Balding at 20: Hair Loss at a Young Age

Hair loss affects over 60% of men before the age of 30. Some men begin to experience hair loss, commonly a result of male pattern baldness, in their late teens or early twenties. If you have recently looked in the mirror to discover you have thinning, balding patches of hair or a receding hairline, you may be suffering from male pattern baldness or another condition that’s causing your hair loss. Hair loss is not entirely understood by researchers, though, so slowing balding and regenerating hair growth can sometimes be a guessing game. There are options, though, for young men who experience mild to severe hair loss. You should start by trying to understand the cause of your baldness to help you decide which treatment (or lifestyle changes) may work for you.

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Understanding Hair Growth and Hair Loss

Hair grows all over the human body, with the exception of the soles of your hands and feet. The hair itself is made of dead protein cells, called keratin, which is produced by the hair follicles in the skin. As more keratin cells are produced, the old ones are pushed out of the skin, where they form a long strand of hair.

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Hair follicles function in phases. The growth phase, called the anagen phase, is when your follicles are producing new keratin cells. After the anagen phase, a short transition phase, called the catagen phase, takes place. In this phase, the new cell becomes attached to the existing hair shaft. Then, in the last phase, called the telogen phase, the follicle rests. If a follicle prematurely enters the telogen phase (without entering or completing the catagen phase), the hair will fall out. It is normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs per day. However, losing more or noticing patches of thinning hair may be the reason for concern. The medical term for hair loss is alopecia and there are several different types of alopecia that affect men. Some of these types include:

  • Androgenic Alopecia: This affects both men and women, but is more common in men. This is also referred to as “male pattern baldness” and can affect men as early as their late teenage years or early twenties. Typically, this type of alopecia will produce a gradually receding hairline, which eventually results in loss or thinning of most of the hair on the scalp. This is the most common type of alopecia that causes early hair loss.
  • Involutional Alopecia: This is the most common form of baldness and is usually not a reason for concern, as this refers to normal hair loss with age.
  • Alopecia Universalis: This condition causes hair over the entire body to fall out, including eyebrows, eyelashes, hair on arms, legs, and the face, as well as the scalp.

There are many other types of alopecia, some of which mainly affect children, women or the elderly, or are caused by psychological conditions. Some are also commonly seen in tandem with other disorders, especially hormonal disorders, and eating disorders.

What Causes Balding at an Early Age?

The phases of your hair follicles rotate on different time intervals. Some follicles have shorter intervals than others, and research has never been able to pinpoint the cause for the discrepancy in phase time periods. Sometimes, hair follicles prematurely reach the telogen phase, resulting in hair loss. In other cases, follicles may reach this resting phase and never return to the anagen phase, meaning there is no new hair growth after the hair falls out.

Certain factors may affect hair loss. Some of these include:

  • Hormonal changes and imbalances: Hair loss is often associated with extreme hormonal changes or hormone imbalances, including abnormal androgen levels and more.

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  • Stress: It’s no secret that stress can cause hair loss and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol may make you more likely to suffer from conditions like telogen effluvium, which causes more hairs than normal to fall out, or trichotillomania, a psychological condition in which a person pulls out their hair, like as a nervous (or stress-induced) habit.

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  • Illness: Some illnesses can cause your hair follicles to function improperly, such as thyroid conditions, lupus, anemia, or diabetes. Fungal infections are commonly known to cause hair loss, though it is often temporary. Autoimmune diseases often cause hair loss as well.

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  • Drugs and Therapy: Certain medications can cause severe hair loss. One common example is chemotherapy.

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  • Burns or scarring: Burns or scars on the skin may affect the hair follicles, causing them to lose hair or no longer produce keratin cells for new hair growth.

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  • Too Much “Hair Care”: Believe it or not, hair loss can be caused by “over caring” for your hair or by certain cosmetic procedures. Shampooing too often, applying heat or braiding your hair tightly can cause damage to the hair follicles. Another cause of hair loss includes chemical processes like dying, bleaching, or perms. Typically, this is not a reason for baldness, though, and the hair will grow back.

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  • Poor Diet: Malnutrition can result in hair loss. This is why hair loss is commonly seen among people who suffer from eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa. Certain diet changes may help prevent hair loss.

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What Can I Do about My Hair Loss?

Hair loss is a pretty tricky topic and most experts and doctors are never really able to pinpoint the cause. However, if you are looking to reduce your chance of hair loss or slow hair loss that is already progressing, you should consider the factors listed above. Your doctor may help you determine if a hormone imbalance or other medical condition may be the cause of your premature hair loss. If so, they may suggest hormone therapy, diet changes or other medications and treatments to help manage to condition or balance your hormones, which may naturally solve your hair loss problem.

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In other cases, though, you may not be able to solve the issue so easily. There are other treatments on the market designed to help regrow hair and prevent future hair loss. Some of these treatments include creams, foams, and soaps that are meant to stimulate hair follicle and produce new hair growth.

As a last resort—or in extreme cases—you may want to consider a hair transplant. This process involves a surgeon removing either an entire strip of hair from your scalp, sewing the scalp closed, and then separating that strip of hair into thousands of tiny grafts, or shaving the scalp and removing only the hair follicles from the area. Both styles of hair transplant end in the follicles (or grafted hair strands) being placed inside tiny holed created in the scalp inside the balding area. New hair should grow naturally in the area. However, this process can be costly and there is always a chance that the transplant will fail and the follicles will not set and begin to produce new hairs. Your doctor will be able to discuss with you the chances of success based on your medical history and the severity of your hair loss.