As we age, it is common to notice changes in our hairline. However, it can be difficult to tell when these changes are a natural maturation process, or when they indicate true hair loss.
This post will explain the following:
- What a mature hairline is.
- The difference with a receding hairline (male pattern baldness)
- How to tell if your hairline is receding or maturing.
- If your hairline is receding, how to halt further hair loss and perhaps even lower your hairline.
You can also watch our video on the topic:
What is a Mature Hairline?
The hairline is a line of hair follicles that outline the outermost edges of your hair. It is the line that separates your hair from your forehead. Where the hairline naturally lies will depend on genetics and other factors.
Early in life, males and females have a so-called “juvenile hairline”. This is identical in both sexes: very low in the forehead and rounded (concave).
As males enter late adolescence, the hairline will naturally recede. This process will happen for nearly all males. It is a natural part of maturing, like developing a hairy chest or a deep voice. This is what we call a maturing hairline (1).
Maturing hairlines have two characteristics. Firstly, the retreat is moderate, around 1 to 2 centimeters. Secondly, the hairline retreats more or less evenly. The temple area might recede a bit more, but the hairline still looks like a relatively straight line.
What is a Receding Hairline?
This creates a characteristic M-shape pattern. Some people also call this “widow’s peak”.
The other important feature of a receding hairline is that the retreat can be substantial. Often the hairline recedes several centimeters. This leads to a noticeably larger forehead.
While a receding hairline is very common, it is not a normal maturation process. A useful analogy is reading glasses. Many, if not most people, will require reading glasses at some point. But this is not a normal maturation process. Rather it is a symptom of an underlying condition (nearsightedness).
Similarly with a receding hairline. Though very common, it is not a normal process. Rather, it is the first sign of the most common type of male hair loss: Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) (2).
Another name for AGA as male-pattern baldness. You will hear people calling it by either name.
What Causes a Receding Hairline?
The tell-tale sign of AGA is the M-shaped pattern of hair loss. As the condition worsens, the pattern will deepen. After the temples, the entire hairline will start to recede. Then the crown (or vertex) part of the head will start to thin. Eventually, the entire top of the head will often go bald.
Dermatologists use the so-called Hamilton-Norwood scale to assess the severity of AGA. A receding hairline is stage 2, the first stage of hair loss. Complete baldness is stage 6 or 7 on the scale.
Genetics and Hormones
Twin studies have shown that heredity accounts for around 80 percent of the predisposition to baldness (5). However, the proximate cause involves androgens, the male hormones.
The role of androgens in AGA is well documented. In particular, the androgen dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is believed to play a key role in progressively shrinking the affected hair follicles. This process is called hair follicle miniaturization. Eventually the miniaturization in affected areas advances to complete baldness (6).
Scientists believe that men with AGA have an inherited sensitivity to this androgen. There are certain follicles that are more sensitive to the androgen than others. In males, these are at the temples and crown.
There are other factors that contribute to AGA. Scientists have found that there are many changes in the tissue between the hair follicles. This tissue becomes inflamed and develops microscopic scars. This process is called fibrosis (7). As the fibrosis advances, it becomes more and more difficult to regrow the lost hair.
All these processes are under genetic control to a large degree. But this does not mean that other factors are not crucial (8). Some of these other factors are the environment, lifestyle choices, nutrition, hair care routines, stress and illness.
How To Tell Whether You Suffer from Male-Pattern Baldness
We can now summarize the key points to determine if your hairline is receding or simply maturing.
- Has your hairline retreated in the late adolescent years (around 17-21 years)? If yes, then it is likely a maturing hairline. Receding hairlines can happen at this age, but they most often start later in life.
- How higher is your new hairline? If it is an inch or less, then it is likely a maturing hairline. If it has gone higher than this, there is a good chance it is receding.
- Is the new hairline a relatively even straight line? A positive answer suggests a maturing hairline. A receding hairline, on the other hand, will have a very uneven shape. It will look like an M or horseshoe. The temples will be very receded on either side, forming a distinct V shape in the middle of your frontal hairline.
- Have you noticed thinning in other areas of the scalp? These will often be in the crown area of the head. But other times the entire front part of your hair will start to thin. This is one of the strongest indicators of a receding hairline and pattern baldness. If your hairline is simply maturing, however, you should not see thinning in any part of the head.
- Does AGA run in your family? If yes, this suggests you are at a higher risk of developing baldness. A retreating hairline is then more likely to be the first sign of baldness. On the other hand, if all the men in your family have kept their hair into old age, your hairline is likely just maturing. Note this is only a supplementary consideration. The most important considerations are the shape of the new hairline and the presence of thinning in other areas.
A Consultation With Your Doctor
If you suspect that your hairline is receding, the next step is to get a doctor’s confirmation. A dermatologist can usually determine very quickly if your new hairline is the first sign of AGA. Often a quick visual examination is enough. In borderline cases, the doctor may run special tests, including a scalp biopsy (9).
How to Stop Further Recession
Once you have confirmed your hairline is receding, the next step is to treat it. Your doctor will outline your various treatment options.
The traditional treatment route includes minoxidil (Rogaine) and finasteride (Propecia).
Minoxidil is a topical solution that was originally developed as an oral hypertensive (10). However, one side effect of the drug that patients and doctors noticed was hair growth.
This side effect became so well-known that the drug was often prescribed off-label for men with pattern hair loss.
Eventually, a topical solution (Rogaine) was developed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (11). The FDA has since also approved it for use by women.
Around 50% of men will respond positively to minoxidil. For these men the hair loss will stop. They can also see some mild regrowth in thinning areas. The remaining 50% of men will be non-responders. The manufacturer of minoxidil suggests they stop treatment if they see no results after a few months.
Finasteride is an oral prescription medication for male-pattern baldness. It works by inhibiting the activities of 5AR. This is the enzyme responsible for the production of DHT (12). By blocking the action of 5AR, the levels of DHT in the body plummet.
Finasteride is usually more efficacious than minoxidil. Around 80% of men who start prescription finasteride will see their hair loss stabilize. This means that the hairline will stop receding. Areas that have started to thin will also stop thinning further.
This drug is currently only approved by the FDA for use in men. Though it is very effective in stopping hair loss, regrowth is generally weak (13).
Side effects can be a major concern for some finasteride users. They are sexual in nature, and include erectile dysfunction and loss of libido (14).
A more ‘natural’ approach to hair growth is microneedling. This technique involves a tool (either a roller, stamp, or pen) with hundreds of tiny needles that puncture the scalp.
Without causing pain or damage, the dermaroller penetrates the dermal layer of skin. This increases blood flow to the hair follicles and stimulates new cell production.
In fact, this technique has been shown to be effective even in men who failed to respond to more traditional (e.g. minoxidil and finasteride) treatments (15). When used in combination with minoxidil, it gives far superior results (16).
For detailed instructions on use, go here.
Aside from these treatments, you can also make lifestyle changes. These will be very easy to implement and cost no money. They will typically not be enough to restore your previous hair.
However, by making these simple lifestyle changes you will ensure you are not needlessly aggravating your hair loss:
- Don’t shampoo more than once every two days. Excessive shampooing upsets your scalp’s natural flora and sebum production. Instead of cleaning your head you will end up making it more oily. This can lead to problems like inflammation or dandruff and exacerbate hair loss.
- Avoid supermarket shampoos. To create a rich foam and achieve a nice color and smell, these are are packed with harsh chemicals. You will feel nice after using them, but will damage your hair long-term. The best shampoos for your hair will often be the ones that don’t make the richest foam and don’t smell the best.
- Don’t shampoo with scalding hot water. Again, this might feel comforting and good for your hair, but will only upset your scalp’s microflora and sebum production.
- Avoid unnecessary harsh treatments to your hair. These include dying, heat treatment or tight hairstyles like braids. These considerations will apply particularly to men with long hair.
- Improve your diet. Replace junk food with nutrient-dense foods like brightly colored fruits and vegetables (17).
Styling your Hair
While waiting for your treatment to give results, you can also change your hair styling. Some hair styles work well with a receding hairline, while others do not. You can see some of the most popular hair styles for a receding hairline here.
While a maturing hairline is normal, a receding hairline is not.
By understanding the difference between the two, you will be able to identify and treat your pattern hair loss early on (if your hairline is indeed receding). This will give you a significant advantage compared to men that start treatment late. In hair loss, early treatment gives the best results.
Always talk to a qualified medical professional to confirm any diagnosis. They will also be able to help you in selecting the hair loss treatment right for you.