Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/18/2021
Receding hairlines and thinning coifs are part of the aging game, and if you’re in your late 90s and reading this, let us first congratulate you on your longevity. Time, unfortunately, may have already decided the fate of your follicles.
For the younger crowd, though, signs of hair loss can be the first warning that a fight should begin soon, and these warnings are only more severe if the hair loss is coming not in the form of looking more like your great uncle, but instead in the form of random patches of exposed scalp.
Bald spots are more than an eyesore for the vain; they’re also the signals of some potentially serious issues. The good news is that most of these issues can be addressed. The bad news is that most of them need to be addressed quickly. If you’ve woken up with a random bald spot on the side of your head this morning, stop reading this and reach out to a healthcare professional immediately.
But if the hair loss has been more gradual, or if you’re not sure it’s even happening, let’s explore this further.
Random points of hair loss are tricky, because they’re often your body’s warning sign that something is off. But at the same time, they’re rarely clear indicators of what is wrong.
Short of finding an electric razor in your friend’s hand after a very unpleasant prank, you won’t be able to define the reason for a bald spot immediately. Bald spots have a collection of possible causes, and a healthcare professional is the best person to help you diagnose them.
That said, there are some categories into which your bald spot might fall. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but chances are that if you’re experiencing a bald spot, it has its roots in one of the following types of hair loss:
Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenic alopecia, is the likely cause of bald spots on the crown of your head and around the edges of your hair line, where it can begin as early as your twenties.
Male pattern baldness is caused by hormones, and it gets worse over time, but the pattern for this kind of hair loss is easily recognized.
Unlike male pattern baldness telogen effluvium is a sudden condition brought on by types of trauma: recent surgery, excessive stress, PTSD, major weight loss and things like that. This may cause spotting, but it’s typically characterized by even, all-over hair loss that resolves itself over a few weeks or months after the cause has been addressed.
If you have traction alopecia, the like cause is external sources of injury to the follicle, like chemical injury or pulling (man buns, yes, man buns).
Traction or traumatic alopecia can also be caused by trichotillomania: a condition where you literally pull out your own hair over stress or other emotional issues.
If your bald spot is along the hairline where any of these external factors may be playing a part, this might be your culprit.
What causes alopecia areata isn’t one thing but rather a variety of things, most of which are classified as autoimmune diseases. It’s a type of hair loss where, essentially, your immune system attacks your follicles and forces your hair into hibernation — sometimes permanently.
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Like we said at the beginning of this article, you should involve a doctor as soon as possible, especially if you haven’t already been diagnosed with something that could cause these problems.
Because the treatment for bald spots has to correspond to the correct diagnosis, it’s not easy to give you a simple breakdown of how to handle the problem. In order, you should seek help from a healthcare professional; discontinue use of any products, habits or medications that may be causing the problem and begin treatment as prescribed by a healthcare professional.
But that advice is all very generic, and doesn’t take into account external factors like autoimmune diseases. The truth is that, until you get someone with the proper training to look at the problem, you’re not going to have a course of action set.
The good news is that most hair loss is treatable, and once you have a diagnosis, there are remedies to get coverage back on that spot, or at the very least stop the progress of balding in its tracks.
Regrowing hair is no easy task, and after a certain point, the damage can sometimes be irreversible. Nevertheless, there are solutions.
One might be to simply cover up the bald spot with topical concealers, hair pieces, or scalp pigmentation, and you can learn more about those options at our guide to How to Cover Up Bald Spots.
There are also some notes here about more extreme measures, like surgeries and transplants.
There are some novel home remedies for encouraging hair growth on bald spots, including peppermint oil, caffeine, rosemary oil and others, and we discuss these more in our guide to How to Grow Hair on a Bald Spot.
But for our purposes, it’s best to understand that most home remedy treatments are at best proven only in limited measures — with results from as little as one study. In other words, for the time being, these relatively unproven methods are best left alone.
Instead, there are proven medications you should consider.
Finasteride is an oral medication (the generic version of the brand name Propecia) designed to combat the hormone DHT, which can cause male pattern baldness. It’s helpful in preventing your body from producing hair, and may be an effective treatment to any type of hair loss.
According to research, daily finasteride reduces DHT levels by about 70 percent, which can reduce male pattern baldness but, more importantly, can even stimulate growth in places where hair follicles are currently dormant.
The generic version of Rogaine® (minoxidil) has been proven to regrow and stimulate further hair follicle growth. While it’s not a cure for baldness, it’s an effective treatment, especially when used alongside other treatments. For instance, Over a 48 week period in one study, use of minoxidil resulted in a total hair count increase of up to 18 percent, as well as noticeably increased thickness for some participants.
Bald spots are just one particular type of hair loss, and like someone dealing with an itchy scalp, we’ve only scratched the surface here.
If you want to learn more about hair loss, check out our guides to DHT and male hair loss, what you should know about using finasteride and how minoxidil and finasteride can work together to stop hair loss, which cover how these treatments work separately and in tandem to address the problem.