Tag Archive for: male pattern baldness

Dealing with Bald Spots and Male Pattern Baldness



Whether it’s a slow realization or a sudden awareness, discovering that you’re losing your hair is a difficult event. Every hair on the pillow or on the floor of the shower comes back to haunt you, and you’re at a loss for what to do. Fortunately, there’s steps you can take to slow – or sometimes even stop – your hair loss.

What Causes Bald Spots?

Men don’t have the monopoly on bald spots; women can have them, too! Everyone is at risk for developing a bald spot at some time in their lives, for a variety of reasons. However, some people are at a higher risk than others. 

The most common cause of bald spots in both men and women is the hormone dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.  Both men and women produce DHT, but some people have higher levels of DHT than others. Male pattern baldness (MPB), also called androgenic alopecia, results from a combination of DHT and variation in the androgen receptor (AR) genes. Androgen receptors allow hormones like DHT to bind to them, and men with AR genes tend towards male pattern baldness. (01)

High levels of DHT can damage or shrink hair follicles, preventing hair from growing normally. The hair follicles most sensitive to DHT are located at the hairline and at the crown, which is why these areas are often the first to experience hair loss. And although DHT can also cause hair loss in women, 

But it’s not just DHT that can cause bald spots. Other factors that trigger hair loss are: (02)

  • Severe emotional stress
  • Physical stress or illness
  • Hormonal Shifts
  • Medications
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Age
  • Hairstyling 
  • Hairstyling products
  • Repeated physical trauma (tight hats or headbands)

The First Signs of Balding

If bald spots or male pattern baldness runs in your family, you’ve probably been on the lookout for hair loss for awhile now. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell if it’s really a bald spot or just a bad hair day. Here are a few signs that you may be experiencing bald spots or male pattern baldness:

A Receding Hairline

Hair loss typically starts at the hairline. A receding hairline may occur so slowly that you might not notice it until you have something to compare it against. For example, you might spot your receding hairline when you start looking at old photos and see that your hairline looks  different today. Your hair loss may occur incrementally, making it tougher to see.

Reduction in hair thickness

Do you notice less hair on top? Does your hair feel different when you run your fingers through it? If your hair feels finer and more airy, then it might be due to male pattern baldness or hair loss.

Loss of hair at the crown

A growing crown area is one of the first signs of hair loss, especially male pattern baldness. Most people don’t look at the back of their head, so seeing differences in your crown can be challenging. Check your crown every so often using two mirrors to check for bald spots.

How Can I Manage Hair Loss?

Experiencing balding or male pattern baldness is tough, but you do have options. The following are steps you can take to slow down hair loss.

Surgical Treatments

Surgical treatments are typically reserved for advanced cases of balding or male pattern baldness. A hair transplant, for example, is an outpatient surgery that utilizes donor hair follicles. These donor follicles are implanted into sparse or bald areas, allowing new hair to grow. These implants, called follicular unit transplantation (FUT) or follicular unit extraction (FUE), leave little to no scarring. The donor follicles typically come from your own head, but the process still requires recovery time and post-surgical care. (03)

Because surgical options are invasive, there are contraindications that may keep some people from obtaining FUT or FUE treatments, like blood disorders or the tendency toward heavy scarring (keloids). Furthermore, surgery may result in adverse side-effects like swelling, folliculitis, numbness, and infection.  (04)

Scalp Reduction 

A scalp reduction is exactly as the name implies. To perform scalp reduction, areas of the scalp without hair are surgically removed, and the areas with hair are stretched to fill over the bald portions. If you’re wondering how much of the scalp can be removed, you might be surprised to find that scalp reduction can remove up to half of the scalp. 
The skin that’s meant to be stretched is prepared and loosened, prior to stretching gently. Scalp reduction may be combined with other treatments such as FUT or FUE treatments. Some people find the recovery period from scalp reduction surgery highly uncomfortable, due to a scalp tightness that lasts for a few months as skin adjusts. Hairline lowering surgery, for example, is a kind of scalp reduction surgery. To lower the hairline, the receding portion is removed and the portion with hair is pulled forward. (05)

Platelet-Rich Plasma

A procedure called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) uses an individual’s blood and separates out the plasma using a centrifuge. This platelet-rich plasma (hence the name) is then injected into bald patches and areas of thinning hair. The plasma stimulates growth and repairs damaged blood vessels, helping hair to regrow. Although effective, the PRP process is very involved, costly, and is the newest hair loss treatment option, therefore more research is still necessary to evaluate the ideal therapeutic levels. (06)

Non-surgical Procedures

Scalp micro-pigmentation creates the look of thicker hair through the application of pigmentation that appears like hair follicles. The process includes stippling a tattoo in small dots to mimic hair follicles. Men who have thinning hair or shave their head short are the ideal candidates for scalp micro-pigmentation. However, micro-pigmentation does not grow new hair, nor is it recommended for people with large bald spots or who have major hair loss and wish to regrow hair. (07)

Least Intrusive Procedures

Once you see the signs of male pattern baldness or bald spots, it might warrant considering the least intrusive method for managing hair loss. Medicinal treatments like minoxidil and finasteride are two FDA approved medications for hair loss. When used together, minoxidil and finasteride can slow – or even stop – hair loss and regrow hair. Better yet, when minoxidil and finasteride are customized for each individual, common side-effects can be avoided. 

Dealing with Bald Spots or Male Pattern Baldness: What to Choose?

How you manage your hair loss depends entirely on what’s best for your situation. Bald spots and male pattern baldness can be a distressing event, and making a choice isn’t easy. Talk to people you know who have opted for hair loss treatments and get some perspective. Determine what’s financially feasible and speak to professionals to evaluate with options that will work with your health and lifestyle. At Happy Head, we’re ready to answer any questions you may have about our hair loss products. Let’s talk!

Resources:

(01) https://www.webmd.com/connect-to-care/hair-loss/symptoms-of-high-dht

(02) https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/hair-loss/causes/18-causes

(03) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547740/

(04) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547740/

(05) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24017989/

(06) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4622412/

(07) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382144/

When Women Get Male Pattern Hair Loss


Female pattern hair loss can progress from a widening part to overall thinning.

I met my friend Barbara (01) twelve years ago when our boys were toddlers.  Barbara is a tiny woman with lots of spunk.  I always thought of her as strong, smart, and confident.  She called one day and confided in me that it bothered her that her hair was thinning.  She had been losing hair on the crown of her head since she was in her late 20s, and she never did anything about it.   She knew that I had lichen planopilaris and wanted to get the name of the dermatologist I used to treat my hair loss.  

Anyone knew just from looking at Barbara that her hair was sparse, and it took me by surprise that she hadn’t already had it checked out by a dermatologist or a hair specialist.   But then again, Barbara isn’t exactly a fashionista.  She’s an elder care nurse who spends most of her weekdays in scrubs and her weekends in sweats.  But still, I was surprised.  Barbara visited my dermatologist, and it turns out that she has androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness.  Who knew that women can get male pattern baldness?  And who knew that it could start so young?

How do Women Get Male Pattern Baldness?

Women get male pattern baldness for the same reasons men do.  Also known as androgenic alopecia, female pattern hair loss is usually inherited.  The condition occurs when a woman has a shorter than normal period of hair growth and a longer than normal period between when her hair sheds and grows.  In some cases, women have the misfortune of inheriting smaller hair follicles and thinner strands of hair.  

Almost every woman experiences female pattern hair loss at some point in her life.  Most first notice androgenic alopecia around menopause, but it can start any time after puberty begins.  If anyone on either side of your family has lost his or her hair, it’s more likely that you will too. 

What Does Female Pattern Baldness Look Like?

There’s some good news if you have female pattern baldness.  Women’s hairlines usually don’t recede and you won’t end up with a donut.  The other good news is that women typically don’t go completely bald.  Usually women with androgenic alopecia have one of three different patterns of hair loss.  A bald spot can form at the crown of your head, you could lose hair along your center part, or your hair could thin all over.  In some cases, hair gets so thin that the scalp can be seen.

If you’re a Woman, How do you Know if you Have Male Pattern Baldness?

Although it’s tempting, don’t try to self-diagnose or treat yourself if you think you have androgenic alopecia. Get an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist and hair specialist.  Your dermatologist may do one or several of the following:

  • Evaluate your hair loss pattern
  • Review your medical history
  • Rule out other possible causes for your hair loss, such as iron or vitamin D deficiency, thyroid disease, or another type of scarring alopecia
  • Determine whether you are producing too much androgen (male hormone)
  • Use a dermoscope or a microscope to look at the structure of your hair shaft
  • Take a small biopsy of your scalp and send it to a pathologist

Androgenic Alopecia Often Goes Undiagnosed in African American Women

Women of every race are affected by androgenic alopecia and other types of hair loss.  African American women are no exception.  In a 2016 survey conducted at Boston University’s Sloane Epidemiology Center, 47.6 percent of African-American women surveyed reported hair loss. (02)   

However, like my friend Barbara who noticed that her hair was thinning and didn’t do anything about it, many African-American women are not seeking treatment for androgenic alopecia.  Out of the group surveyed, 81.4 percent reported that they had never consulted with a physician about their thinning hair or bald spots.

The moral of this story?  If you think that your hair is thinning and have a history of hair loss on either your Mother’s or Father’s side of the family, don’t ignore it.  Make an appointment with your dermatologist to get evaluated and treated. 

Do Asian Women get Alopecia?

Asian women do get alopecia, but traditionally rates have been lower than those of Caucasian or African-American women. (03)  That number seems to be on the rise, though.  Diet is believed to be a contributing factor.   

Early research indicates that diets rich in vegetables, herbs, and soy may contribute to hair growth and health thanks to their anti-inflammatory nutrients. (04)  The traditional Asian diet, loaded with fish and vegetables, meets that criteria.  

Today’s modern Asian diet looks more like a typical American diet though, filled with processed foods.  The fat, salt, and empty calories lead to higher BMI and blood sugar levels that have been linked to female pattern hair loss. (05)

What Treatments are Available to Women with Female Pattern Baldness?

Treatments for androgenic alopecia are designed with two goals in mind:

  1. Prevent further hair loss
  2. Stimulate hair growth

Sounds logical, right?  Well, it is.  Here are medications that dermatologists typically prescribe:

Retinol (Tretinoin)

Retinol is derived from Vitamin A and has been found to be effective for treating female pattern hair loss when used either alone or in combination with Minoxidil. (06)  Retinol has been proven to stimulate growth and improve the absorption of other ingredients that promote hair growth.

Minoxidil (Rogaine)

Minoxidil, sold over-the-counter under the name Rogaine, is a hair regrowth treatment.  It works by enlarging the hair follicles and elongating your hair’s growth phase.  Minoxidil is available in both a topical foam and a pill.  Although the foam is available in a two percent formula for women and a five percent formula for men, dermatologists often recommend the five percent for women to use for androgenic alopecia.  Any hair growth realized while using Minodixil can be lost if you stop using the product, so it is highly recommended to use it under the care of a licensed dermatologist.

Finasteride (Propecia)

Finasteride is a prescription medication that was initially designed to treat enlarged prostates.  Because it prevents testosterone from converting into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the medicine is helpful for women with female pattern hair loss. (07)  Finasteride is available as an oral medication and as a topical solution.  Many women prefer topical to avoid potential side effects.

Dutasteride (Avodart)

Dutasteride is similar to Finasteride.  Both medications prevent your body from converting testosterone into DHT, which causes female pattern baldness.  Dutasteride is newer to the market and is used off-label for androgenic alopecia in women. Finasteride is highly effective for most women, but when stronger medications are required, Dutasteride is a good option. (08)  Like Finasteride, Dutasteride is best for women who are not pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant.   

Spironolactone (Aldactone)

Spironolactone is an effective treatment for hormone-induced hair loss that is only prescribed to women.  The medication blocks DHT production by simultaneously decreasing testosterone and increasing estrogen.

Data indicates that Spironolactone is highly effective for treating female pattern baldness.  In a research study conducted, 74.3 percent of patients who were treated with Spironolactone reported stabilization or improvement in their hair loss. (09)  

Oral Spironolactone can cause low blood pressure, drowsiness, and other side effects.  Topical Spironolactone, which does not go through the digestive system and is less likely to induce side effects, is often prescribed and preferred.  Topical Spironolactone is often compounded with Minoxidil to help your hair grow even faster and thicker.   

Compounded Topical Treatments

If you’re not thrilled about using multiple products, all-in-one topical treatments that combine multiple medications into one are now available and can be more effective than using just one medication alone. (10)   Popular combinations are:

  • Retinol, Minoxidil, and Finasteride 
  • Minoxidil and Spironolactone

Many women appreciate the convenience and ease of applying just one formula twice a day.  

With so Many Medications Available to Women with Androgenic Alopecia, How do you Choose?

Are you confused about all of the different options?  If so, that’s understandable since some of the DHT blocking medications work similarly.  Thankfully, dermatologists have experience selecting the right medications for patients with female pattern hair loss.  Your dermatologist will help you choose the right medication, dosage, and combination of medication based on the severity of your hair loss and your medical history.  

Remember that treatment for female pattern hair loss isn’t one-size-fits-all.  Different medications work for different women.  It’s common to go through a trial process to see what works best for you.  

Also, keep in mind that patience is key when treating androgenic alopecia.  Medications work over time, so it may be a few months before you see a noticeable improvement, no matter which treatment you and your dermatologist choose.

Women with Androgenic Alopecia Often Need a Support System

Every woman deals with androgenic alopecia differently.  My friend Barbara took her diagnosis in stride, but many women are devastated.  Hair is a huge part of a woman’s identity, and losing it can take a toll on a woman’s confidence.  

If you’re having trouble coping with your hair loss, resources are available to you.  Best of all, some of the resources are free.  Facebook has a closed group dedicated to females with androgenic alopecia.  Members share information about their diagnosis and treatment plans. Sometimes, they’re just there to tell each other that it’s okay to be sad about their hair loss.  Whether it’s on Facebook, another social media outlet, or in person, support groups are a good way to connect with others who are feeling the same way as you about your hair loss situation.  

If you’re not in a good place mentally, make sure you contact a qualified psychologist or a psychiatrist.  Depression and anxiety are common among women with female pattern hair loss.  It’s important to seek help so you can regain your sense of self.

Resources:

(01) Name has been changed to protect confidentiality

(02) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160304093239.htm

(03) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4560543/

(04) https://www.karger.com/Article/Fulltext/504786

(05) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4560543/

(06) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/3771854/

(07) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7060023/

(08) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25382509/

(09) https://www.jaad.org/article/S0190-9622(15)01878-2/fulltext

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4314881/

 

What Is Topical Finasteride?

If you’re searching for hair loss treatments, finasteride is a name you’ll need to familiarize yourself with. Why? Only two hair loss products have received the FDA’s seal of approval — minoxidil is one of them. The other product is finasteride

What is finasteride?

Although there are many different types of hair loss, the most common type is androgenetic or androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness or MPB. As part of a class of medications called 5-alpha reductase inhibitors, finasteride treats male pattern baldness by blocking testosterone’s ability to develop into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is a hormone that causes hair loss in adults, especially men. By blocking the production of DHT, finasteride reduces the amount of DHT within the scalp. (01)

Isn’t finasteride used for prostate issues?

Yes, finasteride is also prescribed for symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) — an enlargement of the prostate gland. When used for BPH, finasteride reduces urinary frequency and urinary retention. However, the doses used in the treatment of BPH are much higher than the doses used to treat hair loss. As a treatment for BPH, finasteride is sold under the name Proscar.

What is finasteride’s history?

During finasteride’s use as an FDA-approved treatment for BPH under the name Proscar, researchers noticed its effectiveness against hair loss. Several years afterward, lower-dose finasteride was approved for hair loss under the name Propecia.

How does finasteride work against hair loss?

Finasteride works by inhibiting the action of the 5 alpha-reductase enzymes. Concentrated in the oil glands of hair follicles, 5 alpha-reductase, which helps convert testosterone into DHT, another hormone. For people who have the genes for hair loss, DHT binds to hair follicle receptors and diminishes the follicle’s size. If the follicle becomes too small, gradual hair loss occurs. 

Finasteride inhibits 5 alpha-reductase, thus reducing serum DHT (the DHT in the blood). Without DHT to constrict hair follicles, hair loss slows and — for many people — hair regrows. With less DHT in the blood, some people see their hair loss stop completely. In short, finasteride protects hair follicles from DHT damage and stops hair loss.

Which Types of Hair Loss Does Finasteride Treat?

The average person loses 100 hairs each day, even with no hair loss issues. Hair falls away as part of each strand’s natural growth cycle, and the loss is negligible. Each strand of hair grows until its fullest length, then rests and eventually falls away. Afterwards, another strand grows to take its place. (02)

Excessive hair loss is more than a normal part of a hair’s growth cycle. Hair loss can become a problem when more than the average amount of hair is lost over time or if hair fails to regrow. For many people — about an estimated 80 million US adults — a balding scalp or thinning hair is the result of hereditary factors. (02)

If a person’s hair loss stems from DHT’s damage to hair follicles, then finasteride can help.

Is oral finasteride better than topical finasteride?

Finasteride requires a physician’s prescription. A physician can determine the cause of hair loss and prescribe the most appropriate treatment. Getting to the root of the problem determines what works and what doesn’t — like oral finasteride versus topical finasteride. 

Oral finasteride, though effective, comes with a myriad of side effects. Many of the side effects of oral finasteride are life-altering, for example:

  • Decreased sex drive 
  • Pain or tenderness in the testicles 
  • Numbness in the testicles
  • A reduction in sperm count
  • Difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction)
  • Reduced ejaculatory volume
  • Severe mood changes
  • Breast enlargement 

In rare cases, oral finasteride may cause permanent side effects. 

Fortunately, taking finasteride topically reduces many of the more problematic side effects caused by taking finasteride orally. However, topical finasteride isn’t without precautions and still necessitates professional oversight to monitor and prevent side effects. Though not as severe as oral finasteride, some topical finasteride side-effects include:

  • Decreased sex drive 
  • Inability to urinate 
  • Swelling of hands and feet
  • Increased liver enzymes
  • Headaches
  • Testicular tenderness
  • Scalp irritation
  • Contact dermatitis 
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Dizziness or weakness

Can you buy finasteride over the counter?

Because finasteride works best for people with an inherited tendency for hair loss, it’s safest to have a physician determine its use. Therefore, finasteride is not a product that anyone can purchase at a pharmacy without a prescription. Finasteride is not an over-the-counter medication and requires a physician’s approval.

Is topical finasteride effective for hair loss?

Topical finasteride works excellently against hair loss. What’s more, topical finasteride avoids many of the adverse side effects that may deter others from completing treatment. The following are studies highlighting the effectiveness of oral finasteride.

  • A 2016 article published in the journal Dermatology Clinics and Research of 107 people found that:
    • Both topical and oral finasteride are equally effective.
    • However, participants on topical finasteride were more likely to complete treatment because there were less side effects. (03)
  • A 2019 literature review published in the Journal of Drugs and Dermatology found that topical finasteride delivered: (04)
    • A significant decrease in the rate of hair loss.
    • An increase in hair counts.
    • A reduction in DHT levels within the scalp and plasma.
  • A 2021 study published in the Journal of European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology utilized 458 study participants found: (05)
    • No serious adverse side effects in participants.
    • Fewer complaints of sexual side effects when using topical finasteride.
    • Topical finasteride improves overall hair count while producing fewer adverse side effects. 

To summarize, the topical application of finasteride is as effective as taking the drug orally. However, adverse side effects are less common with the topical application of finasteride when compared to oral treatment. 

When taken orally, finasteride goes through the digestive system and into the bloodstream. Applied as a topical, it bypasses the digestive tract and goes straight to its target with little to no side effects. This aspect makes topical use much more desirable, making users more likely to stick with the treatment! 

How do you balance the effectiveness of finasteride versus the side effects?

Getting the most benefits from finasteride with minimal side effects is achieved through:

  • Combining both finasteride and minoxidil, the two only FDA-approved medications for hair loss.
  • Customizing hair loss treatment to the needs of each individual, making every formula unique to each person’s needs.

Because each person is different, it’s essential to make every finasteride treatment as specific to the person as possible. By catering the therapy to each person, adverse side effects are less likely to occur. And because side effects like the loss of libido and a reduction in sperm count can lead to non-adherence with treatment, catering each treatment to the patient makes it more likely that customers finish their treatment and see successful results.

Making That First Step Towards Finasteride Hair Treatments

Happy Head requires a physician assessment to begin treatment. Happy Head, in collaboration with the physician and the customer, determines the most effective hair loss treatment with the least amount of side effects. The involvement of a licensed professional helps to improve safety, provides valuable feedback, and determines the most successful path toward stopping hair loss. 
With the help of board-certified dermatologists, you can find the right balance of finasteride treatments to suit your hair loss needs. Happy Head understands that hair loss can hurt. Losing your hair can be a traumatic event, even if it occurs slowly over time. Add the fact that hair loss treatments often come with side effects, and it can make anyone feel overwhelmed when searching for treatments. With Happy Head, help is just around the corner!

Resources:

(01) https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a698016.html

(02) https://www.aad.org/media/stats-numbers

(03) https://www.scitcentral.com/article.php?journal=19&article=60&article_title=Randomized%20Comparative%20Research%20Study%20of%20Topical%20and%20Oral%20Finasteride%20with%20Minoxidil%20for%20Male%20Pattern%20Androgenetic%20Alopecia%20in%20Indian%20Patients

(04) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6609098/(05) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34634163/

Why using Sunscreen on your Scalp is Crucial for Thinning Hair

Everyone knows sunscreen is an essential part of a healthy skincare regimen. You’re probably diligent about applying sunscreen on your arms and face, probably even the tops of your ears! As awesome as you are at applying sunscreen, you might be missing one crucial area – your scalp.

Sun Protection for Your Scalp

There are three ways you can shield your scalp from the sun. 

  1. Have thick hair. 
  2. Wear a hat. 
  3. Use sunscreen. 

An article published in the journal Photochemistry and Photobiology found that your hair acts like natural sun protection, called hair ultraviolet protection factor (HUPF). (01) HUPF works as a sun barrier and helps to prevent skin cancers caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation. 

So, if you have lots of hair or intend to wear a fedora whenever you’re in the sun, then you’ve got it all covered. If your hair is thinning, cut very short, or if you’re without any hair, however, then your scalp is vulnerable. Unlike the skin on your face, your scalp lacks the same barrier strength, which makes your scalp sensitive to UV radiation and environmental toxins. Because your scalp’s skin barrier is thinner than the barrier on your body, safeguarding your scalp should be an important part of your skincare routine. (01)

Do people with hair loss conditions need sunscreen?

Hair loss affects a larger portion of the population than most people realize. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 25% of men experience their first signs of hair loss by the age of 21. And roughly 50% of all the men undergo some level of hair loss by age 50. 

However, it’s not just men who are affected by hair loss. About 30 million women have a condition called female pattern hair loss (FPHL). It could happen to anyone. In many cases, people may have hair loss only in very specific areas on their scalp, while other parts remain flush with hair. Hair loss varies from person to person, and it’s the exposed scalp areas that need sun protection the most. (02, 03) 

Sunscreen for the scalp is a relevant consideration for all people, but especially for people with hair loss conditions. The following are few examples of hair conditions that may benefit from sunscreen use.

  • Androgenetic alopecia
  • Alopecia areata
  • Cicatricial alopecia
  • Folliculitis Decalvans
  • Frontal fibrosing alopecia 
  • Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia
  • Discoid Lupus erythematosus
  • Male pattern baldness 
  • Loose anagen syndrome
  • Hypotrichosis
  • Lichen planopilaris
  • Anagen effluvium
  • Telogen effluvium

Even people who don’t have a hair loss condition may need to use sunscreen on their scalp. Most people are unaware that they have sections of their scalp showing. For example, people have a whorl of hair at the crown, often showing a bit of exposed scalp. Spend enough time outdoors without sun protection, and this small patch of unshielded scalp can become sunburnt. 

Can your scalp get a sunburn?

Just like the rest of the skin on your body, your scalp can burn from too much sunlight. For this reason, protecting your scalp from the sun is crucial to reducing skin damage, lowering your risk of developing skin cancer, and preventing painful sunburns.

Sunburns and Your Hair Follicles

In general, if you’re already dealing with hair loss, injury from the sun can create more challenges. Third and fourth-degree sunburns, for instance, may damage and physically stress hair follicles, causing a temporary condition of hair loss called telogen effluvium. Maintaining your scalp health means potentially keeping more of your hair, which makes sun protection paramount. (03)

Sunburns and Skin Cancer

Sun damage may cause further hair loss, but it can also lead to something life threatening — skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA) reports that about one in five people will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. (04) Out of that population, about 2% to 18% affect the scalp. (05) Furthermore, cases of skin cancer continue to rise each year. Keeping this information in mind, your scalp should receive the same – if not more – sun protection as the rest of the skin on your body. 

What is a Sunburn?

Environmental pollutants and UV radiation accelerate the signs of aging, injure cells, and damage DNA within the skin barrier and deeper tissues. Sunburns are an inflammatory response to excessive UV radiation, which destroys the upper layers of skin. (06) Melanin, which darkens skin with exposure to sunlight, helps to protect your skin cells from the sun’s damage. Contrary to popular belief, a glowing tan doesn’t indicate healthy skin. A tan means that your skin cells have reacted to the sun’s radiation!

How your skin reacts to UV radiation is primarily based on your genetic makeup. Some people undergo gradual skin darkening, while others immediately experience a sunburn. While both are signs of skin damage, people with sunburns experience more pain and visible skin cell injury. Repeated sunburns or exposure to UV radiation can place individuals at a higher risk of skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanomas. (07)

What does a scalp sunburn feel like?

Whether or not a person feels pain with a scalp sunburn depends on the severity of the burn. Most sunburns are first or second-degree burns, but they can still cause some discomfort. With a first or second-degree sunburn, you might experience signs and symptoms like: 

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Irritation
  • Flaking
  • Itching
  • Burning 

Pain from a sunburn is typically at its worst 6 to 48 hours after exposure to the sun. (07) Severe cases of scalp sunburn may result in significant pain and blistering, which may take longer to heal. Fortunately, most sunburn symptoms are temporary and go away after three days to a week. The damage to cells and DNA, however, can remain for decades.

Treating a Scalp Sunburn

Caring for sunburn on the scalp takes a little TLC. To encourage healing, moisturize the area while the scalp is damp. Keeping the scalp moisturized cuts down on unsightly peeling and flaking. If you’re searching for sunburn medication, products that contain aloe vera may help to reduce inflammation and soothe irritation. 

  • Avoid oil or petroleum-based products because their ingredients can aggravate the scalp and cause more pain. 
  • Use shampoos that are sulfate-free and gentle on the scalp. 
  • Instead of hot water, run cool water over your scalp to cleanse the area. 
  • Stay hydrated and well-nourished to prevent further water loss and promote wound healing. 

Choosing the Right Sun Protection for Your Scalp

Fortunately, you have a variety of options when it comes to shielding your scalp from the sun. It may take some trial and error to find what suits your needs and lifestyle the best, but the effort is worthwhile.

Hats and Hair Loss

If you’re using headwear to protect your scalp, then you’ve got an array of style choices. From beanies to cowboy hats, your options are endless. However, wearing hats do come with a few drawbacks. 

Here are a few things to consider before you start your hat collection.

  • Remember that hats with openings in them, like snapback and trucker caps, allow sunlight to penetrate through parts of the hat.
  • Hats retain heat, and your head is one of the primary ways your body regulates its temperature. Wearing a hat in the sun may make you feel excessively warm. 
  • Hats that are hot or are too tight may reduce blood to hair follicles, depriving them of nutrients and causing stress — which can encourage further hair loss! (08)
  • Be wary of developing traction alopecia when choosing a hat. Constant pulling or tension of hair can lead to traction alopecia hair loss, so choose a loose-fitting hat. (08)

Don’t like hats? Don’t want to risk any more hair loss? Then you’ll need sunscreen. 

Helpful Hints for Choosing a Sunscreen for Your Scalp

Keep in mind that finding the right sunscreen for your scalp can be tricky. If you have thinning hair, you’ll want a formula that’s thick enough to protect your delicate scalp but won’t cake into your strands of hair. Finding the right sunscreen for your scalp is a bit like Goldilocks looking for the happy medium – you want something “just right.” 

Here are a few factors to think about when you’re on the lookout for a good scalp sunscreen: (09)

  • Sunscreens for the skin on the body tend to be oily. You may not want an oily sheen covering your scalp and hair. 
  • Stick sunscreen is excellent for small areas (like your crown or part) but not ideal for use over large areas with thinning hair. 
  • Powder sunscreen options for the hair are convenient and can make hair appear thicker. However, powder sunscreen can be twice the price of other types of sunscreen. 
  • Sunscreen sprays or mist are practical and are reasonably priced, though they can sometimes weigh hair down. 
  • Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays and prevent radiation from reaching your scalp and skin. These kinds of sunscreen don’t typically leave that white cast on the skin that sunscreen is known for.  

A few ingredients found in chemical sunscreens are: 

  • Avobenzone
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Octinoxate
  • Homosalate
  • Mineral sunscreen physically blocks or shields UV radiation. This sunscreen blocks the rays of the sun and deflects them back out. People with sensitive scalps or chemical sensitivities may find mineral sunscreen less irritating. 

A few ingredients found in mineral sunscreens are: 

  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc oxide

What is the best sunscreen?

According to the AADA, the sunscreen that’s best for you is the one you will use consistently. Whatever sunscreen you choose, make sure it meets the following criteria: (09)

  • Broad-spectrum for both UVA and UVB rays
  • Consists of an SPF of 30 or higher
  • Water-resistant

In short, if you have thinning hair, you need sun protection for your scalp. Whether you’re looking for some fun in the summer sun or you’re working outdoors, remember that you – quite literally – have skin in the game. Protect it! 

Resources

(01) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25682789/

(02) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25682789/

(03) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7320655/

(04) https://www.aad.org/media/stats-skin-cancer

(05) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ddg.13546

(06) http://skincancer.org/risk-factors/uv-radiation/

(07) https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2383280

(08) https://health.clevelandclinic.org/can-wearing-a-hat-make-you-go-bald/

(09) https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs