What to Know About Receding Hairline for Men and Women

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

A receding hairline does not simply involve having less hair. It is a disorder that can be caused by many different factors. Losing your hair can have a serious psychological impact on many people—both men and women.  

This article will discuss what causes a receding hairline, how it's diagnosed, and whether treatments are effective.

Hair brush with hair in it on a white counter
Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

How Hair Loss Happens

A receding hairline can affect men or women, but it's more common in men.  Hair loss is usually linked with aging, but many younger people can also have a receding hairline.

Hair loss presents differently in each person.

Progression of Hair Loss in Men

Having a receding hairline doesn’t always mean that a person will be entirely bald later on. However, it can be an early sign of a condition called male pattern baldness (also called androgenetic alopecia or AGA).

Usually, there is a distinct pattern that occurs when a male loses his hair. This is different in women, who commonly experience thinning. However, in males, the loss usually occurs in progressive steps, which may include:

  1. A receding hairline that appears to be uneven
  2. A noticeable "M" shape appears at the hairline
  3. Loss of hair on the top or the back of the head (resulting in a bald spot)
  4. The area involving the receding hairline meets the bald spot (resulting in larger areas of hair loss)
  5. Complete balding on top (the only remaining hair appearing around the sides and back of the head)

Recap

Male pattern baldness usually starts with a receding hairline and a bald spot on the top or back of the head. It eventually progresses to baldness on top, with some hair on the sides and back of the head.

Hair Loss and Receding Hairline in Women

In women, the pattern of hair loss is usually very different than in men. Usually, females do not have the typical receding hairline that happens at the beginning of male pattern baldness.

Eighty percent of men of European descent are affected by hair loss by the time they are 80 years old.

When it comes to women, 40% have visible hair loss by the time they reach age 40, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

Women can get a receding hairline; however, it is usually not associated with female-pattern baldness.

Conditions that can cause a woman to get a receding hairline may include:

  • Frontal Fibrosing Alopecia: This is characterized by a slow, progressive loss of hair and scarring of the scalp near the forehead. There is no cure for this condition, but medications that slow the loss of hair may be effective in some cases.
  • Traction Alopecia: This is a gradual hair loss resulting from constant pulling (from the hair being pulled back into a ponytail, pigtails, or braids).

“For women, the first sign of hair loss that they often notice is a widening of their part, or their ponytail is smaller,” said dermatologist Mary Gail Mercurio, MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology and program director of dermatology residency at the University of Rochester in Rochester, New York.

Causes

Losing hair happens as part of a normal cycle for most people. It is normal to lose approximately 100 hairs a day. The hair slowly and gradually falls out, then new hair grows back again. But in some circumstances, the cycle doesn't work the way it should.

With a receding hairline, the hair begins to fall out as a result of damage to hair follicles. Under normal circumstances, as hair naturally reaches its maturity stage, strands fall out and new ones replace it. But when the hair follicles become damaged, there is a risk of scarring and the risk that hair will no longer regrow.

Genes are the most common cause of male- and female-pattern baldness (also known as androgenic alopecia).

According to Mayo Clinic, hair loss is usually related to one or more factors, including:

  • Genetics
  • Hormone changes (due to pregnancy, menopause, thyroid, or other hormonal problems)
  • Medical conditions (such as alopecia areata, infectious diseases, ovarian tumors, or other conditions)
  • Scalp infections
  • Medications or supplements (such as cancer or arthritis medication or drugs for gout, heart problems, high blood pressure, or depression)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgeries
  • Miscarriage
  • Stress (a stressful event may cause hair loss, but this is usually temporary)

In addition, other factors that may cause a receding hairline include:

  • Excessive hairstyling (involving the use of heat from blow dryers or curling irons)
  • Hairstyles that pull the hair very tight (such as cornrows)
  • Hot oil hair treatments or permanents
  • Poor diet (lacking in adequate protein)
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Tumors (rarely)

Physical or Emotional Stress

Stress can be a major causative factor linked to hair loss. The name for stress-induced hair loss is telogen effluvium. The condition results in shedding large amounts of hair each time the hair is combed or shampooed.

Telogen effluvium may not be noticeable until long after a stressful event is over. It can take up to eight months before the hair loss subsides. Losing hair due to stress is usually temporary, but it can become chronic (long-term) in some instances.

Recap

Hair loss can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, hormone changes, medications, and stress. Sometimes hair loss can be caused by hairstyling, including pulling hair tight into a ponytail or excessive use of curling irons.

Hair Loss Prevention

There are some preventative measures that can be taken to prevent hair from falling out, according to Mayo Clinic. These include:

  • Avoiding hairstyles that pull tight on the hair (such as braids, cornrows, ponytails, or buns)
  • Avoiding constantly pulling, rubbing, or twisting hair
  • Using a wide-toothed comb and gently brushing or combing hair
  • Avoiding harsh chemical treatments on the head such as permanents or hot oil treatments
  • Avoiding the use of hot rollers and curling irons (and other heated styling methods)
  • Avoiding drugs or supplements that could cause hair loss when possible
  • Quitting smoking
  • Protecting the hair from prolonged exposure to direct sunlight (or other types of ultraviolet light)
  • Using a cooling cap when taking chemotherapy to lower the risk of hair loss

Note, if the cause of a person’s receding hairline is hereditary, it cannot be prevented.

Diagnosis

Hair loss can be diagnosed and treated by a dermatologist. You'll probably be asked to give a detailed family history to discover clues as to whether the condition is hereditary. A “pull test” may be used to determine how easily the hair falls out.

To help make a diagnosis, your dermatologist may order a scalp biopsy. A small sample of scalp tissue is removed to evaluate the tissue for scalp conditions.

Your doctor may also order a blood test to screen for medical issues. Some conditions, such as thyroid disease, can cause hair loss.

Treatment

Treatment of a receding hairline depends on the cause. If a condition such as thyroid disease is causing a person to lose their hair, the treatment would involve treating the thyroid condition.

If an immune disorder (such as alopecia areata) is the cause of hair loss, steroid injections in the scalp may help. Olumiant (baricitinib), an oral medication, is now approved to treat severe alopecia areata.

Rogaine (Minoxidil) 

Commonly, Rogaine (minoxidil) is used to slow down hair loss, or in some instances to reverse it. 

Keep in mind that typically Rogaine is only effective for a receding hairline that is linked to male pattern baldness. It may not work for other types of hair loss. 

Also, Rogaine is known for being more effective at restoring your hair in small batches rather than large areas. Early use of Rogaine will likely produce the best results.

A study looked at the effectiveness of Rogaine treatment for male pattern baldness. It found that 5% topical minoxidil was more effective than the 2% minoxidil or a placebo for new hair regrowth. In fact, men grew 45% more hair at week 48 than those who used the 2% topical minoxidil. 

Other Types of Treatment

Other treatment options may include:

  • Propecia (finasteride): A medication for men aimed at promoting hair growth. It involves blocking DHT from testosterone (a male hormone). DHT is thought to inhibit hair growth in men. It has controversial associations with depression and sexual side effects. Researchers have had conflicting results on whether it increases the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy: A three-step medical treatment in which a person's blood is drawn, processed, and then injected into the scalp. This therapy has been used for problems such as healing injured tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
  • Surgical hair restoration: A transplant of the hair follicles.
  • Dritho-Scalp: A prescription drug that promotes new hair growth.
  • Corticosteroids: A prescription drug that lowers inflammation around the hair follicles, allowing them to grow new hair.
  • Biotin: A supplement often touted as improving hair loss. However, research is still limited.
  • Essential oils: Lavender oil and peppermint oil may help with regrowing hair. A study discovered that mice treated with essential oil of peppermint had clear signs of hair regrowth. A 2016 mouse model study revealed similar results with lavender oil. Human studies are still needed to verify these claims.

Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any regimen of drugs or supplements.

Recap

Your doctor may suggest a medication for hair loss, including Rogaine (minoxidil). In studies, 5% topical minoxidil was found to be more effective than 2% minoxidil or a placebo.

Psychological Toll of Hair Loss

The emotional reaction to losing one’s hair can be very significant. Studies and surveys have evaluated the impact that the loss of hair has on emotional health. One such survey of 2,000 men in the United States discovered that there may be a close association between a man’s work identity and his hair. 

In the hair census, as many as eight in 10 men who were surveyed reported that the look of their hair was important and made them look professional and feel confident. 

A dermatologist spokesman told BBC News, “The researchers say, hair loss is a common disorder and it can cause considerable damage to emotional health, including loss of self-esteem and confidence.”

Summary

Both women and men can have receding hairlines. Men often have a condition called male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia or AGA). For women, a receding hairline may be due to frontal fibrosing alopecia, or scarring of the scalp. A variety of factors can lead to hair loss, including genetics, medications, hormones, and stress.

Treatment for a receding hairline may include medication such as Rogaine, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, or surgical hair restoration.

A Word From Verywell

Although having a receding hairline commonly causes concern for both men and women, many people have discovered that there is hope. New medical treatments and procedures on the horizon may help to slow down the process of a receding hairline.

Talking with a dermatologist or other healthcare provider can help you understand the cause of the condition and find treatment options.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Food and Drug Administration. FDA approves first systemic treatment for alopecia areata.

Additional Reading
  •  Chew,E., Tan,J., Bahta, A., Liu,X...Hillmer,A.(2017). Differential Expression between Human Dermal Papilla Cells from Balding and Non-Balding Scalps Reveals New Candidate Genes for Androgenetic Alopecia. Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

  • Ji Young Oh, J., Park, M., Kim, C. (2014). Peppermint Oil Promotes Hair Growth without Toxic Signs. Toxicological Research. (4): 297–304.Retrieved from

  • Lee, B., Lee, J., Chu, Y., Kim, C. (2016). Hair Growth-Promoting Effects of Lavender Oil in C57BL/6 Mice. Toxicological Research. Retrieved from

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. Hair Loss. MayoClinic.org.

  • Olsen EA., Dunlap FE., Funicella T., Koperski JA...Trancik RJ. (2002). A randomized clinical trial of 5% topical minoxidil versus 2% topical minoxidil and placebo in the treatment of androgenetic alopecia in men. The Journal of American Academy of Dermatology.

  • Penn State Hershey Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Staff. Health Information Library. Hair Loss. Penn State Hershey.Adam.com.

  • The American Academy of Dermatology Staff. (2010). Dermatologists can help women win the fight against common forms of hair lossAAD.org. Retrieved from

  • Westbrook, I. (2018) Potential new cure found for baldness. BBC News.com.

By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.