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Are you balding? A dermatologist explains some preventative measures.

Hair loss is a slow burn, and you might not realize your hair is thinning until a small bald patch begins to appear on your scalp. There’s no outright way you can “prevent” balding, but there are steps you can take to halt any further loss of hair on your scalp.

Androgenetic alopecia and frontal fibrosing alopecia, conditions that may lead to baldness, are among common types of hair loss.

There’s nothing wrong with embracing balding, but if you choose to seek treatment, it’s important to consult a medical professional to determine what course of action is right for you.

What causes baldness?

Anyone can experience androgenetic alopecia, which is more commonly known as male pattern hair loss in men, and female pattern hair loss in women, according to MedlinePlus. Frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA) is another type of hair loss that can result in baldness, and it typically manifests as a receding hairline, says Dr. Oma Agbai, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and director of Multicultural Dermatology and Hair Loss Disorders at UC Davis. 

Baldness caused by androgenetic alopecia is often hereditary, and it’s triggered by the presence of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that progressively reduces the size of your hair follicles and can result in scarring, Agbai explains. Similarly, FFA may result from a genetic predisposition, but it can also be caused by hormonal changes, autoimmune diseases, or surgeries such as hair transplants or facelifts, according to Cleveland Clinic. 

Are there treatments that can prevent baldness?

While you can’t exactly reverse your genetics, studies suggest the use of finasteride and dutasteride and can help mitigate the loss of hair on your scalp and promote hair regrowth. “These medications work by inhibiting the production of dihydrotestosterone,” Agbai explains, “and may help slow down hair loss and promote hair regrowth in affected individuals.” 

More:Why is my hair falling out? Here’s how to treat excessive hair shedding.

Oral minoxidil is another popular medication that can treat patients experiencing androgenetic alopecia, and it’s also used to treat other hair loss, including alopecia areata and lymphocytic scarring alopecia, Agbai says. Oral minoxidil promotes hair regrowth by enhancing blood flow to the scalp, and it can be prescribed “either as a standalone therapy or in combination with other treatments,” she notes.

Topical minoxidil is an FDA-approved treatment that is used to combat the effects of androgenetic alopecia, and it’s highly effective at promoting the regrowth of hair, according to a 2019 study. It can be purchased over the counter, and it’s found in various strengths — typically 2% to 5%, Agbai says.  Topical minoxidil “is applied directly to the scalp and works by increasing blood flow to the hair follicles, promoting hair growth and thickening existing hair,” she says. 

Are there side effects of medications that can prevent baldness?

While finasteride and dutasteride are widely prescribed to treat both male and female pattern baldness, they’re not FDA-approved, and there have been questions raised over whether the long-term usage of these medications is safe. Recent studies have linked the prolonged use of 5mg finasteride and 0.5mg dutasteride to alarming health complications in men, including  hyperglycemia and insulin resistance. There is also evidence to suggest that sexual dysfunction is another adverse effect of men taking these medications, according to a 2019 study. Additionally, due to the risk of causing birth defects, people who can get pregnant should not take finasteride or dutasteride, Agbai emphasizes.

Side effects associated with the use of oral minoxidil include irregular heartbeat, weight gain, chest pain and shortness of breath, per Mayo Clinic. Topical minoxidil presents similar side effects, per WebMD. Additionally,  you may also experience burning or redness at the site of application.

The key takeaway here is — if you’re interested in trying these treatments, “it's important for individuals to consult with their doctor for proper evaluation and management of their hair loss concerns,” Agbai says.

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