More than 50% of men over the age of 50 have some form of hair loss, making the hair loss industry worth a whopping $3.5 billion. Unfortunately, many hair loss solutions are worthless.
"Most of the products and services that are being sold in this industry don't work," says Spencer Kobren founder of the American Hair Loss Association and host of The Bald Truth podcast.
It's often difficult to separate the snake oils from the solutions because many people advocating for or against different products tend to have stakes in the industry too. There is also a lot of misinformation out there about what causes hair loss and how it can be prevented. We dug into the hard science to expose the myths, truths, and important information you should know about what you can actually do to keep (or get back) your hair.
Hair Restoration Never Looks Natural: Myth
Hair restoration surgeries have had a questionable past but Kobren says that is an outdated reputation. "Most people still think of hair transplants as these plug-y, unattractive, cornrow-type of procedures," he says. "Those really don't exist anymore." He says that he has seen and heard of plenty of great restorations that have turned men's lives around.
However, he also says there is still bad work out there that can be devastating. In order to get the best result possible, Kobren recommends checking the credentials of everyone involved in your potential hair restoration team because the procedures are team efforts, not just the work of one doctor.
Baldness Comes From Your Mother's Side: Myth
It is a complete myth that baldness is inherited from only the mother's side of the family. You hair future is determined by genes from both sides of your family and you have likely ended up with some mix of your parents' hair genes.
"It's not a 100% accurate prediction of what's going to happen to you but if there's hair loss somewhere in your family, there's a good chance you may be dealing with it," says Kobren. So, if your father's side has a long history of a similar pattern of hair loss and your mother's has no hair loss, you are still at risk of having that paternal pattern.
Pull Out a Grey and Three Will Grow: Myth
Over time, repeatedly pulling out hairs from the same follicle can cause traction alopecia, where the trauma of plucking can damage and scar the follicle to the point that it no longer produces hair. This is the basic reasoning behind plucking eyebrows but it also applies to the hairs on your head, so pulling them out on a regular basis can make them go away for good. However, Kobren says that occasionally pulling out a grey before date night shouldn't cause any significant problems.
Mistreating Your Hair Can Cause Hair Loss: Fact
It's unlikely to cause permanent hair loss, but overworking your locks can damage hair, making it weak and easily broken. Processes that may cause hair troubles can include aggressive brushing, back combing, straightening, and dying. Even chemicals in shampoos, water, air pollution, and too much UV exposure can weaken the outside and inside of hair fibers.
Stress Causes Hair Loss: Mostly Myth
Stress can be blamed for many different health problems but hair loss isn't generally one of them. Balding and stress are often associated because people can lose hair under extreme stress. How extreme? After giving birth, some women experience hair loss. People may also experience hair loss after something drastic like a car crash or the death of someone close. Otherwise, stress is not likely the cause.
Wearing Baseball Caps Will Make You Go Bald: Myth
While pulling out hair can cause something called traction alopecia, it is a total myth that wearing baseball caps too much will cause you to lose your hair. "Your baseball cap would have to be on your scalp so tight that you couldn't wear it in order for it to cause any type of traction or damage," says Kobren. In other words, your cap would have to be pulling hair out of your head (a lot) in order for it to cause permanent hair loss.
Natural Supplements Can Help Hair Loss: Myth
When Kobren wrote The Bald Truth: The First Complete Guide To Preventing and Treating Hair Loss in 1998, he included a chapter about natural ways to battle hair loss, such as saw palmetto, pygeum africanum, and stinging nettle. While these herbal supplements seem to reduce DHT, it appears that doesn't translate to hair.
Since his book came out, Kobren has changed his thinking about natural remedies to hair loss. "I've told people on my show for years that there has been no clinical data showing that any of these natural supplements actually help with hair loss," he says.
Propecia (Finasteride) Works: Fact
The majority of hair loss falls in the category of androgenic alopecia - also called male pattern baldness. This is an inherited condition that makes a man's hair follicles stop producing aesthetically acceptable hair in reaction to hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
Finasteride is an FDA-approved hair loss drug that works by blocking an enzyme that would otherwise change testosterone to DHT. It has to be taken every day and may take at least three months to take effect. It can have some side effects, including sexual problems, and it's worth noting that if a man stops taking finasteride, the hair he grew back will probably be lost. This has been the secret to my overall success!
Rogaine (Minoxidil) Works: Fact
Although few anti-balding solutions actually work, there are a couple that do. Rogaine is one of them. This foam or lotion, also called minoxidil, is effective for about 30-50% of the men who try it. Unlike other medications, Rogaine doesn't have many side effects but it does have to be applied twice a day, every day. It seems to work by making hair follicles bigger and stimulating hair growth, although scientists aren't entirely sure how.
You Can Prevent Hair Loss: Myth
For most men, hair loss is caused by miniaturization. This process occurs when hair follicles are triggered - by dihydrotestosterone (DHT) - to grow for shorter and shorter periods, making the hair very weak and small. For now, there is no way to keep miniaturization from starting. "The only preventative measure that a guy can take is early intervention," says Kobren.
There are, however, quite a few things a man can do to address balding once it has begun, like medications and surgery. And with medication, some men can turn the hair clock back as much as five years.
This post was also published on Men's Journal.