What Role Does Genetics Play in Hair Loss?
A glimpse at your parent’s hair is often a window into what your hair may look like as you get older. Hair loss tends to run in families, meaning that there is a genetic component to hair loss. However, we do not know to what extent genetics dictates how much hair will be on your head as you age. Here’s a look at how genetics influence hair loss and what you can do to manage it.
Hair Loss Is in Our DNA
We know that hair loss in both men and women can be related to genetics. Often, we associate hair loss with males more than females, but the reality is that it can affect everyone. According to the American Hair Loss Association, over 85% of men will struggle with hair loss by age 50. Additionally, statistics show that women account for 40% of all people who struggle with hair loss. And, for those with hair loss, their family members likely dealt with this frustrating issue as well.
In the past, it was thought that the gene for hair loss was on the X chromosome. Thus, people usually looked to their mother’s side of the family to see what their hair would look like with age.
According to an older study, the gene for androgen receptors lies on the X-chromosome. Androgen receptors respond to androgens (like testosterone) in the body. Male sex hormones (androgens) dictate physiological traits, including hair growth patterns. High receptor sensitivity to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) may be a leading cause of male pattern baldness.
Aside from the X chromosome link, we know that hair loss is also partly dictated by the genes from your father’s side. While there is still much to learn about genetics and hair loss, we know that hair loss is determined by both your mother and father.
Hair Loss Is Not Always Caused by Genetics
There are so many factors that can contribute to hair loss. In many cases, it is a combination of several things, including your genes, environment, stress, diet, and medical history. When you are trying to identify what is causing your hair loss, it is important to investigate the root cause. Sometimes, it certainly is genetics. However, it may be an interplay between inherited or acquired medical conditions coupled with current stressors in your life.
The following is a list of factors that may cause hair loss:
- Some medications
- Illness and infection
- Medical conditions like autoimmune diseases (alopecia areata, Hashimoto’s, lupus, etc.)
- Cancer treatment
- Certain hairstyles and hair treatments
- Scalp infections
- Poor diet
- Eating disorders
- Damage from tension and friction
Patterns of Hair Loss Linked to Genetics
Hereditary hair loss is the most common cause of hair loss worldwide. Men and women can suffer from hereditary hair loss, but it manifests in different patterns. The medical term for genetic hair loss is androgenic alopecia. You may also know of it as male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness.
Male pattern hair loss
Male-pattern baldness may be related to an increase in androgen receptor sensitivity in the scalp. Higher levels of DHT likely affect the hair growth cycle, causing hair follicles to weaken and shrink. Thus, you end up with finer strands of hair until the hair growth cycle stops altogether.
Male pattern baldness can start at any age, but your risk increases as you get older. Some men develop it as early as their teens and twenties. It is crucial to identify balding as early as possible, especially if you have a positive family history. Typically, androgenic alopecia in males follows a few distinct patterns:
- Hair loss in the shape of an “M” or “V”
- Thinning at the crown of your head
- Receding hairline
Female pattern hair loss
DHT is also a culprit in female pattern hair loss. Although women have a minute fraction of DHT compared to men, any shift in hormones can disrupt the delicate balance between all hormones, making your system more sensitive to DHT. For example, when women enter menopause, their estrogen levels fall. Estrogen helps maintain the balance of all sex hormones. Thus, when estrogen declines, DHT can have a more significant effect in the body, even if DHT levels do not rise. Many women experience female pattern hair loss after menopause.
Typically, female pattern hair loss manifests as a widening or thinning along the part line. However, women may also notice thinning around their temples and ears that progress to thinning all over their heads.
How to Manage Genetic Hair Thinning and Baldness
While we can’t change our genes, we can take steps to minimize hair loss. For example, we can use products and medication to put a stop to permanent thinning and baldness. Here are some tips on controlling hereditary hair loss.
Keep on eye on things
Early detection and action are crucial to stopping the spread of hair loss and balding in both men and women. If you have any family members with hair loss, you will want to be especially aware of your hair thickness. An excellent way to keep track of your hair thickness is to take pictures of your part line and hairline at the start of every month. This is a way to help you track any changes in monthly increments.
Avoid harsh styling treatments
Certain hair habits can damage follicles and thin your already thinning hair. If you are struggling with hair loss, talk to your stylist about ways to keep your hair from thinning and minimize any further hair loss. Your stylist may also have suggestions on how to wear your hair to make it look fuller.
See your doctor
When you begin to notice changes in the thickness and distribution of your hair, it is important to see your doctor. Most people with hair loss have this condition because of genetics. However, as we have seen, many other factors may contribute to changes in your hair. Talk to your doctor to explore all factors that may cause hair loss. Once you get to the bottom of what is causing your hair loss, you can effectively treat it.
Your doctor may prescribe medication if you are suffering from male pattern baldness. Finasteride, a medication that primarily treats benign prostate hypertrophy, is commonly used because it blocks the effects of DHT. However, the side effects can be unpleasant, which makes many men look for other options. Sometimes, doctors will prescribe their female patients an anti-androgen medication like spironolactone. This medication suppresses the production of elevated male sex hormones, such as in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Try hair regrowth products
Minoxidil (commonly known as Rogaine) has been used for decades to treat hair loss in men and women.
Most people who use minoxidil will notice some improvement in their hair loss, although the hair typically grows back finer, and the color and texture may be off.
Usually, people need to be on it for at least 6-12 months before seeing results. Additionally, minoxidil can irritate the skin, and any new growth will fall out once you stop using the product.
Fortunately, newer products and technology do not have the irritating side effects of minoxidil and are more effective at restoring your hair to its original thickness and density.
Nanoxidil is a professional-grade product developed by dermatological scientists to stop male and female pattern hair loss.
Nanoxidil works by penetrating deep within the follicle to block DHT and stimulate hair growth. You can browse the entire line of Nanoxidil products at DS Laboratories.