A huge number of common medical conditions people experience are closely associated with age. Arthritis, for example, becomes far more common as you get older. Your risk of developing type two diabetes, as well, increases with age. Hearing loss, hypertension and osteoporosis are all conditions that also disproportionately affect older generations. And another condition people tend to identify with middle-aged and elderly people is hair loss.
It’s easy to see why this is the case. It is true that you become increasingly likely to lose your hair as you get older. Research varies, but experts suggest that your chances of hair loss increase approximately in proportion to your age: at 30, you have a 30% chance of losing your hair; at 40 a 40% chance; at 50 a 50% chance, and so on. For men who experience little to no hair loss by the time they reach middle age, it’s likely any hair loss they do experience will occur at a much slower rate than the average. But for men who do experience hair loss, it’ll get gradually worse without treatment.
It may sound intuitive that older men experience hair loss in greater numbers than young men. But you might be surprised to learn that a substantial percentage of men start losing their hair at a younger age, as well. Just under a third of men aged 30 experience hair loss to some degree – and a fifth of men will start to lose their hair at just 20 years old.
To make matters worse, there’s also some evidence to suggest hair loss in young men is becoming more common. A 2018 study found that young people in China are losing their hair quicker than ever before. Of the 4,000 students surveyed, 60% said they had experienced some level of hair loss. Dr. Fu Lanqin, a dermatologist at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing, told Chinese media in response to the results that she had noticed a marked increase in the number of young people seeking treatment for hair loss in recent years. “My feeling is that this generation is losing its hair sooner than previous generations,” she said at the time.
More research is needed to determine whether young people really are losing their hair quicker than their parents and grandparents did. But for those of us who are unlucky enough to go bald at a younger age, there are a number of factors that could be causing your hair to fall out – and treatments that can stop it happening in future.
Let’s start with the reasons why some men experience hair loss at a young age.
It’s no question that genes are the biggest determinants of hair loss in men. Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenetic alopecia, accounts for a whopping 95% of all hair loss in men – making it by far the most common cause of baldness. Men with androgenetic alopecia lose their hair thanks to a hormonal process that causes testosterone to release a byproduct called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Hair follicles that are sensitive to DHT tend to shrink over time, making it more difficult for them to produce strong, healthy hair. After a while, the follicles will shrink to the point where they can no longer produce any hair at all.
Male pattern baldness tends to progress in two ways, either from the temples backwards or from the crown outwards. For men who begin to notice either of these happening from a young age, it’s likely that their hair follicles are especially sensitive to the effects of DHT, and therefore shrink quicker than they do in other men.
Much has been made in recent years of the fact young people are more stressed out than they used to be. A 2018 survey found that four-fifths of teachers in Britain had seen a student struggle with a mental health problem that year. Another survey carried out by the Mental Health Foundation the same year found that six out of 10 young people aged 18-24 had felt so stressed by pressure to succeed they felt unable to cope.
It’s well-documented that people suffering from high levels of stress often experience greater levels of hair loss as a result. In fact, stress-related hair loss has its own name: telogen effluvium. In many cases, telogen effluvium is a temporary condition caused by a sudden stressful or traumatic event. But because hereditary hair loss is so common, it can often be accompanied by stress-related hair loss – causing people affected to lose their hair at a quicker rate.
In less common instances, it’s possible for men to experience hair loss if they style their hair in a particularly tight fashion, such as cornrows or topknots. If a hairstyle is too tight, it can cause so much stress on the hair follicles that it actually rips out the hair. As a result, hair can become thinner and recede over time. Traction alopecia can also be exacerbated if tight hairstyles are combined with products containing substances that are damaging to hair, such as chemical hair straighteners and some dyes and bleaches.
So what can I do about it?
Let’s start with the easiest bit first: if you style your hair tightly and start to notice it thinning, stop wearing it like that! In addition, make sure to keep your distance from any hair products containing chemicals that damage your hair.
The next part is easier said than done, but it’s important to try to remove as much excess stress from your life as possible. If that isn’t a possibility, as is the case for many young people nowadays, try to take up activities that allow you to manage your stress. Meditation, for example, can help reduce stress substantially in people after they start it. Keeping yourself organised by writing to-do lists can also help people feel in control of their lives and less stressed. Finally, simple exercise is one of the best natural stress relievers out there.
Once you’ve loosened your locks and sorted your stress, the last thing to address is the hereditary factor. Obviously, you can’t change your genes. But the good news is that there are treatments available that are clinically proven to stop hereditary hair loss in its tracks, and in some instances even cause hair that had previously been lost to grow back.
The first effective treatment for hair loss is minoxidil. Applied directly to the scalp, minoxidil is a topical treatment for hair loss that counteracts the effects of DHT by dilating the hair follicles. By increasing the hair follicle size and hair shaft diameter, minoxidil helps hair regrow thicker in areas of the scalp where it was previously thinning. Minoxidil is proven to stabilise hair loss in two-thirds of men who take it. In addition, 40% of men regrow hair in places of the scalp it had stopped growing after three to six months of use.
The second treatment addresses DHT at the source of creation. Finasteride, also known as a DHT-blocker, stops testosterone being converted to DHT by blocking the enzyme 5-alpha reductase, which is responsible for creating it. This lowers the levels of DHT in the scalp, which stops hair follicles shrinking. Finasteride is highly effective at stopping hair loss in men: studies show that around 85% of men who take it stop losing their hair or report regrowth three to four months after beginning treatment.
The bottom line
It’s easy to feel hard done by if you start losing your hair at a young age. Plenty of men see hair loss as something to be taken in stride – but studies show that many more experience substantial damage to their self-esteem when they begin to go bald. It’s important to remember that baldness is not an inevitability – with the right lifestyle changes and treatments you can stop your hair from falling out, whatever your age.