For men and women alike, hair is their crowning glory. But what happens when you look in the mirror and notice – to your complete horror – that your hairline has begun to recede?
A receding hairline is a common occurrence, even in people with long and otherwise healthy hair. In this post, I’ll further introduce this problem, including:
- The seven major causes;
- How you can tell the difference between maturation and recession;
- The three main signs of a recession;
- The stages of recession as defined by medical professionals; and
- How you can stop hair loss and lower your hairline.
At the end of this post, you’ll also get the chance to take my two-minute hair loss quiz. The results will help you to pinpoint the true cause of your loss, as well as guide you on the path to regrowth.
What Is a Receding Hairline?
The hairline is made up of a distinct line of hair follicles which naturally occur on the forehead. However, genetic and medical conditions, physical trauma, or even fungal infections can cause these follicles to cease working, or die entirely.
When this occurs, the hairline will begin to retreat, or recede.
This can be temporary, though it’s more often its permanent.
What Causes a Hairline Recession?
Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA)
A condition that affects both men and women, Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA) is believed to be genetic (1).
One trigger of this condition is DHT, a naturally occurring androgen hormone produced from the interaction between testosterone (sex hormone) and 5-Alpha-Reductase (5AR) (an enzyme).
In people with AGA, their hair follicles are sensitive to DHT (2). When the hormone attaches to them, it leads to inflammation and irritation. If left untreated, this can lead to miniaturization and, eventually, hair thinning and balding.
But why the receding hairline?
In men with AGA, the most sensitive follicles tend to be those at the hairline. As the frontal follicles die, the sensitivity will become more increased in the surrounding area until, eventually, you’re completely bald.
Interestingly, women experience a different hair loss pattern (known as Female-Pattern Hair Loss). Their loss tends to start at the crown, and spread throughout (known as diffuse).
This is a ‘condition’ caused by repeated physical trauma, and it can happen to either gender at any age.
In short, traction alopecia occurs when the hair is repeatedly pulled back too tightly (such as in a high ponytail) or tugged (such as in trichotillomania). It can also occur as a result of constant hat wearing, though this is less common.
As the hair is pulled, the strands become stretched and thin. The strain on the follicle can become too much, and it can then be damaged by the repeated action.
In certain cases, this can even lead to miniaturization (which itself is a trigger for hair loss).
Traction alopecia doesn’t always occur along the hairline, but it is a common place.
As with any other organ in the human body, hair follicles too are susceptible to infection and disease. If left untreated, certain conditions can lead to recession and even baldness.
But what are the most common infections to affect the hairline?
Literally meaning “inflammation of the follicle”, folliculitis is a catch-all term. It commonly occurs when the follicles become blocked from natural sebum buildup, or even as a result of a bacterial infection.
When the follicles become clogged, there’s less room in them for the hairs to properly grow. This can cause inflammation and pain, and it can cause permanent damage if not treated.
Treating folliculitis will depend on the cause.
If sebum buildup is your problem, check out this post for tips on cleaning the scalp. A bacterial infection can be a bit trickier to treat, so a visit to your physician is in order.
Ringworm, more often referred to as tinea capitis when on the scalp, is a common fungal infection that affects millions of Americans per year (3). It’s highly contagious, which means it can be spread from simple skin-to-skin contact with an infected individual.
When found on the scalp, ringworm typically presents as a circular patch of hair loss (one or more). It can also be accompanied by inflammation, scaling, itching, and even pustules.
So, can ringworm cause hairline recession?
Yes, depending on its placement.
If a ringworm infection is on the edge of the hairline, it can cause hair loss that’s similar to recession. Of course, once treated the hair loss should stop entirely and the hair should grow back as normal.
Piedra or trichomycosis nodularis
Another fungal infection that’s commonly found on the scalp, piedra (or trichomycosis nodularis) is characterized by a white or black nodule attached to the hair shaft (4). White piedra is often mistaken for lice.
This condition can be treated with an antifungal, though many individuals also choose to shave the affected area.
If left untreated, the infection can cause the hair shafts to weaken. This can lead to breakage and thinning and, if not handled correctly, could even contribute to hairline recession.
Seborrheic Dermatitis (SD) is a condition that causes scaly, itchy skin on the affected areas of skin (5). These rashes are commonly red in color, and they can be found anywhere on the body when sebum is produced.
Anyone can suffer from SD, though certain groups of people are more susceptible. These include infants under the age of three months, and adults from the ages of 30 to 60 (6).
And, men and women with certain medical conditions can also be more susceptible, including (5):
- Eating disorders
If you suffer from SD, you may find that patches appear on the face and particularly around the hairline. This can obviously lead to problems with hair growth, and may even cause the hairline to retreat in certain areas.
Scalp psoriasis is often confused with SD, but the two are actually quite different.
Foremost, scalp psoriasis is known to cause drier patches than SD. Additionally, psoriasis is caused by an autoimmune response, which causes the body to produce excess skin cells (7). These cells build up, leaving behind itchy, horny patches.
Similar to SD, psoriasis can affect growth on the hairline.
Is My Hairline Receding, or Maturing?
An important question to ask yourself, especially if you’re a teen or young adult, is whether your hairline is truly receding. What do I mean?
There are three types of hairlines: juvenile, mature, and receded.
For the majority of your childhood and adolescence, you’ll have a juvenile hairline. It’s much lower than a mature or receded one, and the edges (near the temples) tend to be rounded.
As you age, the hair will naturally recede and take a more defined shape.
You may notice a higher line, as well as distinct edges, but you won’t see the telltale signs of recession (namely, horseshoe pattern and thinning).
This is called a mature hairline, and it’s one that all healthy men will develop at a certain point in their life (generally, from the ages of 15 to 20).
But when has maturation gone ‘too far’? This is the real question.
The major difference between a maturing hairline and a receding one is that one eventually stops. The mature line will come to a natural rest on the head, and it will be relatively even (i.e. the temples will be aligned with the hair at the center of the forehead).
A retreating hairline, though, will continue to progress. You may notice that your temples recede at an uneven rate (one is farther back than the other), and your temples will likely recede faster than the front (forming an unnatural widow’s peak, or horseshoe pattern).
What Are the Signs My Hairline Is Receding?
Before you start to panic, it’s important to have an understanding of the signs. These can help you to gauge whether recession is happening and, if it is, how bad it is.
Your Hairline is Uneven
The easiest way to tell the difference between maturation and recession is how the hair recedes.
If the front line of your hair has moved back evenly, it’s likely due to maturation. This happens as the line becomes more distinct, while still outlining your facial shape.
If your hairline has moved back unevenly – such as more loss at the temples than the center of the forehead – you’re likely dealing with recession.
In fact, an uneven retreat is a telltale early sign of balding. It can create a more pronounced widow’s peak (if you have one), or take on a horseshoe pattern.
Your Temple Hair is Thinning
While your hairline will move back – whether it’s maturing or receding – another way to tell if it’s recession is to consider the quality of your hair. In other words, thinning hair at the temples is a sure sign of hair loss.
In the earliest stages, this can be almost unnoticeable. You probably won’t see it when you look in the mirror, but you can certainly feel the difference.
To determine if your temple hair is thinning, simply run your fingers through your hair on the temples. What does it feel like? Is it thick or thin, oddly textured, or even brittle feeling? Now, do the same near your forehead. Do you feel a difference?
If you do, take note! This is a sign of imminent recession.
You Notice an Increase in Fallout
As part of the hair growth cycle, it’s normal for men and women to shed anywhere from 50 to 150 hairs per day. But if you notice an increase, you may be on the road to hair loss.
The most common times to notice this increase in fallout is in the shower, and when you wake in the morning on your pillow.
And while counting your hair strands everyday would be difficult, there is a way to keep an eye on hair loss levels.
Take a look at your comb each day.
The amount of hairs in your comb will slowly increase if hair loss is coming, and it’s pretty easy to measure the amount with your eyes alone. Just be sure to remove the hairs after each session so you can get an accurate ‘count’.
The Stages of Recession
When diagnosing hair loss in men, medical professionals use the Norwood-Hamilton scale to determine severity:
Stage II is considered the beginning of recession, as Stage I is the natural state of your hairline once it has matured. The scale goes all the way to Stage VII, which is the stage in which just a small ring of hair would remain around the back and sides of the scalp.
How Much Time Do I Have?
You may be wondering to yourself:
“Once recession begins, how much time do I have before I am completely bald?”
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t so straightforward.
There are many factors that go into hair loss, and this will impact how long it takes for complete baldness to take hold. In the majority of cases, it takes several years to go from Stage II to Stage VII.
But this timeline can speed up, or slow down, based on many things.
Of course, you don’t have to sit back and wait until baldness is inevitable.
How to Stop Recession and Lower Your Hairline
Now that you know your hairline is retreating, what can you do about it?
Let’s take a look at some of the methods I used myself to combat hair loss and restore my hairline.
Revamp Your Diet and Nutritional Intake
It can be a tough pill to swallow, but our diet can play a large role in our hair loss (8). The truth is, cleaning up your diet and increasing your vitamin and mineral intake can have a significant impact on hair growth.
The foods we eat do more than affect our waistlines. They actually determine how our bodies function overall.
So, what foods should you avoid?
These include red meats, grains, sugar, and alcohol.
You should instead look to add more fruits, vegetables, and oils to your diet. For example:
- Flax seeds
- Goat and almond milk
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
Essentially, a colorful and varied diet that is low in fried foods and carbohydrates will do good for your overall health and your hairline.
Stop Using Chemical-Laden Hair Products and Hot Water
What you put in your body is important, but so is what you put on it. When speaking of your hair, this includes shampoos, conditioners, serums, and even the type of water you use.
Store-bought shampoos – even those that claim to be ‘natural’ – contain additives and preservatives. These protect the ‘freshness’ of the product, but they do nothing to benefit your hair. In fact, they can actually cause harm.
What are the most common additives used?
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), and propylene glycol just to name a few.
These can cause irritation and inflammation, and they may also lead to itching, sores, and flaking (9).
But what about the water?
Hot water is commonly used in showers, but it can cause unseen damage to the hair and scalp. When used regularly, it can cause dryness and inflammation. Eventually, the hair strands will weaken and even dislodge from the follicle.
Fortunately, the answer is simple.
By switching to all-natural hair products, you reduce the risk of irritation and inflammation. And by switching to lukewarm (or even cold) water, you also increase the health of your scalp and quality of your hair.
You may even notice your hair feels softer and looks shinier after a few cold-water rinses!
And what about your hairline?
Well, if irritation was a major cause of recession, you’re likely to see new growth of healthy hair strands.
Practice Scalp Massage and Exercises
Once you’ve removed dietary and chemical triggers from your life, it’s time to work on regrowing the hair you’ve lost. This may be possible in the majority of cases, and one of the greatest ways to do so is by increasing circulation to the scalp.
As new hairs grow, they require a steady blood flow. This flow delivers oxygen and nutrients to the follicle, and makes it much easier for healthy hairs to sprout (10).
One way to increase circulation?
Scalp massage and exercises (11)!
How to Perform Scalp Massage
Scalp massages are a simple, no-cost method you can do on your own in as little as 10 minutes per day. And best of all, you can adjust the techniques below to better fit your needs.
Are you ready to get started?
Here’s a quick rundown of my own routine:
- Using your thumb, middle, and index fingers, place your hands on either side of your head (just above your ears). Begin to apply gentle pressure to the area, and then work in a circular motion.
- Remain in this area for 1 – 2 minutes, though you can expand the area and backtrack if you’d like.
- Slowly make your way towards the crown, and massage the area for 1 – 2 minutes. Again, you can backtrack to previous areas, and even apply different amounts of pressure as you go along.
- Next, move to the middle of the hairline, and then slowly work your way out towards the temples. Continue with your circular motions, and then return to the sides of the head after 1 – 2 minutes.
- Finally, make your way towards the base of the scalp. Remain here for 1 – 2 minutes.
You can perform this routine once per day, or even twice. Just remember to be careful of your nails (as they can dislodge hair strands), and only apply enough pressure to feel comfortable.
How to Perform Scalp Exercises
If you’d like to give your scalp more of a ‘workout’, you can add in scalp exercises to your massage routine. These can be completed at anytime during the day, or immediately following a massage.
- Lift your eyebrows as high as possible, and hold for 1 – 2 minutes. Return to the resting position.
- Furrow your eyebrows as deep as possible, and hold for 1 – 2 minutes. Return to the resting position.
- Lift your eyebrows as high as possible, and hold for 1 – 2 minutes. Then, furrow your eyebrows as deep as possible, and hold for 1 – 2 minutes. Return to the resting position.
You can also use your fingertips to stretch and loosen the skin. Simply place your thumb and index finger an inch or two apart from each other. Pull the two fingers together, to loosen the skin. Then push the two fingers apart to stretch the skin.
You can repeat this throughout the scalp.
Another way to manually stimulate the scalp and cause a natural increase in blood circulation (among other benefits) is microneedling.
Microneedling is a technique that uses miniature needles to puncture the scalp. This therapy is believed to induce collagen production (hence its more popular name of ‘Collagen Induction Therapy’) and promote new cell production (12). Microneedling achieves this by initiating a three-step process within the scalp. The process includes:
In other words, the micro wounds created by the needles will induce the natural healing process.
And while this therapy is most often used to reduce scarring and discoloration of the skin, there has been success in treating patients with androgenetic alopecia.
A 2013 study performed in India consisted of 100 men with mild to moderate AGA (13). The men were split into two groups.
The first group received daily application of minoxidil 5 percent, and the second group received daily application of minoxidil 5 percent in addition to a weekly microneedling session.
The researchers kept a close eye on three parameters throughout the study:
- Change from baseline hair count at 12 weeks
- Patient assessment of hair growth at 12 weeks
- Investigator assessment of hair growth at 12 weeks
The study continued for 12 weeks, and at the end the results were clear: the minoxidil + microneedling group outperformed the minoxidil-only group.
More specifically, the group to also receive microneedling had a mean change in hair count from baseline that was 91.4 while the minoxidil-only group saw just a change of 22.2.
But that’s not the only study to support its use in treating AGA.
A 2015 study tested the efficacy of microneedling in men who failed to respond to traditional treatments (such as minoxidil and finasteride) (14).
The four men in the study had been on minxodil 5 percent and finasteride for between two and five years. While they had shown no worsening in symptoms, there had also been no noticeable hair growth.
The men received microneedling treatments over a six-month period, and they were followed up over 18 months.
New hair growth started after eight to ten sessions, and all patients showed a response of +2 to +3 on the standardized 7-point evaluation scale.
How to Perform Microneedling at Home
While microneeding is often done by dermatologists, you can actually perform this treatment yourself. All you need is the microneedling tool of your choice.
There are three tools to choose from: a dermaroller, a dermastamp, and a dermapen.
The dermaroller is a cylindrical tool (with a handle) with needles all around. You roll it over the scalp with light pressure.
The dermastamp is another handled tool, but instead of a cylinder at the end there is a rectangular block. This block also contains needles which you lightly press into the scalp.
Finally, the dermapen is a smaller tool that is in the shape of a pen. It contains tiny needles at the very end, and it’s best for targeting smaller areas which is why it’s often used on the face.
You can’t go wrong with either a dermaroller or dermastamp, but the dermastamp is superior in a few ways.
Foremost, you’re less likely to injure your scalp while using the dermastamp as it’s easier to control and target. You will also have less risk of entangling any surrounding hair.
The dermastamp is often also adjustable. This means you have access to multiple needle lengths with only one tool. It’s best to start small (0.5mm to 1mm) and work your way up as your scalp becomes accustomed to the treatment.
And once you’ve chosen a tool, you’re ready to begin!
You can learn more about the procedure (which can be applied to any tool) here.
While a receding hairline can be an imminent sign of future hair loss, there’s a good chance it can be stopped and reversed if treated early enough. This is especially true if the rest of your scalp is full of long, luscious hair.
The best approach is one that is all-natural and focuses on lifestyle changes. This may enable you to treat the cause of the recession at its source, and even prevent it from returning.