Causes of Male Pattern Baldness
MPHL is caused by a mix of genetic and hormonal issues. In essence, when the dihydrotestosterone (DHT) hormone affects hair follicles, they shrink. The hairs stop growing, becoming thinner, lighter, and shorter. The genetic change that causes this hormone to behave this way is thought to be hereditary. But the likelihood of developing it seems to have more to do with environmental factors. While the ‘baldness’ gene is on the X chromosome, passed down from mother to son, it doesn’t mean you’re more likely to grow bald just because the men in your mother’s family did. On the contrary, it seems having a bald father makes it more likely to develop MPHL.
Treatments for MPHL
There’s no shortage of pharmaceutical products that claim to cure androgenetic alopecia, from shampoo to hair brushes. But there are currently no hair loss treatments that are 100% effective. Most only hide or delay some of the symptoms, at best. Here are some of the most effective ways to put a stop to MPHL:
There are currently only two types of medication for male pattern baldness with proven effects, but they are not available on the NHS. Their effect is temporary. But although they don’t work for everyone and long-term treatment is expensive, many men resort to taking them.
Finasteride is sold under various brand names, and it’s primarily used to treat enlarged prostates. Tablets taken by mouth reduce dihydrotestosterone levels. In 3-6 months, they may inhibit or ever reverse hair follicle shrinkage, especially on the upper skull. But hair loss reoccurs within 6 to 12 months of stopping treatment. Also, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction are some of the possible side-effects.
Minoxidil is a vasodilator developed to treat ulcers, but found to be effective in treating hypertension instead. Hair growth was a welcome side-effect, presumably caused by an increase of blood flow to the scalp. Though it’s not fully understood how it works, this substance is available in the UK over the counter, as liquid or foam, in concentrations of 5% or 2%.
Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy
Platelets are the blood cells that stop bleeds, form clots, and promote healing whenever there’s a wound. When they’re separated from other blood components with a centrifuge, extracted, and injected into damaged tissue, they speed up the healing process. They’re currently used in hair growth therapy to heal damaged follicles. However, clinics carry out these procedures as they see fit. And without a standardized protocol for injections, it’s hard to tell who can benefit from a PRP treatment and for how long.
Low-level laser therapy
Also known as cold laser therapy, red light therapy, soft laser biostimulation, and photobiomodulation, this approach involves blasting photons into the scalp. Photons are particles that carry electromagnetic radiation, including visible light. With low-level laser therapy, this light has a wavelength of around 650nm (in the near-infrared spectrum), which is why it looks red to the naked eye. It’s absorbed by the cells in the scalp, stimulating their activity and triggering hair growth. Recent studies show that low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is effective, pain-free, non-invasive, and safe. But it takes months to see visible signs of improvement, and the effects are not permanent. A variety of LLLT products are freely available for sale, such as NIR light bulbs, lamps, and even caps.
It’s easy to mistake true low-level laser therapy for LED therapy. They both radiate near-infrared light with a wavelength of around 650nm to treat hair loss. But LEDs are light-emitting diodes. They are not lasers, and they do not focus beams of photons from a single light bulb onto a specific area of the scalp. Instead, the light is spread on a large area, diffused from clusters of tiny light bulbs (light emitting diodes, to be more precise). Most of the LLLT products available to buy online are, in fact, LEDs. Laser helmets, caps, and hair brushes with little red bulbs are typical examples. However, there are some products that use both laser and LED light for better coverage.
Men who choose to have surgical treatment can opt for hair transplantation or scalp reduction. In other words, they can either have hairs extracted from the back and sides and implanted onto bald patches, or they can remove bald patches and stretch the remaining scalp over the gaps. Neither of these treatments are available on the NHS.
Aside from shampoos and wigs, people sometimes resort to optical illusion to hide their hair loss. Hair pigmentation, micro pigmentation, or Trico pigmentation is a procedure that simulates a hair stubble. A cosmetic technician implants droplets of ink into the scalp, much like a tattoo. The effect isn’t permanent, and people need costly regular top-ups – about once every 3 years.