Alopecia is the clinical term for hair loss, and comes in a variety of forms. The most common form is called androgenetic alopecia, also referred to as male pattern baldness. Other forms include senile alopecia or uniform hair loss typical in elderly men, diffuse unpatterned alopecia, uniform hair loss in young men, traction alopecia, resulting from continuous pulling force on hair from hair styles like braids and ponytails. There is also, alopecia aerate, an autoimmune disease that normally begins with patchy hair loss and can progress to alopecia totalis, complete baldness, or alopecia universals, the loss of all body hair.

Genetics is the primary cause of alopecia, representing close to 100% of all male baldness and near 50% of female hair loss. Stress and disease can also cause hair loss, but normally in those who are already predisposed genetically. Exceptions to genetic alopecia include medication and external forces such as hair styles that put stress on hair. See our section on hair loss causes for more details on the causes of alopecia.

Androgenetic alopecia, or genetic male pattern baldness, is measured using the Norwood Classification Chart, developed by Dr. O'Tar Norwood in the 1970s:

Norwood Classification Chart

Norwood Class II is not necessarily an indication of serious baldness or the likelihood of future hair loss. This classification is referred to as a mature hairline and is common in most adult males to some degree. Many males will progress from Norwood Class I into Class II and near Class III, and then remain at the same level without further hair loss. Clinical "balding" does not begin until a person reaches Norwood Class III. Hair loss in women typically follows different patterns and is much rarer than in men.

Preventing Alopecia

Although alopecia is genetic, having the genes doesn't mean you'll necessarily lose your hair. Lifestyle factors including diet, exercise, smoking, and stress play a part. See our section on hair loss prevention for steps you can take to reduce your chances or slow the progression of alopecia.

Treating Alopecia

Numerous treatment options are available for those with alopecia. Wigs can be used to cover up hair loss, although quality wigs are both expensive and require significant care. Medicines such as Rogaine and Propecia work for many people, but they must be taken for many months before improvement is seen and there can be side effects. Finally, hair transplants can be done surgically as a permanent and long term solution. For more information see our section on hair loss treatment.

Other Considerations

Male pattern baldness is common in more than 50% of men, and even more will develop a mature hairline. Advertisements for hair loss prevention and treatment solutions tend to picture men with less hair as unhappy, unable to find a date, and generally unsuccessful. This is usually contrasted with images of a man with a full head of hair, smiling, and next to beautiful women. While hair loss prevention and treatment solutions are a personal decision, keep in mind that hair loss is completely normal and advertisements are designed to try to sell you something. In fact, studies have shown that men with receding hair are viewed by both men and women as being more socially mature. Normal adult hair loss may increase your attractiveness to other adults, despite what product and treatment advertisements would have you believe.