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What are the First Signs of Hair Thinning?

  • Friday 16 September 2022
  • 11 minute(s) read

Identifying Hair Loss

Male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia) doesn’t occur overnight. Like many other signs of aging, hair loss typically occurs gradually. One of the key steps in preventing hair loss is identifying the signs of baldness and starting treatment right away. By starting hair loss treatment early, you increase the odds of saving more hair.

It isn’t always easy to identify hair loss. Sometimes, normal hair loss can be mistaken for a hair loss condition when it’s actually part of your hair growth cycle. It can be easy to miss the first signs of hair thinning, which is why it’s important to learn the real signs of alopecia so you can begin addressing your hair loss. Read on to learn more about the early signs of balding.

an infographic about the first and false signs of hair loss

First Signs of Hair Thinning

Although the early hair loss symptoms can be difficult to notice, there are several telltale signs that you are experiencing hair loss. Signs of hair thinning include:

  • More hairs on your hairbrush after brushing
  • More hairs on your pillow than usual
  • Slow growth rate of hair
  • A receding hairline
  • Thinning or patchy hair

You may need to see your doctor if you recognize any of these signs. While it may be frustrating to accept that you are losing hair, talking to a healthcare professional is the first step to preventing further hair loss.

Certain types of hair loss occur in stages, meaning early detection is all the more important for successful treatment and prevention. Since these stages are typical in most patients, recognizing the first signs of baldness can significantly increase your chances of preventing your hairline from receding further.

If you’ve noticed one or more of these early hair loss signs, what can you do? Below are some warning signs of baldness, along with effective steps you can take to slow its progression.

a man scratching at his balding spot

Receding Hairline

A receding hairline is definitely the most noticeable sign of hair loss. Generally, a receding hairline starts off flat but gradually turns more “M” shaped from the top. As the balding worsens, the balding from the hairline may connect to the balding at the crown. At this stage, there will likely only be hair left on the sides.

Some people may experience hair thinning starting from the temples. Often, the hair at the crown and the temples begins thinning before total hair loss occurs. A receding hairline is more noticeable if you compare two photos several years apart. If your hairline is further back in the more recent photo, it’s a warning sign that you’ve entered the early stages of balding.

If you choose to assess your hairline by comparing two photos, make sure you use photos with similar lighting. Certain lighting conditions can cause your hair to appear thinner, which won’t give you an accurate assessment.

Some men take a photo of their hairline and their head from the top every few months in similar lighting and angles to keep track of their hair loss. Over time, doing so can help determine if the hair loss from your scalp requires treatment. After about a year, it should become clear whether you are affected by alopecia. Once you notice evident hair loss, you should talk to your doctor about treatment options immediately to prevent the loss from getting worse.

Hair Thinning and Balding from the Back

Hair loss does not always start at the hairline. Sometimes, a type of hair loss called diffuse thinning may occur, which involves hair thinning and baldness starting from the back and top of the head.

Similar to a receding hairline, taking photos of your head periodically may help you notice this sign of hair loss. If your hair looks significantly thinner than a photo of you from several years back, you may have enough evidence to take to your healthcare provider. Thinner hair may not always be caused by androgenetic alopecia, but there’s a good chance that you are affected by male pattern baldness.

Unlike the hairline, most people do not have photos of the back of their heads. To assess hair thinning from the back of your head, you may have to proactively take pictures yourself using a bathroom mirror. Capturing a photo this way once every two or three months makes it clearer whether your hair is thinning.

a man’s bald spot from the back

Hair Loss after Showering

If you notice a few strands of hair on your hands after using your shampoo, or if there’s hair left on your towel after a shower, you are likely experiencing a normal amount of hair loss. On average, a healthy person loses between 50 and 100 hairs every day. 1 A few loose hairs shouldn’t cause much worry, but excessive hair shedding may be cause for concern.

Even if you suddenly shed hair for one or two days, you could be experiencing temporary shedding. If your hair stops shedding after a couple of days, you don’t have to be alarmed. However, if the sudden hair shedding continues, it’s best to get to the bottom of the problem.

Sudden shedding can be caused by fever or stress. Hair shedding may also occur as a side effect of certain medications. In any of these cases, the temporary hair loss will likely stop after one to six months.

During this time, brushing or running your hands through your hair may cause serious shedding. If this continues after you get better or discontinue the use of the problematic medication, it’s likely time to seek hair loss advice from your doctor.

False Signs of Hair Loss

If you see any of the above signs of balding, it may be a good idea to initiate treatment and prevent further hair loss. However, there are many things that could be mistaken for signs of hair loss, including:

  • The appearance of thin hair after swimming
  • Dandruff or an itchy scalp
  • Widow’s peak
  • Hair that falls out naturally in the telogen (resting) phase
  • Baldness in the family

If your hair looks thin after swimming or showering, you may not be shedding hair at all. Instead, the thin appearance is likely because your hair clumps together when wet, which inadvertently reveals more of your scalp, making your hair look thin. Because your hair looks thinner when wet, it is more accurate to compare photos of your hair when it’s dry to diagnose hair loss.

Dandruff may cause an itchy scalp and some hair loss. Luckily, hair loss from dandruff is usually short-term and goes away with proper hair care and hygiene. Avoiding certain hair products may make dandruff go away sooner. Even though a flaky scalp isn’t contagious, you may require a gentle or medicated shampoo to treat this condition.

A widow’s peak is identified as a point in the hairline in the center of the forehead, often resembling a “V” shape. Many people believe that a widow’s peak is an inherited trait that may indicate a higher risk of hair loss. A widow’s peak is often mistaken for a sign of balding because it may look like the early stages of male pattern baldness. However, many people born with a widow’s peak never develop hair loss.

If you take a close look at the hairs that fall out, you may notice a lack of pigment at the roots. This is a sign that these are telogen hairs or hairs that fall out during the resting phase. The de-pigmentation occurs because pigment production by the hair follicle stops at the end of the growing phase.

If your father or grandfather is bald, you may be afraid that you will inherit male pattern baldness. However, having a relative with hair loss does not guarantee you will be affected as well. With proper care and the right medications, it’s often possible to prevent severe hair loss.

Why Does Hair Loss Occur?

It can be difficult to treat hair thinning without knowing why you are experiencing hair loss. Balding can be due to male pattern hair loss, medical conditions, or lifestyle factors. Male pattern hair loss, also called androgenetic alopecia, is caused by hormonal fluctuations and excess androgens. High levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) also lead to male pattern baldness since this hormone causes the hair follicles to shrink.

a poster detailing the several causes of hair loss

High DHT levels may be diagnosed in your 20s. Over time, the hair follicles may continue to shrink, preventing the production of new hairs and leading to partial or complete baldness. Not every case of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia. This condition typically runs in families, and early detection is the best way to slow this condition’s progression.

As mentioned above, medical conditions can also cause hair thinning. One of the most common conditions associated with hair loss is thyroid disorder. Although severe thyroid conditions like Hashimoto’s disease may also cause weight gain, fatigue, and muscle pain, thinning hair is a very common symptom. 2 Other medical conditions may also lead to hair thinning, too. For example, malnutrition can severely affect hair growth, especially if there isn’t enough protein in the diet. Treating the underlying medical condition may help your hair growth return to normal.

Several other medical conditions are linked to hair loss. These include telogen effluvium, alopecia areata, tinea capitis, and trichotillomania. Below are these conditions in more detail.

Telogen effluvium: a condition primarily caused by excessive stress, traumatic events, and anxiety. This type of hair loss is often found in hospital patients who are stressed due to their hospitalization. Telogen effluvium may appear permanent but is often reversible.

Alopecia areata: an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the body’s hair follicles, causing small bald patches around the head and other parts of the body. Alopecia areata is not contagious, but this condition may be inherited. Not everyone with a relative with alopecia areata will develop this condition, but the risk may be greater. 3

Tinea capitis: a fungal infection that may cause permanent scarring and hair loss without treatment. Generally, tinea capitis is characterized by small, scaly pustules on the scalp that may resemble acne. With antifungal medication, tinea capitis can be successfully treated.

Trichotillomania: a hair-pulling condition caused by mental health issues such as compulsive behavior or anxiety. With professional therapy, counseling, and medication, it’s possible to treat trichotillomania. However, it’s important to resolve this condition before the damage to the scalp becomes irreversible.

We mentioned how lifestyle factors can affect hair thinning, but what are these factors? Typically, these factors include hairstyles or hair products, such as bleach, chemical straighteners, hair relaxers, or harsh sculpting gels or sprays. Tight hairstyles may also hurt the hair follicles over time, so braids, ponytails, and cornrows may need to be avoided if you are at risk of hair thinning.

Will I Go Bald?

If your hair has started thinning, it’s normal to be concerned about going bald. Going bald typically occurs across several years. Whether you go bald will depend on the effectiveness of your treatment. While certain types of hair loss cannot be prevented, most hair loss medications are successful at slowing hair loss and stimulating regrowth.

The time it takes to go bald is different for each individual. If your body is highly reactive to your DHT levels, balding can happen quicker. Many factors play into this equation, including age, exercise and stress level, and your diet. The best thing you can do if you observe thinner hair is to see your doctor to get to the root cause right away.

a man applying topical hair loss medication to his bald spot

Effective Hair Loss Medications

When you are looking for a solution to your hair thinning, it’s common to come across minoxidil and finasteride. Your doctor may prescribe one or the other, but they may also prescribe these two medications together as combination therapy.

Minoxidil, which goes by the brand name Rogaine, is an FDA-approved topical hair loss treatment that is available as a solution or foam. Before being approved for hair loss, minoxidil was used as an antihypertensive medication. By improving blood flow, minoxidil allows more nutrients to reach the scalp. Many patients have successfully used minoxidil for decades, and it continues to be one of the top hair loss treatments available. 4

Finasteride is another popular hair loss drug, especially for treating male pattern baldness. Finasteride, also available as brand-name Propecia, comes as an oral tablet or a topical spray. Finasteride is known to promote hair regrowth and prevent further hair loss. It is generally well-tolerated, but this hair loss drug is approved for use by men only.

Ultimately, the best hair loss prevention medication will depend on the individual. Everyone experiences hair loss slightly differently, so it is important to get a treatment plan tailored to you. MailMymeds has an extensive blog section dedicated to teaching you more about hair loss conditions and the various available treatments. Visit our hair loss blog for more information today.

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The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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