bald is a big fear for many men. And with it comes the million-dollar question: How long does it take to go bald?
The consensus of hair loss experts and men who’ve completely lost their hair is 5 to 25 years.
The problem is, the process of going bald doesn’t always follow a nice, neat pattern. In fact, it’s insanely unpredictable. While one guy loses some hair but stays the same for several years, another guy loses all of his in only five years.
The good news is that we live in an era where baldness is accepted and, in many cases, viewed as attractive. If you’re tired of fighting the MPB (Male Pattern Baldness) and hair loss battle, by all means, shave what’s left and go with a nice, shiny dome. You’d be in good company, too: Bruce Willis, Vin Diesel, the Rock, and much more.
OK, let’s take a closer look at not only how long it takes to go bald, but also the reasons behind it and things you can do to try and stop it.
- Common signs that you’re going bald
- Hair loss in women
- When will you start to lose your hair?
- How long does it take to go bald?
- So, why am I going bald?
- Hair growth: How it works
- OK, I’m going bald. What can I do about it?
Common Signs That You’re Going Bald
We know what you’re thinking – “My hair falling out is the most common sign that I’m going bald.” Yep, we get it. But just because you notice a few extra stray hairs on your pillow doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going bald.
Let’s define a few terms first.
Alopecia is the blanket term for hair loss. Symptoms of alopecia include a small bald patch in your hair to a complete loss of body hair. But there are many types of alopecia, with the most common form being male pattern baldness (MPB). When it comes to men and hair loss, MPB is a term used frequently, and it’s also known as androgenic or androgenetic alopecia. It affects about half of all men before they reach the age of 50.
Here’s a quick rundown of what to look for with male pattern baldness:
- MPB is typically evident at the front of the scalp first. For many men, the hair on the temples and crown seem to be most sensitive to DHT (dihydrotestosterone), which we’ll touch on a bit later.
- The frontal hairline forms into an “M” pattern as the hair on temples and crown recedes.
- Sometimes balding on the crown of your head becomes more noticeable before the hair on the front. You check with a mirror if you’re not sure, or hesitant to believe it.
- If you really want to be sure, take photos of your hair every month to check on potential hair loss.
Male pattern baldness is different from alopecia areata, in which you experience patches of hair loss. Alopecia areata may occur suddenly and can afflict men, women, and children of all ages. Alopecia totalis, meanwhile, is the term used when you lose all the hair on your scalp.
What are other signs you’re going bald? Well, that excess hair on your pillow may be a sign, as well as the abundance of hair left behind in your comb or brush. But remember: if you’re human, you’re shedding hair because most people lose anywhere from 50 to 100 hairs a day.
Hair loss in women
At least men have options. That is, when a man starts to lose his hair, he can always shave his head and join the expanding “bald is beautiful” crowd. Pairing a bald head with a beard is not only commonplace but also looks great in many cases.
Going bald is a different story for women, however. For one, the psychological damage of hair loss is often much greater for women and can take a heavy emotional toll that affects physical health. For another, few women choose to shave their head and go with the bald look.
The most common cause of hair loss in women is Female Pattern Hair Loss, a.k.a., androgenetic alopecia. The Academy of Dermatology reports that 30 million women are affected by FPHL. And FPHL has a distinct appearance in that a women’s hair thins mainly on the top and the crown of the scalp. It typically begins with a widening of the center hair part. Women tend to keep their hairline, unlike men.
FPHL shrinks the hair follicles to make them shorter, thinner, and more brittle. Eventually, there’s a decrease in the total number of follicles. It is rare, however, that a woman goes completely bald due to FPHL.
While FPHL is the biggest culprit in female hair loss, other factors come into play:
- Telogen effluvium, which is a stress response due to a major shock to your emotional or physical health. Hair will grow back when stress is the cause.
- A nutritional deficiency or illness.
- The side effects of certain drugs.
- A fungal scalp infection
- Overtreating of your hair, such as with curling irons, hot rollers, or coloring the hair.
- Some women suffer from a mental disorder known as trichotillomania, which causes them to pull out their hair frequently.
When Will You Start to Lose Your Hair?
Male pattern baldness can begin at any age. Research shows that one-fifth of all men will experience some hair loss by age 20, and the percentage grows with age. By the time you’re in your 30s, there’s a 30 percent chance that you’ll face the hair-vanishing wrath of MPB, with a 10 percent increase in each subsequent decade. In other words, if you live to your 90s, there’s a 90 percent chance you’ll suffer hair loss, significant or not.
It’s always fun to look at those high school yearbook photos of you and your classmates – “Look at all that hair!” But if you look closely, you’ll probably notice the signs of MPB in at least a few of them – including thinning hair and a receding hairline. But the majority of men with MPB start noticing their hair loss in their mid to late 20s.
For some men and women, the symptoms of hair loss are gradual enough that it doesn’t become noticeable until a good chunk of hair already is gone. This type of “invisible baldness” involves a slow decrease in the hair’s density until it ultimately becomes noticeable to the naked eye.
You may also experience temporary hair loss that’s unrelated to MPB. Examples include hair loss caused by stress, certain medications, illness, etc. That old saying about, “This job is causing me to pull my hair out!” is at least partly true in a figurative sense – except that excess stress is doing the “pulling” for you.
But the bottom line is that most men and women lose hair thickness and amount as they age. Women have the advantage in that inherited baldness is much more common in men. Indeed, over 20% of men begin to bald before age 30.
But back to the original question:
How long does it take to go bald?
OK, so let’s take a closer look at how long it takes go bald.
We’ve already mentioned that it typically takes a man 5 to 25 years to go bald once MPB grabs you by the scalp. How long does it take to go bald from alopecia? Well, MPB and alopecia are one in the same, unless you have a different form of alopecia, such as alopecia areata (caused by an autoimmune disorder), or cicatricial alopecia (which results from inflammation around the hair follicle and has no known cause).
And we talked how the rate of hair loss is different for every man, although there are certain similarities among large numbers of men. For some men, thinning and hair loss may stop before their hairline reaches their crown.
Here’s the thing: about 100 hairs each day reach the end of their resting phase (telogen) and fall out. That’s normal. But if more than 100 hairs fall out daily, you have a problem. This is when clinical hair loss starts to occur.
Here’s the other thing: once hair loss begins it’s hell trying to slow it down. Hair loss may be gradual or not-so-gradual, but it’s always relentless. Hair loss doesn’t care what you think. It just keeps coming.
That said, you don’t go bald all of a sudden, and that’s the good news, as it were. Your thinning hair will come back and go through several more cycles (which we’ll talk about shortly); the problem is it comes back thinner and weaker with every cycle.
Perhaps the best answer to how long it takes to go bald is, “it depends.” While that’s not exactly going out on a limb, it’s as close to the truth as any other answer.
- The Norwood Scale
We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t mention the Norwood Scale in a piece about balding. The Norwood Scale is a set of images which show the different stages of MPB. There are eight “stages” on the Norwood Scale, with the first stage depicting minimal hair loss. The last stage represents the most severe form of hair loss when you have little or no hair left on the front or top of the head.
Basically, the scale provides a visual image by which men assess their hair loss. The rate at which a man advances through the stages differs from individual to individual.
So, Why Am I Going Bald?
In the grand scheme of things, losing your hair isn’t THAT big of a deal. But we’re not diminishing anyone’s feelings about going bald, by any means, and for many men going bald is the emotional equivalent of a kick in the ass (or other lower body part). We feel your pain.
If you’re one of those men, you’re undoubtedly asking yourself – and others – “Why me?” It’s not because you’re a bad person, but it’s almost always because:
- You’re genetically predisposed to suffer hair loss
Sometimes it’s all about the luck of the draw. Your dad lost his hair. So did his dad. Or your mom and her dad and granddad had thinning hair. Simply put, there’s a genetic DNA blueprint that’s out of your control.
One term you’ll find in every article about baldness is “dihydrotestosterone.” It’s a big word and has a big impact on why men lose hair. Why? Because when testosterone converts to DHT, your hair follicles shrink and your hair becomes thinner and finer until growth simply ceases.
While some men think that their hair loss is due to too much testosterone, they don’t have more testosterone than the average guy, in most cases. The fact is, men with MPB are more sensitive to hormones, including DHT.
Nothing too complicated here, fellas – as you get older your rate of hair growth slows. If you see an elderly man with a full head of hair, don’t hesitate to congratulate him. After all, he struck gold in the genetic lottery.
- Other factors
Studies show that other factors may contribute to hair loss, including smoking, diet, alcohol use, and certain medications such as anti-depressants, cholesterol and high blood pressure medicine, certain antibiotics, and more. It’s also well-known and documented that chemotherapy drugs used to treat cancer cause hair loss. Chemo drugs wipe out rapidly expanding cancer cells but also attack other cells in your body, including those that cause hair growth. The good news is that most hair loss associated with chemotherapy is temporary.
Skin disorders, such as psoriasis, dermatitis, follicle infection, and even sunburn, may cause hair loss. Fungal infections may also be a culprit, along with medical conditions such as thyroid disease, lupus, diabetes, and anemia.
Hair Growth: How it Works
It’s always helpful to understand the mechanics of hair growth to understand male pattern baldness. Let’s take a quick look at the three stages of hair growth:
Anagen is the growth phase of your hair and individual hair follicles may remain in this phase for two to six years. In most cases, 85% of hair is in this growth phase and the longer it lasts, the longer the hair.
The catagen phase is much, much shorter than the anagen phase – it lasts no more than two weeks – and it allows the hair follicle to renew itself.
The telogen phase is when hair follicles remain dormant and may last up to two months. When the telogen phase ends and the anagen phase kicks in, existing hair is pushed out by the new growth.
So, what does it all mean? For men with male pattern baldness, the anagen phase shortens and hair follicles grow smaller. Additionally, the hair’s maximum length is reduced while the telogen phase becomes longer.
OK, I’m Going Bald. What Can I Do About It?
While going bald isn’t the end of the world for men, it’s also understandable that you’re stressed out by the relentless march of male pattern baldness. And the bald look may not be for you.
But MPB doesn’t necessarily predict total scalp armageddon thanks to the variety of products and treatments available to men (and women). Let’s examine some of these solutions.
There’s a multitude of hair-loss shampoo on the market, which is good news. The bad news is that the quality can vary widely from product to product, so buyer beware. Make sure that you choose only the highest quality hair loss shampoos.
There are four key ingredients in hair loss shampoo: ketoconazole, caffeine, biotin, and saw palmetto. We’ve discussed these ingredients in previous posts, but here’s a quick refresher:
- Ketoconazole – Research shows that ketoconazole helps improve hair density, follicle size, and the proportion of hair that’s in the anagen stage. It’s also effective in treating a scalp fungus called Pityriasis.
- Caffeine – No, you don’t have to pour your morning java onto your head. But the caffeine found in hair-loss shampoos prolongs anagen duration, enhances the length of hair shafts, and stimulates the growth of keratinocyte – which is most abundant cell found in the outer layer of your skin.
- Biotin – Hair loss may be the consequence of a biotin and zinc deficiency. Also known as vitamin B7, biotin helps strengthen hair and nails. It’s also a vital component of skin cells, which play an important role in hair follicle health. You’ll find biotin in many food sources, such as eggs, peanuts, cauliflower, bananas, whole grains, and more.
- Saw palmetto – The science behind saw palmetto shows that it may block an enzyme that converts testosterone to DHT.
2. Hair growth products
There’s no shortage of hair growth products on the market, either. Like choosing a hair-loss shampoo, be on the lookout for snake oil-like products when shopping for the best hair growth products. Let’s talk about the most popular – and common – hair growth products:
Commonly known as Rogaine, minoxidil is a drug for treating hair loss in men and women. Minoxidil was originally used to treat high blood pressure, but patients and physicians noticed that hair growth was one of side effects. That led to the development of a topical solution designed to be applied directly to the scalp and skin.
Also a member of the minoxidil family, Lipogaine is a powerful hair loss treatment with proven results. Lipogaine reduces DHT levels on the scalp while increasing hair growth by stimulating blood flow to the scalp.
Also known as Propecia, finasteride is another drug that’s used to treat hair loss. Finasteride often gets a bad rap because of the negative effects it may have on a man’s sex life, but studies show that the likelihood of experiencing them is slim and none.
Dietary supplements such as vitamins are thought to increase hair growth.
3. Hair loss treatments
Your search for solutions to your receding hairline may also lead you to less conventional treatments, such as scalp micropigmentation, derma roller, and iRestore Laser Hair Growth System
- Scalp micropigmentation
Scalp micropigmentation is a process in which microneedles are used to tattoo pigment into the scalp. In turn, the process creates the appearance of tiny hair follicles to give the hair a fuller look. SMP treatments typically take three sessions.
- Derma Roller
A Derma Roller also uses the tiny needles approach, except that the needles are attached to a small plastic roller which you roll over the affected areas of the scalp. Its purpose is to stimulate the body’s natural healing process – and thus creating a new layer of skin that’s better than the older layer.
It also increases platelet activation and skin wound regeneration, activates stem cells in the hair bulge area, and activates pathways in the hair follicles that are inhibited by DHT. Some researchers also say that using a derma roller in conjunction with minoxidil treatment helps regrow hair better than using minoxidil alone.
- iRestore Laser Hair Growth System
Approved by the FDA, the iRestore Laser Hair Growth System is, as its name suggests, laser technology for the treatment of hair loss. Low-level laser therapy through a helmet-like device stimulates your hair follicles so that they grow thicker and fuller. And so far, so good: a 2017 study showed that the average increase in hair count was 43.2% while using iRestore.
All that said, we’ve now covered the hows, whys, and what-to-dos of hair loss, all while addressing the question of “How long will it take to go bald?” Again, the bottom line is that the rate of hair loss is different for each, but the overall consensus is that complete baldness occurs within a 5 to 25-year time frame.
Not that you have to sit back and let nature run its course, however. After all, there’s a long list of products out there – from shampoo to laser therapy – that may help you hold off baldness. Or, like many men, you may choose to shave what’s left and sport the bald look proudly. Pairing it with a beard will only add to your awesomeness.
What are your experiences with hair loss? When did you first start to notice it? And, are you using any hair-loss products now (and how do they work)? As always, we’d love to hear from you. Your feedback is always welcome.