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4 Ways to Know You're Balding (What Are Your Options?)

Knox Beasley, MD

Reviewed by Knox Beasley, MD

Written by Geoffrey Whittaker

Published 09/17/2017

Updated 12/13/2023

It’s the conversation that nobody wants to have — am I starting to go bald? And if I go bald, will it be cool like Jason Statham or more like Danny Devito?

The unfortunate truth is that the majority of men will experience male pattern baldness at some point in life — and some (at least one) will look like Danny Devito. 

Here’s what we know: when you start balding and how much hair you’ll lose are two factors typically based on genetics. And we also know that while most of us can admit that male pattern baldness is something we’re seriously concerned about, many not-yet-bald men don’t take action while there’s still time to do something about it.

Hair loss has one big truth we must acknowledge: the longer you cover it with a comb-over, the harder it becomes to reverse the damage and recapture your full head of hair. 

If you're starting to see what you think are signs of balding, here are seven ways to know for sure:

  • More hair seems to be falling out.

  • It’s taking longer for your hair to grow.

  • Your hairline is receding.

  • The hair you have is getting thinner.

  • Random bald spots are popping up.

  • Other people are pointing it out.

  • You can see the difference in photos.

We’ve explored these warning signs in more detail below, along with what hair loss treatment can do to protect your hair follicles and, in some cases, regrow the hair that you’ve lost.

Unlike the flu, male pattern baldness isn’t a medical condition that you’ll suddenly wake up with one morning. You can't just ring up your healthcare provider, rattle off a list of symptoms and have him say, “Yup, that's baldness. Sorry for your [hair] loss.”

Instead, if you wake up with a bald spot one day, it’s typically the result of a gradual process you may just not have noticed before. 

So, how do you catch it earlier? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, these early signs can often signal that you’re beginning to lose your hair: 

1. Your Hair Falls Out

We know, we know... Duh, right? But excessive hair shedding is an obvious, common sign of hair loss.

Unfortunately, this sign is surprisingly easy to overlook. This is because most people lose about 100 strands of hair on any given day due to natural hair shedding that occurs as your hairs exit the final phases of the hair growth cycle

Because some degree of daily hair shedding is normal, finding a couple of hairs on your hairbrush or pillowcase doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going bald. 

However, when you start noticing a lot of hair around the house or stuck inside the drain of your shower, it’s often a good signal that it’s time to start looking into hair loss treatments.

2. Your Hairline is Receding

Like global warming, sometimes the evidence that things are shrinking is right there. For global warming, the evidence might be an eroding beach, but for you, it’s probably a shrinking coastline in the mirror.

A receding hairline is a classic sign of male pattern baldness. Unfortunately, it’s also a sign that many guys ignore until it gets quite severe, either because they don’t notice it developing or just because it isn’t particularly pleasant to acknowledge.

Receding hairlines often start around your temples. Over time, the pattern usually worsens until your hairline is lower in the center than it is at the sides. About 25 percent of men ages from 40 to 55 have this type of hairline, according to an article published in the book, Male Androgenetic Alopecia

You might notice that your hairline is beginning to recede when 

  • Some hairstyles expose more of your forehead than you’re used to seeing

  • You spot your hairline taking on an M-shape when you’re washing or drying your hair (which looks like the top of your head is bald with hair on sides)

  • You notice a little more scalp showing in the back of your head

For some men, this type of hair loss occurs at the crown — the area that’s right at the top of your head. If you’re going bald on top, you might notice that your skin is visible through your hair when you look at the back of your head in the mirror. 

One side effect of this form of hair loss is that it may expose your scalp to the sun, meaning you might develop sunburn if you spend time outdoors without a hat.

3. You See More of Your Scalp

Your scalp may be revealed by hair loss in more than one way. Your hairline may not just be receding — it may suffer from thinning hair too.

Like a receding hairline, overall hair thinning is common, with about 31 percent of men aged 40 to 55 displaying some signs of vertex baldness (balding at the crown).

This hair loss signal can be diffuse (all over your head) but it might also be prominent along your part, crown or in the areas where your hair is cut shorter.

There’s a difference between a forest and five trees in a field. Know the difference in your scalp, too.

4. You’re Noticing Random Bald Spots 

As we mentioned above, male pattern baldness can cause a bald patch to develop around the top of the head, also known as the crown. But what if your head starts to look like Steve Carrell’s chest from 40-Year-Old Virgin?

The good news is that these forms of hair loss are usually temporary. The other good news is that if you’re going bald with long hair, it may be easier to catch before things get too out of hand (the bad news is bald is still bald).

In addition to male pattern baldness, other forms of hair loss may cause you to develop patchy areas or random bald spots on your scalp.

Potential causes of bald spots include:

  • Alopecia areata — a form of autoimmune hair loss that can cause your hair to fall out in round or oval-shaped bald patches

  • Telogen effluvium — temporary hair loss that can occur after traumatic events or during periods of severe stress

  • Hilarious attempts at waxing with your friends watching in delight

Other Signs to Look Out For

Your Hair Takes Longer To Grow

Your hair follicles age like the rest of your body, and like your grandparents, at some point they went from capable to slow walkers.

Usually, the hair on your scalp grows about six inches a year, which means you’ll gain about an inch of new hair every couple of months.

Right now, there aren’t any scientific studies that show that male pattern baldness affects the speed at which your hair grows.

However, since male pattern baldness can affect your hair count (the total number of hairs on your head, or the density of hairs in any specific area), you may find that it takes a little longer for your hair to grow back to its usual look after a short haircut. 

You may also notice that your hair never seems to grow quite as thick as it used to.

People Tell You That You Are Losing Hair

Real talk: there is only so much you can see of your own head, so while sometimes people make jokes, you should take a pattern of references to your hair loss seriously.

A partner, parent or child (who’s about to have their allowance reduced) can see places on your head that you just can’t, like the crown and the back of the head. If they see your head regularly, they’re likely to notice a change. The same goes for your barber.

Maybe it’s obvious, but if your friends, family or small children with no filter are joking about your billiard-ball dome, you might want to do more than wear a hat to the next family cookout. 

Throwback Thursdays Are Revealing More Than Grays

No, most guys don’t edit their photos to add to or fill in their hairlines, and you shouldn’t either (be proud that you’ve survived long enough to lose hair). 

But if the urge has struck, or if you’re doing side-by-side comparisons of you in the same outfit ten years ago to see if your hair looks thinner, then you might want to get some new clothes. 

Oh, and address the hair thing, too.

In all of the commotion of asking what, where and when about balding, it’s sometimes easy to forget to ask “why.” 

Hair loss can occur for a range of reasons. However, for men, the most common reason for hair loss is androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness. 

Male pattern baldness is caused by a combination of your genes and the effects of an androgen hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.

In men genetically prone to hair loss, DHT binds to receptors in the scalp and miniaturizes, or shrinks, the hair follicles. 

This prevents your hair follicles from producing new hairs and results in the gradual loss of hair that many men experience during their 20s, 30s, 40s and beyond. 

Our complete guide to DHT and male hair loss explains this process and its hormonal origins in more detail. 

In some cases, other factors could cause you to shed hair including:

  • Medication

  • Rapid weight loss

  • Tight hairstyles like braids, ponytails or cornrows

  • Medical conditions (like thyroid issues or high blood pressure)

  • Stress

  • Skin infections 

Maybe you wonder, do supplements or can pre workout cause hair loss, we have a guide for you.

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Short of a frat house prank, going bald isn’t something that happens overnight. 

For most men, hair loss develops gradually over the course of months, years and even decades, with your hairline steadily receding and the hair on your scalp slowly getting thinner.

There’s no specific amount of time that it takes to go bald. Depending on your sensitivity to the effects of DHT, you may notice rapid hair shedding or slow but steady hair loss.

Regardless of how rapidly or slowly you’re going bald, it’s important to treat hair loss as quickly as you can to protect your hair and prevent it from worsening.

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Currently, the two most effective medications for treating male pattern hair loss are minoxidil (the active ingredient in Rogaine®) and finasteride (Propecia®).  

We offer both minoxidil and finasteride on their own, and together in our Hair Power Pack, which also includes other science-based products for treating pattern hair loss and improving hair regrowth.

Although these medications are effective, neither are one-time fixes for baldness. In order to keep your hair looking thick and healthy, you’ll need to actively use minoxidil and finasteride over the long term. 

Other ways you can slow hair loss or try to get back lost hair are:

You’ll also need to be patient. In general, it takes a few months before you’ll be able to notice any improvements to your hair from minoxidil, finasteride or the other treatment tactics. 

Hair loss treatments, delivered

So how should you deal with balding when you do actually notice it?

Punishing your children and employees for saying the “b” word (no, not that one) will see to it that your ego is never harmed again in your own house, but to protect the hair you have left, you need to do more than send a memo and cancel Christmas. 

Here’s the takeaway:

  • Balding signals may come in the form of receding hairlines, temple hair loss, thinning scalps, bigger drain clogs or callouts from friends, family or the past.

  • The sooner you address those signs, the better the chance that you might be able to reverse hair loss.

  • Medical advice from your dermatologist or other healthcare provider will yield the best treatment option. 

Whether you’re looking for more information or medical advice, we can help.

Our detailed guide to male pattern baldness provides more information about the mechanism behind hair loss, as well as your options for protecting your hair over the long term. And our healthcare providers are available to consult about potential causes and treatments for hair loss. You shouldn’t wait until another family member makes fun of you to get in touch with one.

Related Articles

5 Sources

  1. Cranwell, W. (2016, February 29). Male androgenetic alopecia. Endotext internet. Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK278957/.
  2. Hair loss: Signs and symptoms. American Academy of Dermatology. (n.d.). Retrieved January 25, 2022, from https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/
  3. Hughes EC, Saleh D. Telogen Effluvium. [Updated 2022 Jun 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430848/.
  4. Lepe K, Zito PM. Alopecia Areata. [Updated 2022 Aug 25]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK537000/.
  5. Monselise, A., Cohen, D. E., Wanser, R., & Shapiro, J. (2017). What Ages Hair?. International journal of women's dermatology, 3(1 Suppl), S52–S57. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5419032/.
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Knox Beasley, MD

Dr. Knox Beasley is a board certified dermatologist specializing in hair loss. He completed his undergraduate studies at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and subsequently attended medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, LA. 

Dr. Beasley first began doing telemedicine during his dermatology residency in 2013 with the military, helping to diagnose dermatologic conditions in soldiers all over the world. 

Dr. Beasley is board certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Originally from Nashville, TN, Dr. Beasley currently lives in North Carolina and enjoys spending time outdoors (with sunscreen of course) with his wife and two children in his spare time. 

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