You might be losing hair, but not for the reasons you think
We all lose hair. And worry about losing hair. And then worry that worrying is making us lose hair. But the good news is that some of the most commonly believed causes of baldness... aren't causing baldness. Here are five myths about hair loss that you can scratch off your list.
Baldness Myth 1: It's Your Mom's Father's Fault
It used to be that if you wanted to know your chances of keeping your hair, you looked at your maternal grandpa. If that guy had strong hair game, you were in the clear. If he was bald, your fate was sealed.
Turns out that's just not true. "It's totally a myth that you should look at your mom's father," says Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC.
Why? Because hair density is a polygenic trait, meaning more than one ancestor’s genes determine what’s going to happen. “Look at your parents,” says Zeichner, “and your siblings. If a family member is bald or showed early hair thinning, then you need to pay closer attention to your own hair and seek care from a board-certified dermatologist earlier rather than later."
Baldness Myth 2: Bald Guys Have More Testosterone
Long standing legend has it that bald guys are victims of their own elevated testosterone levels. They also have more active sex lives. They compulsively chop wood. And all that boiling testosterone cooks the hair off their heads. (They have great beards, though.)
In fact, studies have shown that men who go bald and those who don’t have the same levels of testosterone. It’s more about how sensitive your hair follicles are to the influence of hormones in your body. And what determines that sensitivity? Genetics.
Baldness Myth 3: Tanning Will Bake Your Hair Off
There are those who say lying out in the sun speeds up hair loss. While there’s plenty of bad news about UV radiation, it’s not exactly making you go bald.
Follicle function will continue even when you’re playing beach volleyball. The concern here is that sun exposure can degrade the hair shaft itself. You know how a summer at surf camp can make your hair blonder? It can also make it more damaged and brittle, which could lead to shedding.
Not the same as male pattern baldness, but maybe a reason to use conditioner. Or wear a hat.
Baldness Myth 4: Wearing a Hat Too Much Suffocates Your Hair
Speaking of hats, we all know that bald guy who always wears a baseball hat. So which came first? The hat, or the bald spot?
Pop science says hats can suffocate hair and speed up the rate at which it disappears. Actual science says that’s baloney.
"If you're wearing a really tight hat, maybe that can put pressure on areas where it contacts your head," says Zeichner, "which could potentially lead to traction alopecia." That's the medical name for hair loss triggered by pulling hair too tight.
But don't worry. "Unless you are being really aggressive with the tightness, there's nothing to worry about," says Zeichner.
Baldness Myth 5: Stress Is Making Your Hair Fall Out
The final thing you don't need to worry about? Worrying.
This one's a bit more complicated. True, certain traumatic events have been linked to hair loss—big stuff like suffering an illness, or going through a really tough time and losing or gaining a large amount of weight. But according to the Mayo Clinic, types of hair loss associated with high stress are telogen effluvium, a "resting phase" in which hair follicles pause, and alopecia areata, patchy hair loss. Both of which can be temporary.
Neither of those is what we talk about as male pattern baldness. And neither is related to the everyday definition of "stress." So if you're fretting about your evil boss, or what your new line should be on Tinder, do so without fear.
But also, you know, fix it. Because there’s no reason to tear your hair out.