Most young men worry about hair loss at some point, but for some, there’s a real prospect of balding at 20 years old.
Firstly, yes, you can go bald at 20. It’s not common, but lots of men start balding early. I’ve been shaving my head for nearly 20 years after losing my hair in my early 20s. It happens.
The first thing to do is to understand whether you’re actually going bald. If you recognize the signs and understand what’s happening, you’ll be in a better place to make a decision about your next steps.
Whether you end up completely bald at 20 or just live with a receding hairline, hair loss doesn’t need to negatively impact your self-esteem, dating success, or any other area of your life.
In this article, I’ll help you spot the signs of balding at 20, understand the causes of male pattern baldness in young men, and run through your options for what to do next.
Signs of balding at 20
First of all, don’t panic unnecessarily over what could be a false alarm.
First, let’s check for the common signs:
1. Difficulty styling your hair
I was balding in my 20s and the first sign for me, although I didn’t know it at the time, was when my hair just wouldn’t sit right.
I styled it the same way for years. My hair was always relatively short and messy on top and buzzed around the back and sides.
But in my early 20s, it started to take slightly longer to get the look I wanted. What I didn’t fully realize at the time was that my hair had started to thin, so gradually the fullness that supported my usual style was disappearing.
If you’re balding at age 20, you might not be able to see it just yet, but you might start to feel it when you’re styling your hair, just like I did.
For people with curly hair, it can be even harder. A lot of damage occurs due to over-styling and detangling, which can cause hair breakage. This can make it look like people with curly hair are going bald quicker or earlier.
Either way, hair loss can make it hard to get the look you want, purely because the hair that was giving you the look in the first place is gradually disappearing.
2. Thinning at the crown
If you’ve noticed your hair feeling different during styling, you’ll no doubt want to see for yourself whether your hair is thinning.
The first place you’ll often see signs of hair loss in your early 20s is at the crown. Use a hand-held mirror to reflect the back of your head in a wall-mounted mirror, or ask a friend or family member to take a look for you.
Does your hair look thinner at the crown than elsewhere on your head? Is the scalp more visible? If so, there’s a chance you’re experiencing the start of male pattern baldness.
But before you jump to any conclusions, let’s tick a few more boxes.
3. Receding hairline
A change in your hairline can be a tell-tale sign of hair loss at 20. It happens gradually, so it can be hard to tell if it’s really happening.
Looking at your hairline alone can be misleading. Men in their late teens and early 20s almost always experience some level of recession at the temples, but this isn’t necessarily the start of a journey to baldness.
Most simply develop a mature hairline. This is when the hairline recedes between half an inch and one inch, and some thinning of the temples occurs.
It’s caused by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that is created in men when the testes process testosterone. Our scalps are particularly sensitive to DHT, which can cause miniaturization of the hair follicles, making them less able to produce new hairs.
The hairline is usually the first area to be affected by the sudden release of DHT at puberty, and a few years later there’s a noticeable change in the hairline of most young men.
The key to understanding whether you’ll continue to recede and eventually go bald is to monitor the hairline over time.
Look back at photos from 6-12 months ago. Is it just the angle, or the light? Is your hair longer or styled differently? Or does your hairline look noticeably different now?
If you don’t have photos that show your hairline clearly, start taking them now. The guy in the photo above did just this, and it was a relief to see that he wasn’t losing his hair over time, he’d just developed a mature hairline:
It’s also worth noting that some people have an uneven hairline their whole life – even from birth. A new haircut can be all it takes to suddenly notice this and wonder if baldness is on the horizon.
Doctors are able to use a microscope to identify significant miniaturization of hair follicles at the very front of the hairline (in the first 1-2 cm).
But to be honest, monitoring your recession over time is the most practical way to decide whether you’re truly receding, or you’ve just developed a mature hairline.
4. Sunburn on the scalp
If you are experiencing hair loss at 20, one of the most surprising ways to find out is the annoying itch of sunburn after a fun day outdoors!
You’ve never had to worry about wearing a hat before, but suddenly you feel that tight, hot sensation a few hours after you come indoors, check the mirror and there it is – your scalp is sunburnt.
Being able to see your scalp through your hair is a fairly obvious sign of going bald. If you can see it, the sun can get through and burn it.
If you’re in your early 20s, chances are you haven’t lost enough hair for it to be really noticeable, but sunburn might be the first sign of thinning on top.
It could be an early sign that your hair isn’t as thick as it once was, and that the next time you hit the beach, you might need to apply sunscreen a little further up.
Your scalp is a sensitive area and the most exposed part of your body to the sun. Look into tanning a bald head safely to avoid unsightly sunburn and potential health risks.
5. Hair on your pillow
If you spot a hair or two on your pillow in the morning, don’t panic.
It’s totally normal and everyone loses a few hairs a day. Hair grows, regrows, dies off, and falls off, only to be replaced by new hairs. We have millions of hair follicles so a handful of fallen strands is no cause for concern.
This is especially true if your hair is falling out during the night. We toss and turn and every time we shuffle around in bed, our hair rubs against the pillow. It’s not unusual for some loose strands to be dislodged and wait for you to find them in the morning.
However, if you start to notice more hair on your pillow than usual, it can be a sign of balding in your early 20s.
6. Hair in the shower
Exactly the same story here. Everyone loses a little hair in the shower – it’s the reason that some of us have to spend part of our Sunday routine pulling our wife’s hair out of the drain (yuck).
All that shampooing and conditioning pull at our hair and naturally, a few strands are lost. It’s a classic case of collateral damage.
But again, if you start to notice more hair than usual making the journey down the drain, or more strands wrapped around your fingers after shampooing, it’s worth paying a little more attention to the other signs on this list as it’s highly possible you could be losing your hair in your 20s.
7. Hair on your brush
Lots of men don’t use a brush or comb, but if you do and you’re worried about hair loss in your 20s, pay attention to what’s left behind after brushing.
This is particularly true of men with long hair, which is more likely to get caught in the bristles and teased out of your head.
If you notice that you’re having to remove more hair from your brush more often, you may be experiencing greater than normal rates of hair loss.
8. A wider parting
Whether you part your hair at the side or in the center, the parting is one of the most obvious signs of balding at any age.
Because your parting pulls the hair away from the scalp, the width of this gap is a very reliable benchmark of hair thickness.
Someone with very thick hair will barely have any visible scalp at the parting as the hair simply moves in a separate direction but remains in contact with the hairs at the other side of the parting.
Fortunately for me, the 90s center-parting had gone out of fashion long gone before I started losing my hair. If I’d kept it, I probably would have noticed a gradual change in the width of the parting between my Backstreet-Boys-style curtains.
Some people’s hair is naturally thinner and remains the same from childhood through the teenage years and into adulthood. For these people, a more visible scalp at the parting is normal.
However, if you are losing your hair, this will result in more scalp being visible at the parting as time goes on.
Now that we’re familiar with the tell-tale signs, let’s talk about why you might be balding at 20.
Why am I balding at 20?
Male Pattern Baldness is caused by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that is created in men when the testes process testosterone. Some people are more sensitive to DHT, which causes hair follicles to shrink, which is why hair loss happens over time.
That sensitivity is usually related to genetics. First of all, there are a few myths and misconceptions to clear up when it comes to how baldness is inherited from your parents.
Male pattern baldness is a sex-limited trait, which means that the bald gene is present in both sexes but it is only expressed in men.
It’s true that scientists have identified an X-linked ‘baldness’ gene that increases sensitivity to DHT in young men. X-linked means it’s passed from the mother via the X chromosome.
Everyone gets one X chromosome from their mother, but only female children get one from their father:
Because sons only receive the X-linked chromosome from their mother, this has led to the popular theory that baldness is inherited from the mother’s side.
However, this is a myth. Other research has shown that there are lots of genes that contribute to your chances of going bald, some of which are passed from your father’s side.
But everyone is affected differently by the genes they inherit. Just because your father is bald doesn’t mean you will be, and baldness doesn’t always skip a generation.
Two brothers can even be affected by their genetics in different ways, with one going bald and one retaining a full head of hair.
However, regardless of genetics, MPB is not the only reason for hair loss. Here are some other potential causes:
The National Institutes of Health explains that by removing the adrenal glands which produce stress hormones from mice, they could stimulate rapid regrowth of hair compared to a control group.
They found that stress hormones affected the cells underneath the hair follicle called the dermal papilla, restricting hair regrowth.
A similar process happens in humans who are under stress, but the good news is that stress is variable and temporary and that by avoiding stress, we’re able to reduce hair loss and even regrow hair.
Certain illnesses and diseases can cause hair loss as one of the wider symptoms. These include thyroid disease, mercury poisoning, and more obviously, psoriasis of the scalp.
STIs can also cause hair loss if left untreated, including syphilis. 3-7% of syphilis patients experience hair loss, according to the National Library of Medicine – so wrap it up!
Many of us enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, especially in our early 20s when our social lives are booming and we’re just discovering the joys of alcohol.
But if you’re worried about your hair, you might want to limit the amount you drink. While it doesn’t directly cause hair loss, alcohol causes dehydration and other issues which affect the hair follicles’ ability to regrow hair.
What’s more, when we drink, we tend to eat more unhealthy food. This brings us to our next cause of hair loss: diet.
While there are many young men who are extremely health-conscious, it’s easy to take a casual approach to diet in your early 20s knowing you have plenty of time to get fit later in life. It’s not the most responsible approach to your long-term health, but it’s understandable.
What might make young men think twice is the link between poor diet and hair loss. Crash dieting not only reduces your calories but also your intake of nutrients that keep your hair growth healthy, while iron deficiency is strongly linked with hair loss.
While many people turn to supplements to help them get a better balance of nutrients, the industry is unregulated and many people aren’t aware of the side effects of over-supplementation.
While supplement consumption is less common in people in their 20s, over-supplementation of certain nutrients, including selenium, Vitamin A, and Vitamin E, has been linked to hair loss (source). Always consult a doctor before taking supplements.
As well as dietary supplements, medication including the following can contribute to temporary or long-term hair loss, according to healthline.com:
- Vitamin A supplements
- Acne medications
- Anti-clotting drugs
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Blood pressure medications
- Antidepressants and mood stabilizers
- Weight loss drugs
- Gout medication
The effects of chemotherapy on hair loss are widely-known. The medication involved attacks fast-growing cells including cancer cells but also hair follicles.
This causes the loss of hair from the head, eyelashes, eyebrows, and elsewhere on the body.
One of the human body’s most mischievous tricks is to reward all your hard work in shedding those extra pounds with some bonus weight loss – from your hair.
Telogen effluvium (the scientific term for this type of hair loss), usually happens when a person loses a lot of weight in a short period of time.
As mentioned above, the body needs nutrients to maintain the healthy regrowth of hair that is naturally lost, and dieting deprives the body of these nutrients.
During our teenage years and our early 20s, the pressure to look good is enormous and while many people make the decision to lose weight for all the right reasons, it’s worth consulting a doctor to make sure it’s done in a healthy way to avoid as many negative side effects as possible.
As if there weren’t enough reasons to quit smoking, we now know it makes your hair fall out too. Plus, if you do manage to hang onto your hair, chances are it stinks of smoke anyway.
If you’re smoking in your 20s and you’re worried about going bald, do yourself a favor – quit while you’re ahead!
Lack of sleep
In our 20s, we tend to go out more and sleep less. There’s nothing wrong with having an active social life, but make sure those all-nighters don’t become a routine.
Lack of sleep messes with our bodies in all sorts of ways. When it comes to our hair, not only are we messing with the sleep hormone melatonin (which by coincidence helps with hair regrowth) but we increase our stress levels, which also causes hair loss (see above).
Certain pre-existing medical conditions can make us predisposed to hair loss. The most common is alopecia areata (literal translation: patchy baldness) which can even develop as early as childhood.
It’s been speculated that alopecia is why Jacob Batalon is bald. The actor, who plays Ned in the Spider-Man movies, wears a wig on screen but fully shaves his head for public appearances.
It’s treatable with corticosteroids and topical creams but may occur again after hair regrowth.
Certain hair styling treatments can damage hair and hair follicles, including heat treatments and bleaching/coloring.
In my early 20s, I bleached my hair a few times and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I’m now rocking a chrome dome – the early 2000s were a strange time!
So now we know why people go bald at 20, we need a plan of action.
How to cope with balding at 20
Learning to cope with baldness at any age involves a basic choice. You can look for treatment, or accept that you’ll lose your hair and weigh up your other options.
Let’s first look at how you might be able to slow, stop or even reverse hair loss, then we’ll look at what you can do if treatment isn’t for you.
Look into treatments
There are two routes to explore when it comes to treating hair loss:
Hair loss prevention medicines
Firstly, there’s the medicinal route. There are a number of medical treatments that block DHT, the most popular being Finasteride.
Finasteride is a DHT-blocking drug that limits the production of the hormone, and as a result, there is less DHT to attack hair follicles.
Finasteride has proven to be effective in the vast majority of users, and while DHT blockers do have some side effects, these are only reported in around 1.5% of cases.
If you’re in your early 20s, you’re probably not ready to come to terms with losing your hair just yet. Finasteride could be a good solution for you, but always consult your doctor first.
There’s also Minoxidil, which is applied to the scalp in areas where hair loss has already occurred.
For someone in their early 20s, you’re less likely to have significant hair loss and the priority is more likely prevention of further recession or thinning, so Finasteride is arguably the better option.
Then there’s the surgical option.
Hair transplant pros and cons for men in their early 20s
Lots of people consider a hair transplant as soon as they start to lose their hair. There are two types of hair transplant surgery; FUE (follicular unit extraction) and FUT (follicular unit transplantation).
FUE involves removing individual follicles, using the hair as a ‘handle’ to make transportation to the new location easier. With FUT, the hair is taken from the donor area in a linear strip.
Hair transplants don’t hurt as you might think, and they aren’t as expensive as you’d expect either.
However, transplants aren’t generally recommended for someone in their early 20s. Most of the time, someone at this age has only just started their hair loss journey and barely reached stage 2 on the Norwood scale.
You can see the various stages of hair loss on the scale below, and see Norwood 2 hairline examples here.
In most cases, it’s not clear how the hair loss pattern will develop over time. If you choose a hair transplant at 20 when you’re at stage 2, by the time you’re 25 you could be a stage 4 with a very thick hairline at the front.
A hair transplant is a valid option, but it’s best to delay the decision until a doctor can assess where the grafts are really needed. This avoids having to return for multiple surgeries.
Other options when you’re balding at 20
Of course, there are other things you can do other than trying to stop or reverse hair loss, medically or otherwise.
Going bald is tough, and the worst advice I hear is to ‘just accept it’, because that is so much easier said than done. You’ll have plenty of people telling you to ‘just shave it off’.
Nobody should shave their head before they’re ready. When you go from hair to no hair, it can be a shock to see the new guy staring back at you in the mirror.
The most important thing is that you do something instead of spending your life worrying about hair loss. If you’re ready to brave the shave, then welcome to the club.
If you’re not quite ready yet, then don’t worry. There are ways to prepare yourself, both physically and mentally.
Instead of delivering a big shock to your system, give yourself chance to get used to gradually shorter haircuts. Transition down to a close crop, until you’re ready to buzz it. Lots of people find this is better for the mental side of things.
In terms of physical preparation, it’s about making sure a bald head looks good as part of the whole package. Skinny, pale, clean-shaven guys can look a little odd bald. They can even look ill.
Growing a beard, putting on some muscle, and getting a tan will all look better with a shaved head.
But that look isn’t for everybody. Nobody should be pressured into looking a certain way. If the gym isn’t for you, or you burn as soon as you step into the sun, or can’t/don’t want to grow a beard, that’s all fine. Do what works for you.
But if you’re thinking of shaving your head and you want to make sure you look good, these things will all help. Tick as many boxes as you like from this guide to how to look good bald.
If you decide to brave the shave, make sure you have the right tools for the job.
When I reviewed the best electric shavers for your head, the Skull Shaver Pitbull came out on top.
The Platinum model is undoubtedly the best, but if you’re looking to save a little money, the Silver is around $100 cheaper and does the same job, just with fewer bells and whistles than the Platinum:
Skull Shaver Pitbull Silver PRO
- Wet & dry shaving
- 90 seconds and done
- Flexible shaving heads
- Cordless use up to 30 mins
But remember, shaving is just the start. To find out which other items you’ll need to invest in to keep your shaved head looking and feeling great, read this post on all the best products for bald heads.
There isn’t as much stigma around hair systems as there used to be, probably because they look a lot more natural than the wig your grandad wore back in the day.
They can be fully customized to your hair color, texture and style, and they’re very cost-effective especially compared to a transplant. They’re also non-invasive, unlike transplant surgery.
However, they also require a lot of maintenance and wear and tear means they look less impressive over time.
As a short-term fix, they’re an ideal solution while you wait for a transplant, for example. But realistically, they seem like overkill for someone who isn’t likely to have lost much hair at 20 years old.
Scalp micropigmentation, or SMP, is basically a hair tattoo. If you go down this route you’ll always have a full hairline, but you’re basically agreeing to shave your head for the rest of your life.
The results are impressive, but 20 years old is very young to make a decision like having ‘hair’ permanently tattooed onto your head.
If you’re losing your hair rapidly and you decide to shave your head, SMP might be a good option. But personally, I’d recommend waiting until a long time after your early 20s to weigh up your options.
1 in 4 men who suffer from Male Pattern Baldness show signs of hair loss by the time they hit 21. In the US, two-thirds of all men will experience some thinning or loss of hair by the time they hit 35.
Going bald at 20 is perfectly normal. 25% of men who experience baldness will see the first signs before 21. By the time we hit 50, there’s a massive 85% chance of “significantly thinning hair” according to the American Hair Loss Association.
There are a number of ways to slow the hair loss process, especially if it’s a temporary issue caused by lifestyle factors. Quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, eating healthier, sleeping more, and avoiding stress will all help reduce, stop, and even reverse hair loss.
A receding hairline or thinning hair in your 20s doesn’t have to be a disaster. While it’s a little young to consider something like a hair transplant, there are other options.
Personally, I’d encourage anyone losing their hair to simply shave it off – as long as they feel ready.
Learn how to dress to complement your baldness, how to look after your bald head, and most importantly show the world you have the confidence to brave the shave.
Are you going bald in your 20s? If you’re already bald, when did you first notice your hairline changing? Share your story in the comments below.