Receding Hairlines: Let's Get To The Root Of The Issue + 6 Expert Ways To Treat It
Some hair loss is standard: On average, you shed about 50 to 100 strands on the daily, and it's likely nothing to write home about, save for a clumped hairbrush. It's when you notice that widow's peak expanding or the temples looking a bit bare that may have you peering into the mirror, wondering: Uh, is my hairline receding?
Short answer? It might be, for a number of reasons (not all of them permanent). And while you can't exactly fix a receding hairline overnight, there are ways to stop the recession in its tracks, even reverse the damage in some cases.
Here, our guide.
What causes a receding hairline?
Hair ages just like the rest of your body; oftentimes, a receding hairline is unavoidable as you get older. According to hair restoration specialist Craig Ziering, D.O., FAOCD, FISHRS, FAAD, owner of Ziering Medical, your hair reaches what's known as its "mature hairline," a new normal for your aging hair, so to speak. It's when that thinning doesn't slow or stop that it becomes an issue, and it can happen for a number of underlying reasons. Said reasons of course vary from person to person, but these are the common factors:
For men, the biggest factor for a receding hairline is just genetics. It's a process called androgenetic alopecia (commonly referred to as male-pattern baldness), and it happens like this: "High levels of androgen in the body produce a hormone called Dihydrotestosterone, which binds to certain proteins in the body," says Ziering. "It's not necessarily the amount of testosterone or DHT present that ultimately causes baldness; it can be more about the sensitivity or reactivity of the hair follicles, which is genetic. This in turn reduces follicle size, which results in miniaturization, delayed growth, and thinning of the hair. Eventually, the follicle will cease to function and produce new hair growth."
For what it's worth: Women can experience androgenetic alopecia—or female-pattern baldness—as well. It just looks a little bit different on the scalp (more on that later). Men and women can also suffer from thyroid issues or mineral deficiencies, which can contribute to noticeable hair loss.
While women can totally experience hereditary and age-related hair loss, there are some other factors to keep in mind. Usually, "Causes in receding hairlines for women are frontal fibrosing alopecia or traction alopecia," Ziering notes. "Fibrosing alopecia is an autoimmune condition that has the body mistakenly attack the follicles, which results in follicular damage or scarring. It is not very common, and it mostly affects postmenopausal women." The theory here is that postmenopausal women have a low-estrogen environment around the hair follicles, which is thought to trigger the fibrosing alopecia process. But again, it's not so common.
Traction alopecia, however, is much more commonplace—it's a medical condition that results from long-term damage on the hair. It usually stems from consistent, too-tight hairstyles like "braids, weaves, buns or tight ponytails, especially on chemically treated hair," says Ziering.
Or, women may also experience postpartum hair loss, which can cause the hairline to look a bit meager. It does eventually grow back (usually in six to 12 months), but the wait time can understandably feel a little frustrating.
Common signs your hairline is receding.
Again, it differs from person to person, but here are some telltale signs:
In males, the hairline typically thins on the top of the head, starting either at the temples or crown. If it starts at the temples, it typically leaves a V-shaped pattern—sort of like an extended widow's peak. If it starts at the crown, men might experience a single patch of balding, while others find the hairline receding in an M-shape, says Ziering.
"While it is still possible for women to have a receding hairline, they are more likely to experience thinning hair," says Ziering. And "for women who experience thinning, often the recession is not front-to-back but more from the center area outward."
So while the sides and back of the hair are typically spared, Ziering adds, you may notice your part looks a little bit wider or the temples look a bit thinned out. If it's from traction alopecia, usually women will notice "a thinner or smaller ponytail and significant shedding in the brush or shower."
How to treat a receding hairline.
Granted, there's not much you can do about genetics and aging—however, there are more than a few ways you can slow the process once receding has begun. Although, treating the condition may differ depending on whether your hair loss is scarring (like fibrosing alopecia) or non-scarring, so be sure to get to the root of the issue first.
Of course, there are other permanent treatments you can opt for in-office (hair transplants, stem-cell injections, and the like), but for the sake of this article, we'll stick to holistic, nonsurgical methods:
1. Ensure a well-balanced diet.
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"If it's not hereditary, there are strategies to keep follicles healthy and hair growth strong, starting with a well-balanced diet," says Ziering. "Vitamins and minerals are an essential part of healthy hair growth." Specifically, he mentions omega fatty acids and antioxidants to help neutralize the free radicals that lead to oxidative stress (and hair aging). That said, foods high in antioxidants or a vitamin-rich supplement can help support healthy hair.
Collagen and biotin supplements, in particular, have proved to be particularly effective, like in mindbodygreen's grass-fed collagen+. Collagen is chock-full of the amino acids your body uses to make keratin (or what hair is made of); biotin has been shown in several studies to promote and maintain hair growth. This powder also contains several antioxidants like vitamins C and E.
And on the subject of mineral deficiencies, you might want to eat foods high in iron as well. We still don't know exactly how iron affects hair growth, but research has shown that without proper iron intake, hair follicles do not function properly.
2. Care for your scalp.
"When scalp and follicle function is optimal, hair strength, thickness, and vitality are also optimal," Ziering notes. Make sure you're properly cleaning and stimulating the scalp, in order to fight off inflammation and keep the environment balanced. (Read: Too much buildup on the scalp can suffocate the follicles and even lead to hair loss in some severe cases.)
He also recommends regular scalp massages to help stimulate blood circulation up in those follicles (which is associated with hair growth). "Incorporate hair massage for circulation and oxygenation as well as brushing nightly to stimulate the scalp," says Ziering. The jury's still out whether it can actually help prevent hair loss itself, but "it's certainly beneficial for scalp and hair."
3. Look into vasodilators.
Some medicated topicals can actually enlarge the follicles and extend the growth phase of hair, says Ziering. A popular FDA-approved option is the vasodilator minoxidil (commonly branded as Rogaine), which you apply directly to the scalp in either a spray or foam solution.
According to board-certified dermatologist Iris Rubin, M.D., founder of SEEN Hair Care, the topicals are most effective to use as a preventive measure: "It's much better at prevention actually than regrowth, and it takes months to work," she explains. (Since all of your strands encounter different phases of the hair growth cycle—growth, resting, and falling out—it takes quite some time for the topicals to benefit each and every hair on your head.)
Other natural vasodilators, like essential oils, have been shown to promote circulation and improve hair thickness in a similar way, although the science is still limited on that front.
4. Stop wearing too-tight hairstyles.
In the case of traction alopecia, the only to-do is to, well, stop wearing those tight hairstyles. "It's definitely on the order of months, but that does typically grow back," notes Rubin.
5. Limit heat styling and processing.
Also according to Rubin, sometimes people mistake hairline breakage for a receding hairline. "Often people will have broken hairs in the front of their hair, and that can mimic to some extent the hairline receding," she says. The key to preventing that breakage along the hairline is to take a breather from daily heat styling and make sure you're not physically tearing or overprocessing your strands.
Plus, it's never a bad idea to keep the hair you have healthy and thriving: "If you're dealing with hair loss, you'll want to keep the hairs that you do have in good condition," Rubin adds. That includes nourishing the strands and easing up on harsh styling practices.
6. Low-level light therapy (maybe).
"Some people are looking at low-level light therapy, which looks encouraging for female- or male-pattern hair loss," Rubin adds. Specifically, one study found that women who received red light therapy at 650 nm every other day for 17 weeks experienced a 51% increase in hair density, and another research review touted red light therapy as safe and effective for promoting hair growth in both men and women. "There's some encouraging data," Rubin agrees. "But nothing yet is really magical."
A receding hairline can happen for a variety of reasons, but there's much you can do to manage the thinning hair. While aging is inevitable (and genetics cannot be ignored), you do have the power to keep your mane healthy and full for as long as possible—it just takes some preventive care. As Ziering notes, "Early intervention is always best."