Hair loss can be an unwelcome part of ageing for many men and women. Though numerous factors contribute to hair loss, genetic predisposition often plays a significant role. This article aims to help readers understand the complexities of genetic hair loss and the role it plays in this widespread issue.
Genetic hair loss, also known as Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), is a common form of hair loss in both men and women. It's characterised by a progressive thinning of the hair, usually following a pattern. In men, it's commonly known as male pattern baldness, starting with hairline recession and thinning on the crown. In women, hair thinning generally occurs over the entire scalp.
The central factor in genetic hair loss is the presence of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). In individuals genetically predisposed to hair loss, hair follicles are sensitive to DHT, which gradually shrinks the follicles, leading to thinner and shorter hairs until, eventually, the follicles stop producing hair altogether.
The genetic component of hair loss is complex and not fully understood. It's believed to be polygenic, meaning multiple genes contribute to the condition. Research has identified several genes associated with AGA, but the primary one is located on the X chromosome, which men inherit from their mothers.
However, this doesn't mean that you'll necessarily inherit your maternal grandfather's hairline. Other genes also play a role, which can be inherited from either parent, making the pattern of inheritance unpredictable.
Genetic testing for hair loss is still in its early stages and is not widely available. Though some tests claim to predict the likelihood of developing AGA, the complexity of genetic hair loss means that these predictions aren't always accurate.
Though genetic hair loss can start in a person's twenties, it's more commonly associated with ageing. Over half of men over 50 have some degree of hair loss, and by age 70, this figure rises to more than 80%. Among women, the prevalence of AGA increases after menopause, suggesting that female hormones play a protective role.
Though AGA is not preventable, treatments are available that can slow hair loss and even stimulate new growth.
Minoxidil, available over the counter as a topical solution or foam, is a widely used treatment for genetic hair loss. It's thought to work by prolonging the growth phase of the hair cycle, though it's not entirely clear how. Minoxidil doesn't cure AGA, but it can help slow the rate of hair loss.
Finasteride, a prescription-only medication for men, works by inhibiting the conversion of testosterone to DHT, thereby reducing the main cause of follicular shrinkage. It's generally effective, but hair loss will resume if treatment is stopped.
For those who can afford it, hair transplantation surgery is an option. This involves taking hair from parts of the scalp unaffected by hair loss (usually the back) and transplanting it to the thinning areas. It's a more permanent solution but requires a significant investment.
LLLT devices emit a low level of laser light that can stimulate hair growth. They're available as handheld devices, helmets, or caps. The evidence for their effectiveness is limited, but some studies have shown positive results.
Scalp micropigmentation is a non-surgical procedure where natural pigments are applied at the epidermal level of the scalp to replicate the appearance of real hair follicles. It's an effective and affordable treatment for individuals looking for a non-invasive solution.
Understanding the role of genetics in hair loss can help guide treatment choices and set realistic expectations. If you're concerned about genetic hair loss, it's best to seek advice from a dermatologist or a trichologist. They can provide a diagnosis and guide you through the treatment options best suited to your individual needs.
While it can be distressing to experience hair loss, it's important to remember that it's a widespread condition affecting many people worldwide. There is a range of treatments available, and with ongoing research and advances in technology, the future of hair loss treatment is promising.