Reviewed by Aimee Paik, MD
Written by Our Editorial Team
Searching the internet for causes of hair loss can lead to some pretty stellar nonsense. We have no doubt you’ve seen random forum posts involving someone claiming this or that household object made them go bald, and you’ve probably rolled your eyes just like we have. For example, what about headphones hair loss? But what about something logical — like hats? Is there any truth to the hat hair loss legend?
Like other hair loss myths, the idea that wearing a hat can cause baldness isn’t backed up by any real science. However, hair loss due to hat wearing isn’t a complete fairy tale — there are indeed ways your favorite cap can wear away the hair underneath over time.
Have questions? We’ve tried to answer them below, including the big one — does wearing a hat cause hair loss? And if yes, does wearing a hat specifically cause male pattern baldness? And if not, what are some actual causes of hair loss?
We’ve also listed proven, science-based options that you can use to treat hair loss and protect your hair from the effects of male pattern baldness.
Let's get right to it. No, wearing a hat can’t cause hair loss the overwhelming majority of the time. And on the rare occasion that it does, it’s not male pattern baldness that results from hat-wearing, but a condition called traction alopecia.
People blame everything from baseball caps, fedoras and beanies to things like sun exposure, their stressful job, their poor sleep habits, certain hairstyles and even styling products for their hair thinning.
While all of those things can contribute to some sort of hair loss to varying extents, none of them can cause male pattern baldness.
Male pattern baldness is caused by a combination of genes and hormonal factors, such as your sensitivity to the effects of the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
Your body produces DHT as a byproduct of testosterone, the primary male sex hormone. If you have a genetic sensitivity to DHT, this hormone can bind to your hair follicles and cause gradual follicular miniaturization that eventually prevents them from producing new hairs.
In other words, changes in your DHT levels lead to the progressive eradication of your hair. We’ve talked about this process in more detail below and in our guide to DHT and the hair loss process.
But while your lifestyle and headgear habits don’t cause male pattern baldness, anything you put on your head — hats included — that pulls on your hair roots or puts any strain on the structure of your hair follicles may cause a type of hair loss called traction alopecia.
Because of the number of guys sporting hats for the last (checks notes) history of humankind, it’s certainly something we — and the medical community — have considered before. And it does have its (broken) roots in traction alopecia.
While most traction alopecia research points to tight hairstyles (ponytails, cornrows and such) as the main culprits, hats have come up anecdotally.
A 1999 study of about 200 Korean nurses found that a small percentage of them had hair loss at the site where their nurses caps were pinned.
But there’s not much else in the way of formal hat-hair studies. Interestingly, some research has found that wearing a hat may actually reduce your risk of hair loss over the course of your life.
In a (very small) study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, researchers compared 92 male identical twins to assess the severity of their hair loss, as well as the factors that may play a role in the hair loss process.
One of the other factors they looked at was wearing a hat. Contrary to the myth, the hat-wearing twins were less likely to show significant frontal hair loss than their non-hat-wearing counterparts.
There’s no reputable scientific research that suggests that wearing even a very tight hat plays any role in androgenetic alopecia — the most common form of hair loss in men.
Since wearing a hat has no impact on your DHT levels, there’s no reason to think that it plays a role in hair loss.
But, while it's not likely that your hat is responsible for your hair loss, it can definitely make some of the early signs of balding more noticeable.
Here are some crucial connections between hats and hair loss that you baseball players, truckers and mariachi band members will want to be aware of:
One of the most common early signs of balding is excessive hair shedding. While it’s normal to lose 50 to 100 hairs a day, people with hair loss might shed significantly more than this amount on a daily basis, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
If you’re starting to lose your hair, there’s a good chance you’ll notice stray hairs inside your hat when you take it off. It’s just a coincidence that your hat looks responsible. Stray hairs don’t exclusively collect inside your hat, but also on your pillowcase, in the drain of your shower and elsewhere.
Wearing a hat can give your hair a flat and messy appearance, especially when you wear a hat for a long time. Messy hair makes a receding hairline or baldness around the crown (the area at the top of your head) more visible.
No, this doesn’t mean that your hat is causing male pattern baldness (or female pattern baldness in women, for that matter). Instead, it may simply make a receding hairline or other signs of hair loss easier to notice.
As we briefly mentioned above, male pattern baldness (the type of gradual hair loss that causes a bald spot around your crown or a receding hairline) is caused by hormonal changes related to dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
Although male pattern hair loss is the most common cause of hair loss in men, other things can also cause you to lose hair. Some common examples include:
Stress, trauma and nutritional deficiencies
This form of hair loss generally presents as diffuse thinning that affects your entire scalp, rather than the receding hairline or bald patch that’s common with male pattern baldness.
Telogen effluvium is temporary hair loss, meaning you’ll grow back any hair that you’ve lost once the underlying issue is treated.
Our guide to the different types of hair loss goes into more detail about how these forms of hair loss can develop.
Even though a hat itself may not cause hair loss, some hairstyles may cause traction alopecia, another type of hair loss also caused by hairstyles such as braids/cornrows, buns or tight ponytails.
Your own body could be the cause of hair loss for more than one reason, by the way.
Hair loss can also happen when your body is struggling to stay healthy.
If you’re nutritionally deficient, recently had major surgery or if you’re just really stressed out, you can experience sudden hair shedding — also known as telogen effluvium.
The good news is that, like with telogen effluvium caused by medical conditions, this condition is temporary and will resolve itself as your body recovers from whatever stressed it out in the first place.
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Overall, wearing a hat offers a mix of advantages and disadvantages.
Hats can do good things like:
Shield your face and neck from the sun.
Prevent sunburn and cut down your risk of developing skin cancer.
Keep your head and ears insulated and warm.
Hats can also cause problems, including:
Potentially irritating your scalp, as sweat can build up inside the hat over time.
Rubbing against your skin and causing irritation.
To avoid these risks, make sure to loosen the adjustable snap closure on your ball cap so that it doesn’t cut into or rub against your skin, and clean your hat (and your hair) regularly.
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Guys, male pattern baldness is a very common issue — there’s just no getting around it. Research published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery notes that 16 percent of men aged 18 to 29 — and more than 50 percent of men in their 40s — have moderate to extensive male pattern baldness.
What does this have to do with hats? Nothing.
Hats and androgenic alopecia are like ships passing in the night — they very rarely cross paths.
Here’s what you should really remember about hats and the actual threat of hair loss that they pose:
Hats protect. Wearing a hat helps shield your face and neck from the sun, reducing your risk of developing a sunburn or skin cancer.
Dirty hats are bad for your skin. Make sure to wash your hat regularly to prevent sweat, oils or other substances from building up inside the fabric.
They won’t make you bald. There’s no scientific evidence to show that wearing a hat contributes to male pattern hair loss.
Losing hair? Get help. If you’re starting to notice the signs of hair loss, it’s important to take action quickly to prevent it from getting worse.
Male pattern baldness is treatable. Currently, the most effective hair loss treatments are the FDA-approved medications minoxidil and finasteride.
So put on that cap and wear it proudly. Just be sure to keep it clean, you know? If you wear it properly, you won’t need to worry about it ripping your hair out.
Instead, you can focus on worrying over your receding hairline — and getting it checked out and treated.