Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
It’s a reality that most men have to deal with at some point in their lives — the dreaded receding hairline (cue the villain music).
Like the Grim Reaper, hair loss comes for everyone eventually. Some men are lucky enough to not get their visits until long after their 30th AARP membership anniversaries, but most see hair loss way sooner.
Statistically, the majority of men will experience hair loss. In fact, research shows that around 16 percent of men ages 18 to 29 and 53 percent of men between 40 and 49 years old have moderate to extensive androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern hair loss.
If you end up being one of the lucky ones and live a long life with a full head of hair, you’ve beaten the male pattern baldness odds.
For the rest of us, there will come a time when our hair starts to thin, hair care becomes dependent on family history and we begin to develop a more mature hairline.
It’s easy to miss the signs of a receding hairline until late in the process. That’s unfortunate, since there are ways, like the Norwood Scale, to measure a receding hairline, and there are ways to tell the difference between a receding hairline and something that you’ve had forever.
The best offense is a good defense — recognizing that you’re balding and taking a proactive approach to stopping hair loss gives you a far better chance of preventing your receding hairline from getting worse.
Below, we’ve explained the key differences between a “normal” hairline and a receding one, as well as five signs you may notice if you’re starting to develop a receding hairline.
We’ve also explained what you can do to treat male pattern baldness and prevent your receding hairline from worsening. Because hair is like the economy: it may be impossible to prevent a recession, but you don’t have to let it consume everything.
Let’s start off by busting some stigma: there's no such thing as a normal hairline. Like penises and boobs, they come in all different shapes and sizes.
A receding hairline is really about the movement of your hairline — if you’re losing hair on an ongoing basis and your hairline is moving higher, it’s receding.
While a receding hairline doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll go totally bald, it’s often one of the first signs of male pattern baldness.
Technical jargon incoming. Male pattern baldness — the type of hair loss that causes a receding hairline — develops when your hair follicles are damaged by a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
If you’re genetically prone to hair loss, DHT can miniaturize your hair follicles and prevent them from producing new hairs. We talk about this process more in our guide to DHT and male hair loss. But what should you look for on your head?
A receding hairline may look:
It may start at the forehead, temples or the part in your hair. Really, it may appear differently in each person, though the core principle — the line where your hair stops moves farther back than it was before — is the universal experience.
The hairline is simply the most likely place for hair loss to start —it’s common for DHT to affect the hair follicles around your hairline before it affects other areas of your scalp.
And hair loss can be uneven. Research suggests that it’s common for male pattern baldness to cause asymmetrical hair loss, meaning you may lose hair from one side of your hairline before the other.
There’s no good kind of hair loss, but if you’re in one of those in-between phases or trying to get your bearings, you may wonder how severe or how advanced your circumstances have become. For this, we’ll direct you to the Norwood scale.
The Norwood scale, a seven-part scale used to determine the severity of male pattern baldness, uses a receding hairline as the defining characteristic of its first two stages. We also have an article that goes over more hair shedding scales if you'd like to learn more.
Generally, however, the seven stages of hair loss according to the Norwood scale look like this:
Stage 1: the hairline begins to recede subtly, usually at the temples
Stage 2: the receding hairline exaggerates at the temples
Stage 3: as the hair on the temples recedes, a peninsula of hair at the center of the forehead becomes more pronounced
Stage 4: a bald spot begins to form as the crown loses hair
Stage 5: the hair at your temples retreats farther as the crown’s bald spot increases
Stage 6: the crown and temple hair loss areas will begin to connect
Stage 7: for the most part, the scalp on the top of the head will be easy to see, as only some hairs remain aside from a band around the sides of your head
It’s important to take a receding hairline seriously — no matter what stage. While it may not turn into full baldness, it’s best to be proactive and start treating it as if it could.
At Norwood Stage 7, you’ll probably want to prioritize a visit to an optometrist if you couldn’t see the signs of hair loss before.
Fortunately, most men can keep tabs on their hair, if they know what to look for.
Here’s how to tell if your hairline is receding:
Changes from old photos to the present
Texture changes and thinner hair
Problems with styling your hair that haven’t happened before
Uneven balance in the thickness or volume of the hair you have
Lots and lots of hair in the drain, collar or pillows
Light shows your “flaws”
Read on for why these indicators matter and how to judge them.
It's always fun looking back on old photos of people, places or memories. Until you have a look at your hairline and realize some of it has stayed in the past.
But don’t shred the photos — they’re important data. Looking at your hairline in a photo from several years ago could make any differences in your current hairline obvious and easy to see.
Make sure to take similar photos now and look at them side-by-side. Compare photos in similar lighting conditions that clearly display your hairline, as it’s possible for things like lighting and hair styling to affect how high or low your hairline looks.
For the best record keeping, take a photo of your hairline every three to six months, then compare your photos every few years.
This is a simple step that you can do in your bathroom in a few minutes. If you notice a change or a trend in your hairline’s movement, see recession near your temples or see a thinning hairline, it’s more likely than not that you’re starting to lose your hair.
You know how to manage your hair better than anyone else. You know how it parts and which direction to brush it in to make it look its best. So when it’s misbehaving, there’s a problem.
If you start to notice your hair behaving differently and falling flat in some hairstyles, it’s often a sign of thinning and receding.
Over time, a thinning scalp or receding hairline can completely change the way your hair behaves. It may start to fall in a different direction or no longer provide as much coverage when styled in a certain way.
If your hair suddenly becomes more difficult to work with, doesn’t hold its shape, requires more of the products you use or generally changes texture or thickness, it could very well be due to hair loss.
If you’re starting to experience male pattern baldness, you may notice thinning in other areas of your scalp at the same time as your hairline recedes.
You may also notice that certain parts of your hairline look thinner than before, even if they still have some hair coverage.
This can be especially obvious if you see your hairline under bright lighting or after showering, when your hair is still wet.
You can check for this sign by looking at the corners of your hairline, your crown and the other areas of your scalp when you style your hair.
If you spot an area that looks thinner than normal, it may be a sign that trouble's afoot — or ahead.
It’s normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs a day. This hair shedding occurs as a result of the natural, multi-phase growth cycle each of your hairs goes through as it grows from the follicle to its full length.
Unfortunately, one of the most common signs of male pattern baldness is excessive hair shedding, which can cause hairs to accumulate on your hairbrush, pillowcase or around your house.
If you previously had a symmetrical hairline and notice that your hairline now looks uneven, it’s possible that male pattern baldness is the culprit.
If your hairline becomes uneven over time, take a look at old photos of yourself to see if you can spot any differences. If you can, you’ve likely caught male pattern baldness in its early stages.
You know all of those club hookup horror stories about drunk folks seeing the one-night stand they took home in the cold light of morning? Well, more light may reveal some details about your hairline that you’d also rather not wake up to.
Bright lights can catch the shine of your forehead in ways that might show you exactly how much bare scalp is under there. This is a “signal” of hair loss that gets worse over time — just ask anyone who learned about hair loss from a sunburn to the scalp.
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There’s no reversing time, but as in Adam Sandler movies, there may be a way to slow it down and cling to what’s left of your greatness.
In other words, treatments that can limit your hair loss and help to preserve your hairline are available.
If you’ve recently noticed signs of a receding hairline, make sure to:
Act as quickly as possible. Male pattern baldness can go from “huh?” to “oh no..." quickly, meaning your hairline may go from mildly to severely receded over the course of just a few years. Make sure that you start treating it as soon as you can.
Start using finasteride. Finasteride is a hair loss medication that works by preventing your body from creating DHT. Not only can it stop your hairline from getting worse, but in some cases, it can also promote hair regrowth.
Apply minoxidil to your hairline. Minoxidil is a topical (and sometimes oral) hair loss medication that improves blood flow to follicles, which can help you to regrow hair in areas with noticeable thinning. Our Hair Power Pack combines both medications we’ve mentioned in case you’re interested.
Wash with hair loss prevention shampoo. Some shampoos, such as our thickening shampoo, are formulated to cut down buildup on your scalp and promote the growth of thick, healthy hair.
Maintain a healthy diet. Your diet won’t cause male pattern baldness but vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients may help to promote healthy hair growth. Check our guide for the best foods for hair growth.
Track your progress. After you start treating hair loss, make sure to take regular photos of your scalp to track your progress. You can do this using the same technique we mentioned above for tracking hair loss as it worsens. For an accurate log of your progress, make sure to take your scalp photos in consistent lighting conditions.
Consider surgery. Hair restoration and hair transplants may be among your options, but these are usually reserved for severe cases and are much more expensive than the treatment options mentioned above.
After you start treating your receding hairline, it’s important to be patient and focus on long-term changes.
This is because it typically takes several months for medications like finasteride and minoxidil to have a noticeable impact on your hair.
Remember that your hair needs time to grow. While most hair loss treatments start working right away, your hair needs time to grow to its normal length and thickness.
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If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
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At the end of the day, recession doesn’t have to lead to depression — just because your hairline is starting to recede, it doesn’t mean that you need to kiss your head of hair goodbye.
To prevent the worst, remember the following:
It can be hard to tell if you’re balding when you’ve only just started to lose hair around your forehead., but when there’s a noticeable M-shape to your hairline, it’s definitely receding.
Look at old pictures, the mirror and the shower drain for signs of increased shedding.
There are a number of different ways that you can hold onto the hair that you have and, in some cases, even stimulate new hair growth.
Medications and other hairline-protecting techniques can have a real positive impact on your hair and stop your male pattern baldness from worsening.
But whatever you do, invest in protecting your hair now — it may not grow over the span of your lifetime, but it could prevent your hair from disappearing altogether.