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Myth Busting: The Baldness Gene

Katelyn Hagerty FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 9/15/2021

Instead of settling for socks, coupons, or tacky sweaters, families all across the nation have been giving each other a more exciting holiday gift — DNA testing kits. 

In addition to assessing your ancestral history, these kits also test for the presence of different genes that range from the trivial — whether you prefer salty foods —  to the more serious, like your likelihood to get Parkinson’s Disease.

23andMe, one of the more popular DNA testing kits, also looks for the balding gene and the chance of hair loss in men.  

Plenty of myths surrounding hereditary hair loss cause men to panic and freak out for no good reason. 

For this installment of myth-busting, we will explain hereditary hair loss and unpack how accurate these widely popular DNA testing kits actually are.

Does Hair Loss Come From Your Mother’s Side of The Family?

You’ve probably heard this myth: if your mother’s father is bald, you’re most definitely going to lose your hair. 

Sometimes, the myth gets more specific — if your grandpa started going bald when he was 25, you should expect to start losing hair by then; so buckle up and enjoy college. 

Before you start frantically asking your mom for grandpa’s old photos to look at hairlines, there are some things you should know.

First, a disclaimer: there’s some truth to this myth. Male pattern baldness, medically referred to as androgenetic alopecia or androgenic alopecia, mostly comes from genetics. 

A study from The Journals of Gerontology: Series A demonstrated that 79 percent of male pattern baldness is heritable. 

Another study published in the US National Library of Medicine found that the androgen receptors (AR) gene, (which cause baldness) can be found on your X chromosome. 

Biological males have both an X and Y chromosome, while biological females have two XX chromosomes. 

Since men get their X chromosome from their mothers, looking into maternal genetics makes sense. 

When a trait gets passed to the X chromosome in men, it is likely to express itself because it won’t get balanced out by another X chromosome. 

Women, on other hand, need genetic traits to pop up in both X chromosomes to express themselves. Mothers carry one X chromosome from their fathers, making their grandfather’s genetics a likely indicator for what hair growth traits they will pass on to men. 

That being said, it would be reductive to claim that hair thinning just comes from your mom’s genetics. Here is why:

  • This is still a relatively young field of research and discoveries are happening every day.

  • Some studies have found balding genes on the Y chromosome, complicating this myth by making fathers’ genetic traits also an important factor in hair loss.

What Does it Mean if My DNA Test Says I am Likely to Go Bald?

Despite being popular, DNA testing kits are new terrain for science. With most DNA testing services, theoretically, all you have to do is spit in a tube, send it to a lab, and then wait a few weeks to see your risk for going bald. 

Though this process may seem super convenient, it’s not one hundred percent accurate. These testing kits are prone to some degree of error.

For some non-caucasian ethnicities, the data is also limited and could lead to flawed results. It’s important to note that just because variants are present in someone’s DNA doesn’t mean those variants will always express themselves. 

This is a prediction, not a diagnosis. There’s a difference between being a carrier of a gene and having the symptom or disease. 

You could likely pass down the balding gene to your children without going bald or having a receding hairline yourself.

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Does Baldness Only Come From Genetics?

If your DNA test says you’re likely to go bald, remember that it’s one of many factors that lead to hair loss. 

Even though the majority of cases of male pattern baldness do stem from genetics, other factors can’t easily be determined from DNA testing kits. 

Remember, it’s important to contact a physician if you start experiencing hair loss because it could foreshadow serious health issues. What are some non-hereditary factors that could lead to hair loss?

  • Medications: Cancer chemotherapy treatments are detrimental to follicles.

  • Autoimmune diseases:  Lupus,, heart disease, and Hashimoto’s Disease all can lead to hair loss — more specifically, a certain type of hair loss called alopecia areata.

  • Stress: According to the Mayo Clinic, stress-induced psychological conditions like

    Telogen effluvium and Trichotillomania (hair pulling syndrome) also can result in losing one’s hair.

  • Female pattern hair loss: People who are born female can experience female pattern baldness after the onset of menopause, along with the other medical conditions above.

These factors can’t be treated by the medications that hims offers and in the specific cases of telogen effluvium and trichotillomania, may require psychological or psychiatric assistance.

How do I Prevent Hereditary Hair Loss?

Unfortunately, you can’t simply delete the balding gene. If you start experiencing signs of balding or pattern hair loss, however, there are steps you can do to prevent it from worsening. For all of its folklore, most hair loss comes from chemical reactions in the body. 

Hereditary hair loss is caused by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an androgen that’s produced with testosterone. All biological men make DHT.  

When you are genetically bound to go bald, DHT shrinks and subsequently destroys your hair follicles — resulting in hair loss. 

Luckily, some treatments can stop this by blocking DHT. The medication finasteride inhibits DHT production, preventing you from losing more follicles.

How can I Slow the Effects of Genetic Hair Loss?

Okay, so you can't completely prevent the baldness gene from taking its effect. However, you can make moves to encourage healthy hair growth for as long as possible. 

Lifestyle Changes

Overall health is important. Believe it or not, the way you treat your body can affect your hair growth. 

Factors such as a healthy diet, regular exercise, reduced stress and a regular sleep schedule align your body with feeling its healthiest and can promote healthier hair. 

Oral Medications

Oral medications such as finasteride (generic Propecia) can be prescribed by a healthcare professional. Check out our helpful guide about the results of finasteride and how it works.

Topical Treatments

A common option that many men turn to is minoxidil. This topical treatment, often sold as Rogaine, is applied directly to the scalp in balding areas to encourage hair growth. 

Additionally, finasteride can be prescribed as a topical spray to treat hair loss. Talk to a hims healthcare provider about topical finasteride now.

Hair Transplant 

We get it; you've tried all of these options and you're at your wit's end. A hair transplant may be the option for you. 

Hair transplants take hair follicles and move them from one part of your body to another, effectively working around the baldness gene. 

Red Light Therapy

While this option still isn't totally explored, laser therapy (a.k.a. red light therapy) is growing in popularity among patients recovering from chemotherapy. This option may help improve your hair's density. 

A Final Word on the Baldness Gene

So, is baldness hereditary? In short, yes. Finding out you're genetically predisposed to losing hair can be scary and nerve-wracking. 

But it’s important to put results regarding hair genetics from DNA testing kits and old family photos of your grandpa into perspective. 

At hims, we want to provide the information you need to take the important steps to move forward.  

If you’re interested in learning more about how our products can alleviate your hair loss stress and reduce your degree of hair loss, take a look at our hair loss products.

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10 Sources
  1. Helle Rexbye et. al. (2005, August). Hair Loss Among Elderly Men: Etiology and Impact on Perceived Age, The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 60(8), 1077–1082. https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/60.8.1077.
  2. Chester, P. (2017, March 8). New genetic links to baldness discovered, Science X Network. https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-03-genetic-links-baldness.html.
  3. AsapSCIENCE. (2013, March 14). The Science of Hair Loss/Balding Video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5plbx-i2Kw.
  4. TED-Ed (2017, April 18). Secrets of the X chromosome - Robin Ball Video. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=veB31XmUQm8.
  5. Sample, I. (2008, October 12). Scientists uncover new gene link to male pattern baldness, The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2008/oct/13/medicalresearch-genetics.
  6. Brown, K. (2018, January 16). How DNA Testing Botched My Family's Heritage, and Probably Yours, Too, Gizmodo. https://gizmodo.com/how-dna-testing-botched-my-familys-heritage-and-probab-1820932637.
  7. Masunaga, S. (2017, April 14). What the new, FDA-approved 23andMe genetic health risk reports can, and can’t, tell you, LA Times. https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-23andme-reports-20170414-htmlstory.html.
  8. Chandler, S. (2018, December 18). Autoimmune Diseases That Cause Hair Loss, Healthfully. https://healthfully.com/autoimmune-diseases-that-cause-hair-loss-4684197.html.
  9. Hall-Flavin, D. (2019, April 5). Can stress cause hair loss?, Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/expert-answers/stress-and-hair-loss/faq-20057820.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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