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Do Short Haircuts Cause Balding?

Your barber may have nothing to do with it.


Heidi Mitchell

Many myths swirl around hair loss. Wives tales are spun about the cause, while confusion about what can hasten or prevent it runs rampant. One expert, Carolyn Goh, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the founder of the UCLA Hair and Scalp Disorders Clinic, explains the difference between cutting and shaving, and why genetics are likely at play in male-pattern baldness.

Blame Your Mother (Mostly)

There are many types of hair loss, such as autoimmune-related alopecia areata, where people lose hair in circles on the scalp and body, and telogen effluvium, a period of shedding commonly experienced after surgery or stress.

One of the most common forms is androgenetic alopecia, also known as male- (or female-) pattern hair loss. It affects around 80% of men by the time they are 80 years old (and about 50% of women, though it’s less obvious), and is characterized by thinning at the top of the head and receding at the front. Genes are primarily to blame, says Dr. Goh. The most consistent is found on the X chromosome, “which means it came from your mother’s side,” she says.

People often say to look to your maternal grandfather to determine if you’ll go bald, but you might not have to look any further than your own father. At least one study has shown that men whose fathers are bald are more likely to go bald fairly young compared with those whose dads have full heads of hair.

Short Cuts

Dr. Goh says there is no solid evidence that cutting hair short will cause it to thin. In fact, frequent trims can make thinning hair appear fuller because it removes older hair and encourages growth. “The hair looks thicker, because it’s healthy, new hair, but it’s not actually thicker,” explains Dr. Goh. “That’s just part of the life cycle of the hair follicle.”

Shaving is another story. With each cycle that lasts about a month, “the hair that grows back in its place will be finer if you have male-pattern baldness,” says Dr. Goh. A shaved head might make thinning and receding more apparent.

Let It Grow?

Other than topical prescriptions—which may be absorbed more easily into the scalps of men with very short hair—there are other ways to stave off balding. “Washing your hair and scalp daily or every other day is ideal,” says Dr. Goh, because it removes excess oils that can lead to inflammation and hair loss. Hats or hair pieces are fine, she says, as long as they aren’t too tight. “You don’t want too much pressure on the follicle,” says Dr. Goh.

The dermatologist says that increased testosterone levels in men can promote hair loss. She recommends that patients follow a balanced diet, take a multivitamin and avoid muscle-building supplements high in whey protein, which, she says, theoretically may influence hair loss.

In her practice, topical or oral regrowth treatments like Rogaine and Propecia are the first line of defense, not hairstyles, because they are better at preventing hair loss than at regrowing hair. “The earlier you start them,” says Dr. Goh, “the better.”

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