To some extent, every hairline is unique. But there are identifiable hairline patterns, primarily based on age, gender and genetics. As men age, their hairline will typically recede a bit, known as ‘maturing.’ While this can understandably make men nervous, it’s not always a sign of male pattern balding. In this post, we’ll review the following:
- What defines a mature hairline
- What defines a receding hairline
- The difference between a mature and receding hairline
- How to treat a receding hairline
What is a Mature Hairline?
The hairline is the boundary between hair follicles and the forehead. Everyone’s hairline is unique, although there are some patterns that occur throughout our lives.
According to observational studies, prepubescent men and women both experience concave shaped hairlines. This generally concave hairline is similar across all races and ethnicities. Around the age of 10, a small percentage of children develop a widow’s peak, but this is not an effect of recession at the temples.https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256479799_Phenotype_of_Normal_Hairline_Maturation
Full citation: Rassman, William & Pak, Jae & Kim, Jino. (2013). Phenotype of Normal Hairline Maturation. Facial plastic surgery clinics of North America. 21. 317-24. 10.1016/j.fsc.2013.04.001.
As young teens, when hair is fullest, there’s typically a stark boundary between the hair on the head and the forehead. In men especially, this changes with age. It’s believed that hormonal changes trigger the expression of certain genes, causing men’s hairlines to mature between mid-adolescence and middle-age. This maturation means the hairline shifts a few centimeters further back on the forehead.
This shift may take place uniformly, following the rounded shape of the juvenile hairline, or may be more noticeable at the temples, resulting in a hairline that looks more like a letter M. There appears to be a relationship between the muscles of the forehead, the frontalis muscle, and the height of the hairline. Most adults with high mature hairlines have presented with high foreheads their entire lives. The varying degrees of normal hairline maturation can be seen in the image below.
As hairlines mature with age, some men hardly notice this change, as it occurs slowly over a period of 10 years or more. In others, this change happens more rapidly, causing concern.
Regardless of when or how quickly it happens, what characterizes a mature hairline is that the recession is limited to just a few centimeters, and then it stops. The hairline does not continue to recede, and remains well-defined, with little to no hair thinning.
A maturing hairline is a natural part of aging, and not indicative of androgenic alopecia (AGA), otherwise known as male pattern baldness.
At What Age Does Mature Hairline Stop?
If and when a juvenile hairline begins to recede, the most commonly asked question is – when does it typically stop?
Just as there’s no telling if and when the hairline will mature, there’s no predicting when a mature hairline will stop. A slightly different, but better question is – how do you differentiate between a maturing hairline, which will eventually stop receding, and receding hairline, which is a sign of male pattern baldness?
To answer this, we begin with an understanding of receding hairlines.
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What is a Receding Hairline?
A receding hairline is among the earliest signs of androgenic alopecia. AGA often follows a predictable pattern. This pattern begins with a receding hairline, which is especially noticeable at the temples. Simultaneously or sequentially, hair then disappears from the crown of the head. Eventually, complete baldness occurs as the hairline recedes far enough back, and/or baldness from the crown of the head meets the hairline.
The Norwood-Hamilton scale is used by dermatologists to assess progression of AGA. By stage 2, minor recession of the hairline exists, although it’s barely differentiated from a maturing hairline. By stage 3, the hairline has receded much further at the temples, characteristic of androgenic alopecia.
What Causes a Receding Hairline?
Hair shedding is a common part of the normal hair growth cycle. Most people lose somewhere between 50-100 hairs each day, which typically goes unnoticed. When hair loss is localized to the front of the scalp and regrowth does not occur, the hairline recedes.
Age, genetics, gender, hormones, or how you care for and style your hair can all contribute to a receding hairline.
Age: While AGA can occur in children, it’s very rare. Most of the hairline changes that occur with age are not reflective of AGA, until after the age of 17. As we age, the chances of developing a receding hairline increase. Androgenic alopecia is more common in those who are middle-aged or older.
Genetics: Research suggests that there is no single gene involved in AGA. Rather, pattern hair loss is likely a polygenic disorder, meaning there are many gene variances that are involved in the predisposition of its development. Exactly which genes are responsible is still unknown, although a family history of androgenic alopecia is still its single greatest predictor.
Gender: Men are more likely than women to have a receding hairline. Although women do experience AGA, it more often presents as overall hair thinning and baldness that begins at the top of the scalp, and not a receding hairline.
Hormones: While the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), is responsible for growth of hair on the body, this testosterone derivative also contributes to hair follicle miniaturization, and ultimately, hair loss. Although it’s unknown why AGA forms the pattern it does, the answer might have to do with androgen receptor density and 5α-reductase activity at the hairline.
Lifestyle: The onset of a receding hairline may be accelerated from certain forms of stress, medications, scalp environment, and/or hair styling — such as pulling hair too tight. Hair loss may arise from hormonal conditions unrelated to DHT, such as hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Gut dysbiosis, heavy metal toxicity, and vitamin deficiency can all contribute to hair loss.
Unlike maturing hairlines, receding hairlines are not part of the normal aging process, but a sign of androgenic alopecia, another form of hair loss, or both.
Mature vs Receding Hairlines
A mature hairline doesn’t always become a receding hairline. So what indicates the difference between the two, and how can we tell the difference between early AGA and a simple shift in the hairline?
Timing of Hair Loss: Hairlines tend to mature in late adolescence or early adulthood. Generally, receding hairlines start later in life.
Pace of Hair Loss: A receding hairline tends to progress at a faster pace. While a maturing hairline may go unnoticed – a receding hairline is more likely to attract attention.
Shape of Hair Loss: A receding hairline tends to move more towards an M-shape, with hair loss at the temples far more pronounced. A mature hairline, on the other hand, will move back more evenly.
Extent of Hair Loss: As the hairline matures, it may move back 1-2 centimeters. With a receding hairline, this shift can be 1 inch or more.
Thinning of Hair: As a hairline matures, hair maintains its original thickness. Receding hairlines, on the other hand, are accompanied by hair thinning.
Diagnosing a Receding Hairline
A receding hairline is characteristic of androgenic alopecia, but it’s possible to have more than one type of hair loss, especially if the hairline is receding and hair is thinning or balding in other areas.
In the shower, when washing your hair, take all the hairs you shed onto your hands and stick them to the wall using the steam from the shower.
- Are the hairs of varying diameters? This is indicative of hair follicle miniaturization, a defining characteristic of AGA.
- Are the hairs all equal in thickness? This suggests no hair follicle miniaturization, and an AGA diagnosis is less likely. You could have a hair shedding disorder.
A doctor or dermatologist can help identify exactly which type of hair loss is present. This is important, for treatment protocols will vary depending on the cause of hair loss.
How to Prevent Further Receding
There isn’t one single solution for hair loss, which makes diagnosing the cause and type of hair loss important. But in general, a comprehensive solution will address the following:
- Regrowth Regimens: Depending on personal preferences, this could include medications or other science-based hair regrowth regimens.
- General Health: This includes specific dietary and lifestyle interventions based on age, gender, and type of hair thinning to address any conditions linked to the hair loss. While poor general health may accelerate hair loss, for most people, it’s very much a secondary factor in terms of influence over a receding hairline.
Of course, no treatment is always an option. Many choose to change hair styles in an effort to hide a receding hairline, or are comfortable living with it as is. If choosing treatment, factors to consider include how much time and money to invest on hair regrowth, tolerance for side-effects, and personal preference.
A few possible interventions are listed below (and not in order of importance or clinical efficacy).
Massaging: Massaging the scalp for 15 minutes, twice daily has the ability to activate the body’s innate healing responses, and reduce scalp tension. Our own study showed that 75% of people who massaged consistently for 8 months reported a stop or partial reversal in their hair thinning.https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13555-019-0281-6
Shampoos: Ketoconazole shampoo is not actually FDA-approved for pattern hair loss, but is a popular treatment for the condition nonetheless. It’s not yet very well studied, but may work well in combination with other therapies.
Natural Topicals: Jojoba, castor, rosemary, peppermint, and saw palmetto extract are just a few of the natural essential oils that have been marketed for hair regrowth. There are a few small studies showing that natural topicals may improve certain hair loss disorders.
Microneedling: Microneedling the scalp to treat hair loss is typically done biweekly. Microneedling evokes very low levels of inflammation which evoke a healing response from the body. Studies show microneedling can be successful when done alone, or when performed alongside other therapies. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14764172.2017.1376094?journalCode=ijcl20
Low-Level Laser Therapy: Low-level laser therapy (LLLT) is perhaps the most popular non-drug hair loss treatment and has FDA-clearance as a hair loss treatment for both men and women. The expensive and time consuming treatment does improve hair count for those with AGA.
Medications: Minoxidil and Finasteride are the only 2 FDA-approved medications for hair loss. Each treats AGA either orally or topically. While these medications have been proven effective to treat hair loss, they’re not for everyone. Both lead to side effects in some people, and generally require life-long use.
Botox: Botox is a neuromodulator which relaxes muscles and may also reduce certain inflammatory signaling proteins. Over the last decade, a few studies have been published measuring the hair-promoting effects of Botox on men with AGA.
Platelet-Rich-Plasma Therapy: Platelet-rich plasma therapy (PRP) is offered by thousands of dermatologists as a natural intervention for all types of hair loss. It is effective for androgenic alopecia and alopecia areata, but also expensive and ongoing injections are required to maintain results.
Stem Cell Therapy: Stem cell therapy is an expensive; relatively new therapy that is still under investigation. It’s also not a one-and-done treatment and requires multiple appointments. Early findings seem to suggest that 90% of subjects respond to stem cell therapy. And for AGA subjects, increases in hair count seem to hover around 20-30%.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31111157/
Effective treatment protocols often include some combination of the above. For example, studies suggest microneedling + minoxidil + finasteride, offers a response rate of 80-90% – with hair count increases ranging from 25-40% within 6-24 months.
As a man’s hairline matures, it will recede slightly from its juvenile position. This can be alarming, but it’s not always an early sign of male pattern baldness.
A receding hairline differs from a maturing hairline in that it may recede at a much faster pace, recede further back, and will recede more at the temples than in the center, resulting in an M-shaped hairline.
A receding hairline is characteristic of androgenic alopecia, but could be related to other types of hair loss too, especially if hair is thinning or balding in other areas.
Diagnosing a receding (vs maturing) hairline allows treatment to begin before baldness further progresses. Treatment options which have been proven effective include massaging, microneedling and medications. Efficacy improves when these methods are combined.
Rob English is a researcher, medical editor, and the founder of perfecthairhealth.com. He acts as a peer reviewer for scholarly journals and has published five peer-reviewed papers on androgenic alopecia. He writes regularly about the science behind hair loss (and hair growth). Feel free to browse his long-form articles and publications throughout this site.
1 thought on “Mature Hairline vs Receding: How to Tell the Difference”
I have a receding hairline question – as esoteric as it may sound: is it possible in your perception for someone to accidentally cause and perpetuate their gene expression for hair recession through obsession over it? Two years ago, I went through about 8 months of non-stop daily paranoia and fixation over hair loss when I had no signs of it at all along my hairline nor crown (but my paranoia came from my anxiety and seeing it in different lighting). It wasn’t until January of 2021 eight months later that I thought I actually did see my right temple receding. And in April of that year, I woke up at 2a.m. with my hairline on my mind and checked it to see it was much worse. Now it has significantly receded, very heavily, and I don’t even think I have genetic predisposition. I’m sorry, I know it’s an odd circumstance, but I’m very very confused by the strangeness of it. I just wonder if something like this is possible given its occurence right after my obsessing and with the subliminal aspect. Thank you for reading this, truly,