DrTomBrettNo-one likes losing their locks, but male pattern baldness is an extremely common problem. In fact, 6.5 million men in the UK alone suffer from thinning hair.

This can start as soon as the late teens or early twenties, and by the age of 60 most men will have lost at least some of their hair. For many men this is simply a natural part of ageing, but for others, particularly younger men, it can cause embarrassment and a drop in self-esteem.

Male pattern baldness is usually an inherited condition, causing hair follicles to become extra sensitive to a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a potent form of testosterone. This extra sensitivity of the hair follicles causes them to shrink, and often stop working altogether. Click here for more information on male pattern baldness.

While there is nothing you can do to prevent yourself inheriting male pattern baldness, there are some steps you can take to treat the condition.

Prescription medicines

One of the most popular treatments for hair loss is the prescription medicine finasteride, which works by blocking the effect of DHT on hair follicles, meaning that they continue to produce hair.

Finasteride is available both in its generic form (marketed as Finasteride) or under the brand name Propecia. Both forms of the medicine contain the same active ingredient, and they are equally effective.

Propecia and Finasteride are tablets which are taken once a day, and are effective in stopping hair loss in 90% of men with mild to moderate male pattern baldness, although it may be 3-6 months before any effect is seen.

These medicines can even reverse hair loss, with two thirds of men who take them seeing renewed hair growth. If you stop taking Propecia or Finasteride, it is probable that you will lose any hair you have regained within 12 months.

Over-the-counter medicines

Minoxidil, a lotion applied directly to the scalp, is also effective in stopping hair loss. It is available over the counter (without a prescription) in most pharmacies in the UK.

However, only 15% of men who use minoxidil will experience hair regrowth making it a statistically less successful treatment than Propecia or Finasteride.

Minoxidil is marketed under the brand name Regaine in the UK.

Reduce stress

Stress does not cause male pattern baldness, but can be the reason for other types of hair loss, such as alopecia areata in which patches of baldness come and go.

Finding ways to relax could therefore help prevent alopecia areata. Stress can have many different causes, from work to relationship issues, but taking some time to work out how to reduce your levels of stress can often help.

Here are some tips to reduce stress:

  •         Take a break. Whether it’s a 30-minute lunch break or a week’s holiday away, taking some time out and away from your problems can help to put them in perspective, and give your brain and body a welcome rest.
  •         Talk about it. Talking over your problems with friends, family or colleagues can help take the pressure off. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved.
  •         Get some exercise. Even just a brisk walk can boost your mood, self-esteem, concentration energy and sleep quality. Exercise can also help to clear your thoughts and reduce emotional intensity.
  •         Ditch the booze and cigarettes. Unhealthy habits like smoking and heavy drinking are often used as crutches during difficult times. They may help temporarily, but won’t help solve your problems in the long-term, so you should try addressing the cause of your stress instead.

Click here for more tips on managing stress.

Hair Transplant

This is usually a last-ditch resort when all other methods have failed, but hair transplants, though costly, can often be a good solution. Hair follicles that are genetically resistant to balding are taken from an area of your head which still has successful hair growth, and then implanted into the bald patch. Here, they should continue to produce hair as usual.

However, hair transplants aren’t always entirely successful, particularly in younger men. Some men continue to lose hair even after a transplant, and may have to have multiple operations.

Hair transplants can also be very expensive, so if you’re not willing to fork out several thousands of pounds it might be better to opt for one of the medicines instead.

This article was written by Dr Tom Brett, Medical Director of LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. Dr Brett trained St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to complete his post-graduate General Practitioner training in Australia. In 1998 he gained fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and was later awarded certificates in Sexual Health and HIV prescribing. In 2007 he returned to live and work in London, and now heads the team of doctors at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.