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What’s fueling fears that millennials are losing their hair faster than previous generations? Perception, not science. Getty Images
  • New self-reported data out of China has led researchers to claim millennials may be losing their hair faster than older generations.
  • However, the research is only anecdotal.
  • There is currently no evidence in Western medical literature about any changes in the rates of hair loss.
  • Experts say objective means of collecting data on recent hair loss patterns find the actual rates are much lower than the perceived rates.

There’s a common belief that young men and women today are losing their hair faster than generations before them.

The generation that’s currently at the typical age when hair loss first becomes apparent are millennials, or adults under the age of 40.

The reasoning behind the phenomenon is often anecdotal, as to suggest things today are making it harder to hold onto one’s hair.

However, the more common reasons are that life is currently more stressful than before, which would fit the bill for many younger adults across the globe who may have bleak outlooks on their futures.

In other words, current world affairs — it would seem — have young people “pulling their hair out.”

Some research even suggests that millennials are losing their hair earlier, but headlines can often be over-simplifying, especially when they involve surveys or other points of self-reported data.

But experts say objective means of collecting data on recent hair loss patterns find that the actual rates — versus the perceived rates — are much lower.

There’s some research that suggests 20-year-olds in China are losing their hair earlier than generations before them did.

A 2018 study involved surveying some 4,000 students at Tsinghua University in Beijing. The surveys asked students to self-report their observations about their hair without any real objective measure of whether they actually had lost any or not.

The study asked more about their perception than their reality.

Almost 60 percent of the college-age participants said they’d already had noticeable hair loss, with 40 percent saying they were aware their hairlines were receding. A quarter of the people surveyed said they weren’t aware of their hair loss until a friend or family member said something about it.

Reports of hair loss also varied depending on a student’s major. The survey said students studying art or Marxism — the prevailing political ideology in communist China — were more likely to report hair loss, while those studying math, science, and automotive engineering reported the fewest hair loss problems.

But there’s a problem with the research: It’s only anecdotal.

The head of the study, Dr. Fu Lanqin — a dermatologist at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital in Beijing — said he’s noticed an increase in the number of young people seeking treatments for hair loss in recent years, as reported by the South China Daily News.

Other research published in China Daily, which is owned by the People’s Republic of China, echoes concerns about more men seeking out remedies for hair loss.

One article advertised on the web pages of The New York Times cites a survey of 50,000 people that says 27 percent of respondents experienced hair loss, while it was 31 percent for people born in and after 1990, or a large part of the millennial generation.

Dr. Justin Ko, director and chief of medical dermatology at Stanford Health Care, said other studies that rely on objective examination by trained experts have “found much lower rates.”

A 2010 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that androgenetic alopecia — male or female pattern baldness — was less prevalent in Chinese men and women compared to Caucasians. Their rates were similar to Koreans.

Overall, that study found measurable hair loss affected 21 percent of men, with only 2.8 percent in men under 30 and just over 13 percent in men in their 30s. Only 6 percent of women in that study had hair loss, with only 4.6 percent in women under 40.

In other words, the study investigating measurable hair loss found that people in their 20s weren’t having such high rates of hair loss as Chinese surveys had found.

Ken L. Williams Jr., DO, surgeon and founder of Orange County Hair Restoration in Irvine, California, said the anecdotal evidence used in Dr. Lanqin’s research means it lacks actually objective analysis of hair loss.

“I observe from another perspective, as countries such as China become economically stronger and industrialized, that they are more aware of the negative impact upon their individual economic potential, especially with hair loss gaining more social media and public awareness,” Dr. Williams told Healthline. “There’s no evidence in Western medical literature about any changes in the rates of hair loss.”

There isn’t reliable data to show that people are losing their hair, only what people’s attitudes and perceptions about their hair are and if it could adversely affect their futures.

Being concerned about hair loss and actually losing your hair are two different things.

Humans do shed quite a bit of it every day, so a person finding a few extra strands clogged in their bathroom drain shouldn’t be the only source of data when measuring hair loss.

Ko said there are effective ways to treat hair loss, but seeking an evaluation and advice from licensed and trained professionals is the best start to any treatments.

“Most commonly, hair loss is what we call ‘pattern hair loss,’ or androgenic alopecia,” he told Healthline. “However, there are many other causes of hair loss that follow a different course and we consider and treat very differently. There may also be bloodwork or other evaluations that can help further investigate the root cause of hair loss.”

Part of the evaluation is looking at potential underlying causes of hair loss, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

“I encourage all patients I see with early and/or severe androgenic alopecia to see a primary care doctor who can help them evaluate for and manage these issues with lifestyle modifications, diet, and exercise,” he said.

There are currently two medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration that have been demonstrated to be safe and effective for hair loss: Rogaine (minoxidil) and Propecia (finasteride).

But Ko warns that both come with risks and benefits that should be discussed and reviewed with a physician.

There are also other treatments, such as low-level laser light therapy and platelet-rich plasma, but both need more evidence to prove if they’re safe and effective.

Williams, who is a hair restoration surgeon, said many over-the-counter (OTC) hair-loss remedies lack scientific evidence and validity of their so-called “reported” success.

“Since many hair loss products lack medicinal properties, they do not fall under government oversight,” he said. “As a result, there are many false and misleading advertising to consumers on the efficacy of these OTC products.”

Ko said the first thing to do in dealing with potential hair loss is not to panic.

“It’s important not to make any drastic changes in lifestyle or habits unless under the guidance or direction of a medical professional,” he said. “Sometimes taking up an intense new workout regimen or starting a new restrictive diet can backfire because these can cause a ‘shock’ to the system and cause the hair to shift or reset in its cycling, causing a shedding phenomenon called telogen effluvium, which can be quite dramatic, though fortunately typically temporary.”

While many people may stress out about losing their hair, especially when contemplating their career advancement or future social and romantic relationships, Ko said being overly “hair aware” or counting hairs shed can cause or worsen stress about the issue.

“Your best bet is to seek help from a doctor who can help guide you towards an appropriate plan of diagnosis and treatment,” he said.