What is a receding hairline? The science bit.

A receding hairline refers to the loss of hair from the lateral sides of the forehead, and can affect grown men of any age, with some males experiencing loss of hair soon after puberty. The extent of the recession can vary greatly, but its cause is most commonly referred to as male pattern baldness, technically known as androgenic alopecia, alopecia androgenetica or alopecia seborrheica.

Bald manCredit: MorguefilePattern balding is different to other conditions, and should not be confused with alopecia areata, where the hair is more commonly lost in clumps in random areas. In its most extreme forms, alopecia areata can involve the loss of all head hair (known as alopecia totalis), and the loss of all hair from the head and the body (known as alopecia universalis).

Over 95% of hair thinning in men is cause by male pattern baldness, which mainly takes place in two areas; the lateral sides of the forehead (referred to as the receding hairline, which is the area we are concerned with in this article) and/or the crown of the head (in the area referred to as the vertex). Men can suffer one or the other, but most commonly both become more pronounced simultaneously. This eventually leads the balding or thinning areas to meet, which leaves a ring of hair in the shape of a horse-shoe around the bottom and back of the head.

Causes of male pattern baldness leading to a receding hairline


Although the exact causes of male pattern baldness are not known for certain, it is generally attributed to genetic background.

According to the Medem Medical Library, male pattern baldness, leading to a receding hairline affects around 40 million men in the USA. Over 25% of them begin losing their hair at the front of their hairline by the age of 30, and around 70% begin balding by the age of 60.

4 in 7 men in total have the baldness gene, which until recently was believed to be inherited from the maternal grandfather (the father of the subject's mother). This theory does not hold as much weight nowadays, with the genes of both parents believed to contribute to their offspring's persuasion towards hair loss.

A receding hairline is triggered by the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which promotes the growth of body and facial-hair, but has adverse affects on the hair on the head. In scalps that are genetically-prone to balding, DHT sparks a process known as follicular miniaturization, which causes hair follicles to deteriorate. In response, the period in which hair grows (known as the anagen phase) becomes shorter, and new, unpigmented vellus hair is prevented from growing, thus never maturing into deeply-rooted and pigmented terminal hair. Gradually, hair thins and the volume of terminal hair (initially around 90% of the hair on the head) is reduced. The hair goes through various stages and often becomes fuzzy and weak. Eventually the follicle becomes dormant and stops producing any hair at all.

Other causes of a receding hairline

Although genetics are the most common cause of a receding hairline in men, there are several other possibilities, including;

  • Trichotillomania - caused by continuous and compulsive pulling of the hairs (often through styling). Because of the constant extraction of the roots, hair loss can be permanent. 
  • Trauma - severe stress, poisoning or major surgery have all been known to instigate hair loss. Normally in these cases, a great number of hairs go into resting phase at once, causing thinning.
  • Medications - Hair loss and a receding hairline are associated with many medications; this can be temporary, but has been shown to be permanent in many cases. Check with your doctor when you are being prescribed drugs that affect the body's hormone balance, such as those used for the treatment of blood pressure problems, diabetes, heart disease and acne.
  • Others - Water pollutants, the phototoxic effects of sunlight, conventional styling products and excessive amounts of sebum can cause thinning of the hair either by aging the skin on the scalp and damaging hair, or by blocking the follicle thus preventing regrowth.

Spotting a receding hairline early

Man checking for hair lossCredit: Morguefile

Each person has between 100,000 and 150,000 hairs on their head, with blondes generally having the greatest density. It is considered normal for people to lose around 100 hairs per day. However, to maintain normal density, it must be replaced at the same rate. Tell-tale signs that a receding hairline is imminent, are more hairs than normal in your hairbrush or in the bath.

If you suffer from or have suffered from severe acne, be alert to the possibility of balding.  Cystic acne is related to similar hormonal imbalances to those that cause hair loss.

There are ways of styling your hair in a flattering way when your hair is receding.

Popular methods of preventing a receding hairline

If you suspect that you are showing signs of a receding hairline, consult a doctor for advice.
Instigating permanent re-growth of hair that has fallen out is not currently possible. However, with early detection and the monitored use of specialist products, hair thinning can be effectively reduced and delayed. Several treatments have been scientifically proven to give hair a thicker look and create an optimum environment for the growth and preservation of new hair.


There are numerous medications that claim to prevent hair loss, but only three have significant scientific backing.

  • Propecia is taken in the form of a pill and blocks the formation of DHT in your scalp. Propecia is particularly beneficial for treating hair loss on the vertex (on top of the head), but has not been shown to be as successful in treating a receding hairline.
  • Minoxidil is a topically applied drug, often in the form of a foam. It is applied twice daily to the areas where hair loss is present. It has been proven to be beneficial, but hair loss will return to normal rate within 6 weeks of discontinuing use. Minoxidil is available over the counter in various forms, the most well-known is Rogaine.
  • Corticosteroids are used to treat patchy hair loss and the early onset of a receding hair line, the most common method of receiving corticosteroids is through injection via the scalp. However, pills and ointments are also available.

Surgical Treatments

The earliest form of hair transplant surgery was developed in the 1950s.

There are several variations of hair transplant (FUE, strip technique, DHI to name but three), but all are based around a similar technique.

Whilst the patient is under local anaesthetic, a surgeon moves healthy hair from the back and sides of the head to the areas of thinning. Skilled surgeons can help restore a very natural look. Procedures generally last for between 4 to 8 hours with extra sessions sometimes required.
The transplanted hair falls out after a few weeks, but grows back permanently within 6-12 months.

Disguising a receding hair line

Some men opt for combing hair forward and trying to disguise their receding hair line through various hair styles. Others wear wigs or hair systems.

Personally, I have had great results using Toppik, which is an affordable alternative to surgery or medicine, consisting of electrostatic micro-fibres that can be applied to your hair at home. It disguises a receding hair line, makes the hair appear fuller and healthier, and comes in a variety of colours.