In adulthood, hair loss, also called alopecia, can start at almost any age.

You’re more likely to see signs of balding when you’re middle aged and older, but there’s a lot of variation from person to person. Some people notice signs of hair loss as early as their late teens and early 20s. Other people will be well into their 60s and beyond with a full head of hair and almost no thinning.

Some types of hair loss are temporary, while others are permanent.

Let’s get into the most noticeable signs of balding, how to tell the difference between natural balding and other causes of hair loss, and what you can do about it if you need treatment for a condition that causes hair loss.

Language matters

Hair loss can be an emotional topic that, while often seen as a men’s issue, can affect people of any gender or sex.

In this article, we use “male and female” to refer to someone’s sex as determined by their chromosomes, and “men and women” when referring to their gender (unless quoting from sources using nonspecific language).

Sex is determined by chromosomes, and gender is a social construct that can vary between time periods and cultures. Both of these aspects are acknowledged to exist on a spectrum both historically and by modern scientific consensus.

The signs of balding can also vary between people. Some people might see hair loss that starts at their temples, while others might notice a change in their hairline. This means that not everyone with hair loss will experience every sign of balding.

Common signs of balding include:

1. Thinning temples

Hair starts thinning around your temples. You’ll also notice thinner hair at the crown, or back, of your head.

2. Receding hairline

The term “receding hairline” describes the process of the hair on the front and sides of your head beginning to thin and move away from your face. Often, people with this type of hair loss notice their hairline has started to make an “M” shape because the hair on the side of their head is receding faster than the hair in the middle.

This type of hair loss is very common in males.

3. Thinning on top of the head

Sometimes the first sign of hair loss can be thinning of the hair on the top of your head. In this type of hair loss, you won’t notice thinning or receding on the sides of your head at all.

This type of hair loss tends to progress slowly. It can take years before thinning hair becomes a bald area on the top of your head. This hair loss pattern is very common in certain racial groups. For instance, Asian males are more likely to experience this pattern than a receding hairline, according to this 2012 study.

4. Widening part

Another type of hair loss causes your part line, the line where your hair splits on the top of your head, to widen and pull apart.

6. Thinning across the whole head

Some people experience hair loss equally over their entire head. The hair thins equally with no patterns or shapes. While hairline recession is a very common hair loss pattern for males, females are more likely to experience hair thinning across their entire heads.

7. Hair falls out in clumps

Hair loss is normally a slow process. However, there are times you might notice dramatic changes to your hair. Your hair can sometimes fall out in large clumps instead of thinning and receding gradually.

Hair falling out in clumps could indicate an underlying health condition. It’s a good idea to see a healthcare professional and find out what’s causing this type of hair loss.

8. Losing hair all over your body

Hair loss doesn’t always just happen on your head. In some cases, it can happen on the other parts of your body that normally grow hair.

You might notice your body hair thinning or not growing back after shaving. Hair loss on your legs, arms, and other body parts can be due to aging. However, it can also be a symptom of some health conditions. Tell a doctor about this type of hair loss if you experience it.

At what age do people typically start to lose their hair?

Hair loss can start as early as your teenage years or might not occur until you’re well past retirement.

Generally, people begin noticing signs of hair loss in their 30s and 40s. More significant hair loss often happens when people reach their 60s and beyond.

It’s common to be concerned about hair loss. Many people are on the lookout for thinning hair or changes to their hairline. However, while those are symptoms of hair loss, there are also some hair and scalp symptoms you don’t need to worry about.

Signs and traits that aren’t symptoms of hair loss include:

  • An itchy scalp: An itchy scalp might be a sign of an allergy to your shampoo or of a skin condition such as scalp eczema, but it’s not a sign of hair loss.
  • Dandruff: Dandruff or scalp flaking can indicate that you might need to change your haircare routine or see a dermatologist, but they’re not signs of balding.
  • Dry hair or split ends: Hair that’s dry or unhealthy can be caused by medical conditions, nutrition, environmental factors, or haircare products, but it’s not connected to hair loss.
  • A widow’s peak: A “widow’s peak” is a natural hairline and isn’t caused by hair loss.

Androgenic alopecia is a common cause of hair loss in all sexes and is sometimes called “male pattern baldness.” It occurs when hormones disrupt the way your hair grows and cause your hair to fall out. Hair loss of this type generally follows a pattern, such as M-shaped hairline recession or thinning at the top of your head.

However, it isn’t the only cause of hair loss. In fact, there are many other reasons you might notice hair loss. Some of these causes of hair loss are temporary and easily reversible, while others will need medical treatment.

Other causes include:

  • Family history: Genetics are the most common cause for hair loss. If older members of your family tend to loose their hair as they age, there’s a good chance that you will as well.
  • Hormonal changes or imbalance: Hormones play important parts in the regulation of many of your body’s systems, and hair growth is just one of them. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common cause of hormonal imbalance in females and has been known to cause hair loss.
  • A physical injury: If your follicles get damaged due to an injury or burn, there’s a chance they may no longer be able to produce hair.
  • Alopecia areata: This is a small, circular area of sudden hair loss that appears without any symptoms. A person’s beard and eyebrows and other body hair can also be impacted.
  • Telogen effluvium: This type of hair loss is reversible and occurs as the result of a stressful event, such as a hospitalization. It might also occur as a result of a new medication.
  • Tinea capitis: Tinea capitis, a fungal infection on your scalp, can cause small localized scaly spots on your scalp that may also have pustules. This can result in permanent scarring hair loss.
  • Cicatricial alopecia: This is a general term referring to hair loss that creates permanent scarring. The hair follicles left behind are destroyed and scar tissue forms rather than grow more hair. This term refers to several conditions that permanently damage hair follicles.
  • Nutritional deficiency: If you’ve experienced rapid weight loss, or your body is lacking a sufficient amount of protein or iron, among other vitamins, it can result in hair loss. However, a true vitamin deficiency is very rare.
  • Thyroid conditions: A problem with your thyroid is a well-known cause of hair loss. Doctors often recommend checking this if you have hair loss that appears to have no underlying cause.
  • Certain hairstyles/hair treatments: Some hair styles, like tight braids, may put strain on your hair follicles and damage them over time.

There are several ways to prevent further hair loss and slow down the thinning process. Newer treatment options are being developed and becoming available. These new treatments might be able to help regrow hair.

Treatment approaches include:

  • Minoxidil (Rogaine): This is an over-the-counter (OTC) medication that can be rubbed onto the scalp regularly to help prevent more hair loss.
  • Spironolactone (Aldactone): This medication for women may be prescribed for off-label use. It works by binding to receptors for androgen hormones in your body, keeping androgens such as testosterone in check to prevent hormone imbalances.
  • Topical retinoids: Some dermatologists recommend specially compounded hair topicals that include a small amount of topical retinoid.
  • Hair transplant: This procedure involves your hair that’s harvested from one area and transplanted to the bald regions.
  • Laser light therapy: Low power light therapy and lasers can increase the density of your scalp hair.
  • Prescription medications: Certain medications can be used to treat androgenic alopecia-related hair loss. Finasteride (on-label for male pattern baldness) and dutasteride (off-label) are two examples.
  • Platelet-rich plasma: This involves a process of using a person’s own blood, which is processed into platelet-rich plasma and then injected into the scalp to stimulate hair growth.
  • Stem cell therapy: Stem cell therapy is a new treatment for hair loss that involves using a person’s own stem cells to restore natural hair follicles.
  • Follicular unit extraction: This type of hair transplant is done by taking hair follicles from one area of your body and transplanting them to an area where hair has thinned.

When to see a doctor

See a doctor if your hair loss or baldness pattern is accompanied by any other painful or uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • swelling around the areas of baldness
  • excessive itchiness or scaling around balding areas
  • burning, stinging, or pus discharge around balding areas
  • sudden hair loss on other parts of your body
  • excessive hair growth on other parts of your body
  • sudden changes in weight, including weight loss or weight gain
  • a recent high fever (over 101°F, or 38°C)
  • adverse effects from a recent surgery

Balding is a natural part of aging for many people, but some health conditions and injuries can also cause it. Hair loss is often gradual, and it might take years before the changes to your hair are noticeable.

New developments in hair loss treatments, such as stem cell therapy, might be able to regrow hair and restore your hairline.