If you deal with hair loss in any sort of way, then the thought of “should I shave my head” has likely crossed your mind.
While this is a valid and often best option for many men and women, and the option that we at The Bald Brothers recommend to overcome balding and hair loss emotions the quickest, it’s not always that easy for everyone to do.
Going Completely Bald
In this post, I’ll highlight the seven main causes of hair loss and why they occur according to Will Slator, the author of Hairguard.com.
I’ll then introduce (and debunk) the theory that shaving your scalp can cause thicker hair to grow, but also discuss various reasons you may want to shave your head anyway.
The 6 Main Causes of Hair Loss
There are plenty of reasons — both direct and indirect — why hair loss occurs.
Let’s look closely at the six main causes.
1. Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA)
Also known as Male-Pattern Baldness (MPB), Androgenetic Alopecia is a genetic condition that causes hair loss (1). It’s actually possible for both men and women to suffer from the condition, though men suffer more frequently than women.
The exact cause of AGA isn’t known, but the androgen DHT is believed to be involved (2).
DHT is produced from the interaction between testosterone (a sex hormone) and 5-alpha-reductase (5AR) (an enzyme). The excess DHT then attaches to the hair follicles and cause irritation and inflammation in sensitive individuals.
This leads to a process known as hair miniaturization.
Long-term inflammation caused by DHT makes it difficult for the hair to grow.
The hairs become shorter and shorter until, eventually, they no longer push through the scalp.
2. Alopecia Areata (AA)
Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune disorder that affects up to 6.8 million men and women in just the United States alone (3). It occurs when your immune system believes the hair follicles are foreign and attack them.
The most common symptom of AA is patchy baldness that appears to occur without any reason. Though, there are more severe forms of the condition including Alopecia Totalis (total hair loss on the head and face) and Alopecia Universalis (total hair loss on the body).
There’s currently no cure for AA, as the exact cause is unknown.
However, there are a few treatments that many have found successful.
For example, oral and topical corticosteroids are commonly prescribed.
3. Illness and Medications
Your body works as a well-oiled machine, but certain things can throw it out of whack. These include illness and medications.
There are two types of hair loss that may occur as a result of illness or medication. They’re Anagen Effluvium (AE) and Telogen Effluvium (TE) (4).
AE occurs during the stage of active hair growth. The most common medications to trigger sudden loss are chemotherapy (5). Hair loss begins within a few days of treatment, and it usually resolves within a few months of the last dose.
Wellbutrin is just one of hundreds of drugs known to cause hair loss.
TE occurs during the last stage of hair growth when the hair bulb has completely detached from the follicle. Hair fall begins a few weeks to a few months after illness or treatment, and it can take just as long to resolve.
4. Physical and Mental Stress
Whether you’ve just experienced a physical trauma (such as injury or surgery), or you’re dealing with higher levels of stress than usual, the impact it can have on your body can be devastating.
The most common symptoms of stress include low energy, headaches, aches, pains, and overall discomfort.
These commonly occur during and immediately after the triggering event. However, some symptoms can take longer to appear, including hair loss.
Hair loss triggered by stress is known as Telogen Effluvium (TE), which also occurs with the use of some medications (6). This can occur months after the event, so many people don’t associate it with stress.
Fortunately, this commonly resolves itself when the source of the stress has been treated.
Hormones play a large role in many bodily processes, including hair growth.
As such, a sudden change in your hormone levels can throw your body out of whack and cause many side effects (including hair loss).
The most common causes for hormonal imbalance include medical conditions (such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and thyroid disorder) and medications (such as birth control and hormone therapies). These can be temporary, or they may cause long-term problems.
6. Nutritional Deficiencies
While not the most common cause of long-term hair loss, nutritional deficiencies can lead to hair strand weakness, breakage, and short-term hair loss (7). If left untreated, this may lead to balding.
There are various nutrients that humans must consume to meet their Daily Recommended Values (DRVs).
These include Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, iron, niacin, and biotin.
If DRVs aren’t met on a regular basis — whether due to poor nutrition or nutrient absorption problems — this can cause physical symptoms such as anemia, weight loss, and hair fall.
Will Shaving Your Head Make Your Hair Grow Thicker If I Am Going Completely Bald?
It’s commonly believed that shaving will make your hair grow back thicker when going completely bald.
Unfortunately, this is a myth.
To understand why, let’s take a look at the hair growth process.
Hair growth occurs in three stages (8). They are:
- Anagen. The active growth phase, where hair follicles produce hair for anywhere from two to six years.
- Catagen. The transition phase, where active growth stops and the strand begins to detach from the follicle.
- Telogen. The rest phase, where the hair bulb has completely detached from the follicle and hairs begin to shed.
By shaving your scalp, you’re clipping the hair strands down to the follicle. However, each follicle remains in the growth stage it was in pre-shave.
When the hair is cut, there is no signal sent to the hair bulb within the follicle. As such, the follicle itself doesn’t “know”.
This means the hair doesn’t actually grow back thicker, or in any way different than it was previously.
If shaving your head won’t bring your hair back thicker, are there any pros to doing it?
The Pros of Shaving Your Head
Even if you plan to ‘treat’ the hair loss (which we’ll discuss later), you may still find it helpful to shave your head, especially if you are going completely bald!
You Can Hide Your Balding
Even with Male-Pattern Baldness such a common problem, it’s still one that’s embarrassing. This leads many sufferers to want to hide the issue. But how?
Wigs, hair fibers, and hair transplants — these are common ways to hide your balding. However, they can be costly, and they also require time and maintenance.
Shaving your head gives you more control over your balding.
Instead of waiting for your hairline to recede and balding to become more noticeable, you can get ahead.
You Can Treat Any Scalp Issues
Dandruff, psoriasis, folliculitis, and sebborheic dermatitis — all of these scalp conditions can lead to hair loss if left untreated (9).
By shaving your scalp, you increase air flow to the affected areas. You also increase sun exposure, which can be beneficial in small doses.
In some cases, treating such issues may mean that your hair will grow back healthier. Or, you may find that the only way to successfully keep the scalp conditions under control is without hair.
You Can Create a Healthier Scalp Environment
Even if you don’t suffer from any diagnosable scalp conditions, the environment may still be less than ideal. This is because we expose our hair to so much over our lifetimes, including chemical products.
When you shave your scalp, you no longer need to use chemical-laden styling products or treatments. This gives your scalp the time it needs to heal, and it may even “reset”.
There are many scalp issues that you may find troublesome, but perhaps you don’t realize how they impact hair growth. For example, the products you use may clog your follicles (known as folliculitis) and, if left untreated, you may suffer permanent hair loss.
When you make it possible for your scalp and follicles to “breathe”, you may also make it possible for new hair to grow. This alone won’t “cure” your hair loss, but it offers a good start.
Is Shaving Your Head Right for You?
Before you take this big step, you may be questioning whether there are other options available to you.
To get a better understanding of these options, let’s look at the Norwood scale of hair loss.
The Norwood Scale of Hair Loss
The Norwood scale was first developed in the 1950s, and it was later revised in the 1970s. It’s a classification method which determines patterns of hair loss.
The scale contains seven major classifications, as well as four minor variants.
The Seven Norwood Classifications
When you visit a hair loss specialist, the Norwood scale will be used to classify your level of balding.
Type I — Little to no hairline recession.
Type II — Triangular, typically symmetrical, areas of frontotemporal hairline recession.
Type III — Deep, symmetrical recession at the temples that are bare or very minimally covered by hair.
Type IV — Worsening frontotemporal recession, with little to no hair on the vertex.
Type V — The hair loss seen in the frontotemporal and vertex regions are still separate, but are becoming less distinct from each other.
Type VI — The frontotemporal and vertex hair loss regions are not combined, with only sparse patches of hair remaining between the two.
Type VII — Only a horseshoe pattern of hair remains, wrapping around the back and sides of the head. The rest of the head is bald.
Essentially, the further you are on the Norwood scale, the easier your decision will become.
An individual with a 2 or 3 on the Norwood scale may be able to consider other options. But those with a 5 or 6 don’t have many choices. You can choose to continue to bald, or you can shave your head and get ahead of it.
You can also seek treatment, but the rate of success will depend on the level of your classification and length of time the hair loss has continued.
Are There Other Options?
Whether you’re not ready just yet, or you don’t plan to shave your head at all, there are other options.
Get a Flattering Haircut
If you’re thinking of making a change, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Instead, you can consider other haircuts that can be just as flattering.
By working with a hairstylist who has experience with MPB, you can choose a style that suits you. For example, the undercut is a style where the sides and back are kept short while the top is left long. The hair can then be styled in such a way to cover areas of balding.
There are many different styles to choose from, but the key is to find a knowledgeable and experienced barber to get their opinion on your best options.
Consider a Medical Approach
Depending on how far along you are in going completely bald, as well as how long its been present, you may be able to treat the problem and regrow your hair. There are many treatment methods available, including the two most common: minoxidil and finasteride.
As the most popular alopecia ‘treatment’ on the market, minoxidil (also known as Rogaine) is used by millions of men and women worldwide (10). But how does it work?
The exact mechanism by which minoxidil works isn’t known. Though, a popular theory is that it’s ability to open potassium channels can increase blood flow to the follicles through hyperpolarization of the cell membranes (11). This increase in blood flow is then responsible for increased delivery of oxygen and nutrients, both of which are essential to hair growth.
The mechanism isn’t important, though. That’s because minoxidil has been proven effective in numerous human studies.
A long-term study published in 1990 followed 31 male subjects as they completed minoxidil treatment for between four-and-a-half to five years.
While the hair growth peaked at one year of treatment, it still continued (albeit, at a slower rate) throughout the entirety of the study.
These positive results were repeated various times over the years, including in 2016 and 2017 (12).
Another option offered by trichologists and other hair loss specialists is finasteride — an oral prescription medication that works as a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor (14).
And studies have shown that inhibiting 5-alpha-reductse and, as a result, reducing DHT levels in the scalp are an effective way to induce hair growth.
A study published in 1998 showed that finasteride was successful at increasing hair count after 1–2 years of therapy, and these results were sustained throughout the five-year study (15).
Finasteride can be used by itself, or in conjunction with minoxidil.
There are many ways to cover up going completely bald.
If you are going completely bald, then one way is by shaving your head, but it’s not always an effective method. After all, your hairline recession will continue to progress, even with a clean-shaven scalp.
However, there are benefits for doing so. This is especially true if you have untreated scalp conditions, or if you’re just sick of dealing with your balding’s progression.
If you’re interested in treating your hair loss, the first step is to talk to a qualified medical professional.
Otherwise, do the one thing that will be simpler and cheaper in the long run, and shave your head 100%!