Understanding Androgenetic Alopecia and What You Can Do About It

Coping with hair loss of any type can be a significant emotional challenge. Androgenetic alopecia is particularly disconcerting because it can cause progressive hairline recession that may begin anytime after puberty. The condition is more common in males, but females can develop it, too. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that may slow down or possibly reverse androgenetic alopecia. Here’s what to know about this common hair loss condition and what you can do about it.

Androgenetic Alopecia Overview

Androgenetic alopecia is also known as male or female pattern hair loss. In men, it begins above the temples and progressively recedes back over the scalp. The hair loss pattern looks a lot like an “M.” Male pattern baldness also causes thinning at the crown of the head. If the thinning persists, it can eventually lead to total baldness.

In women, the hair loss pattern from androgenetic alopecia is a bit different. It usually begins with thinning at the top of the head. Over time, the part widens and becomes more pronounced. Most of the time, women with female pattern hair loss don’t go completely bald. They also don’t often experience a receding hairline in the front of the scalp.

Several treatments exist for androgenetic alopecia. They include platelet-rich plasma injections, hair transplantation, and topical finasteride and minoxidil. Some of these treatments may work better for certain people than others. Therefore, you may need to try multiple options to find one that makes the biggest difference for your hair health. Each of these treatments will be discussed in greater detail later in this guide.

What Causes Androgenetic Alopecia

Like many causes of hair thinning and baldness, there is still much about androgenetic alopecia that isn’t fully understood. However, as the name suggests, this condition is linked to both hormones and genetics. Experts believe some people are more susceptible to this type of hair loss based on their family history. For example, if your father, grandfather, or brothers have male pattern baldness, you also have higher odds of developing it.

In people who are genetically susceptible to this form of hair loss, the body responds abnormally to androgen hormones. These are steroid hormones produced in the testes, ovaries, and adrenals. People with this hair condition also tend to have a higher production of dihydrotestosterone. This is a form of testosterone that’s linked to male pattern baldness.

People with androgenetic alopecia have an abnormal reaction to androgen hormones. This reaction shortens the growth phase of the normal hair cycle. Over time, progressively shorter growth phases cause the hair follicles to become smaller. Eventually, the air follicles may become so stunted that they are no longer able to penetrate through the epidermis. This pattern of ever-shrinking follicles can cause the hair to thin out and may lead to partial or total baldness.  

Treatments for Androgenetic Alopecia

Various treatment options exist for androgenetic alopecia. Some are as simple as applying a topical cream to your scalp. Others involve more invasive surgical hair transplant methods. You may want to start with noninvasive treatments to see how your body responds. If you don’t get the results you want in a reasonable time frame, you may then wish to pursue more aggressive treatments.

Topical Minoxidil and Finasteride

Minoxidil and finasteride are two of the most popular topical treatments for hair loss of all types, including androgenetic alopecia. Minoxidil works by shortening the resting phase of the hair cycle and lengthening the growing stage. This leads to fuller and thicker hair strands. Minoxidil also facilitates the delivery of increased blood and nutrients to the follicles.

Finasteride decreases the amount of dihydrotestosterone in the body and thus helps slow or stop excessive hair loss. While this medication is often recommended for men with hair loss, women must use caution. Finasteride can cause weight gain, decreased libido, depression, and anxiety in women. It is also linked to birth defects and should never be used by women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant.

Platelet-Rich Plasma Injections

Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is derived from whole blood. The plasma goes through a centrifuge to get rid of the red blood cells so that primarily platelets remain. Platelet-rich plasma is often used to help the body heal from tendon, ligament, and muscle injuries. But it may also be an effective treatment for hair loss. Platelets contain growth factors that may stimulate new hair follicle development.

PRP injections show some evidence for stimulating hair regrowth. Studies show that patients who receive this treatment experience an increase in both hair thickness and density. However, more research needs to be done to determine the precise dosage and number of treatment sessions required to get optimal results.

Hair Transplantation

A hair transplant is a surgical procedure in which follicles are moved from one part of the head to the other. There are two primary hair transplantation methods used today: follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE). The former is more invasive than the latter but can be performed more quickly.

FUT is performed by removing a strip of scalp, along with the included hair follicles, to the receding hairline. It leaves a linear scar on the back of the scalp but often provides a high yield of hair in the transplanted area. FUE, on the other hand, leaves minimal scarring because the follicles are removed from the donor area one or two at a time. It also has a shorter and easier recovery time that appeals to many people.

No matter what treatment you choose for your androgenetic alopecia, the important thing is that you take action. Some people may recover on their own without intervention, but others may continue to experience progressive hair loss. Seeking early treatment may slow or stop your hair loss so you can enjoy a thick head of hair for as long as possible.