Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/2/2022
Hair loss is an extremely common issue for men. In fact, research published in the journal, Dermatologic Surgery, has found that 16 percent of men aged 18 to 29 and 53 percent of men in their 40s already have moderate to extensive hair loss.
While balding can be alarming and stressful, it’s not something that happens all at once.
Instead of suddenly waking up without any hair, most guys go bald gradually over the course of years and decades.
Unfortunately, many men fail to notice their hair loss -- and more importantly, to take action and treat it -- until it’s too late.
Because hair loss happens gradually, it’s possible to track the stages of hair loss using a system called the Norwood scale.
Below, we’ve explained how the scale works and listed the seven stages you may go through if you’re losing your hair.
The Norwood Scale (sometimes called the Hamilton-Norwood Scale) is a seven-type scale that’s used to measure and categorize the different stages of male pattern baldness.
Men affected by hair loss typically don’t lose healthy hair evenly from across their entire scalp. Instead, the extent of hair loss caused by male pattern baldness follows a specific pattern that begins in a specific area, according to an article published in the journal Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery.
For example, many men notice the first signs of hair loss when their hairline begins to recede around the temples. This is known as Type 2 hair loss on the Norwood Scale, or a mature or adult hairline.
Other men develop a receding hairline accompanied by a small bald patch on the scalp. This is classed as Type 3 vertex hair loss using the Norwood Scale.
The Norwood scale is commonly used by healthcare professionals that specialize in diagnosing and treating hair loss in men.
Although it’s not perfect (we’ll cover its weaknesses a little further down the page), it provides a useful system for classifying and measuring the extent of a man’s hair loss.
Does the Norwood Scale sound a little confusing? We put together a visual guide to help you understand what to look for when you look in the mirror. We'll go into each of the seven Norwood Scale types below, but in the meantime:
As we mentioned above, the Norwood Scale is made up of seven numbered types. Some types may be accompanied by additional information, such as hair loss on the vertex of the scalp.
The Norwood scale covers all of the major stages of hair loss, from a hairline that’s completely unaffected to total hair loss that affects the entire scalp.
If you’re worried about hair loss, you can use the Norwood scale to determine how severe your hair loss is.
The further you are down the scale, the more your hair loss has likely progressed.
The earlier you can catch your hair loss, the more successful you’ll typically be at treating it and preventing it from getting worse.
We’ve described each stage of the Norwood scale below, along with actionable information on what you can do to treat your hair loss as it progresses from one stage to the next.
The first stage of the Norwood scale, or Norwood Type 1 hair loss, is a full head of hair with little to no recession of the hairline and no hair loss around the crown.
Many men have a Norwood Type 1 pattern before experiencing some level of hair loss as they age. Although it’s uncommon, some men maintain a Norwood Type 1 hair pattern for their entire lives.
It’s normal to have this type of hairline during your teens and 20s, before hair loss starts to kick in.
If you have a Norwood Type 1 hairline, consider yourself lucky.
This type of hairline is very rare in men as they get older, although it’s not so uncommon to maintain this kind of hairline in your 20s and 30s if you’re not genetically predisposed to hair loss.
There’s no need to treat stage one hair loss, although it’s still worth taking note of your hairline to spot any changes as they occur.
Men with hair that’s classified as Norwood Type 2 display slight recession of the hairline at the temples, with no hair loss at the vertex of the scalp. At this stage, the early signs of the common M-, V- or U-shaped hairline begin to appear.
This type of hair loss is fairly mild, but still visible. You may be able to see that your hairline has receded on the sides of the head near your temples and sideburns, giving your hairline a backwards-sloping angle when it’s viewed from the side.
Viewed from above, your mature hairline might have a noticeable V or M shape, with the skin visible at your temples.
Although a Norwood Type 2 hairline can precede more hair loss, not all men with this hair loss pattern continue to lose hair as they get older.
Norwood Type 2 hair loss is relatively mild. However, if you’re worried about losing your hair, it’s best to take action and start treating hair loss during this stage.
If you have a Norwood Type 2 hair loss pattern, you may want to look into hair loss medications such as finasteride and minoxidil.
Finasteride works by reducing DHT levels in your body, while minoxidil works by stimulating the growth of your hair.
You can learn more about how these medications work in our guide to what you should take for hair loss.
Norwood Type 3 men’s hair loss is much more visible. During this stage, the hairline recedes more and takes on a clear M or V shape.
Men with hair that’s classified as Norwood Type 3 have visible, obvious hair loss at the temples and the frontal area of the scalp. At this stage, the M-, V- or U-shaped hairline that commonly develops in men affected by severe hair loss is pronounced and easy to see.
Some men with a Norwood Type 3 hairline also experience hair loss at the crown, or vertex. This is referred to as Norwood Type 3 vertex hair loss. Men with more significant hair loss around the frontal area of the scalp may be classified as having a Norwood Type 3 A hair loss pattern.
While Type 2 areas of hair loss are usually easy to conceal with the right haircut, Norwood Type 3 hair loss is much more difficult to hide.
If you have Norwood Type 3 hair loss, it’s important to take action to treat your hair loss as soon as possible.
At this stage, hair loss medications such as minoxidil and finasteride can help you to slow down or stop further hair loss.
If your hair loss is relatively recent, you may be able to regrow some of the hair that’s fallen out from your crown or around your hairline.
Because you still have a lot of hair left at this stage, a treatment such as hair transplant surgery may be effective for restoring your hairline.
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Norwood Type 4 hair loss is more severe and obvious. Men with hair loss in this stage have lots of hair loss around the hairline, giving it an obvious bald appearance.
They have sparse hair or no hair on the vertex scalp, or top of the head.
Many men with stage four hair loss have a thick strip of hair that separates their hairline from the balding area around their crown.
If you already have Norwood Type 4 hair loss, it’s important to take action urgently if you’d like to slow it down or stop it altogether.
This type of hair loss is relatively advanced, meaning it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to regrow a large amount of hair.
However, medications like finasteride and minoxidil may help you to keep the hair you still have and potentially improve thickness and coverage.
At this stage, hair transplant surgery can still help to restore thickness and volume to your scalp and hairline.
As hair loss progresses to Norwood Type 5, the band of hair separating your hairline and crown becomes smaller and thinner.
By this stage, you’ll display significant, obvious hair loss around your hairline and crown.
Some men develop Norwood Type 5a hair loss, with more significant hair loss on the scalp and less of a separating band between the hairline and crown.
For many men affected by balding, this is when the classic horseshoe pattern of hair loss becomes more visible.
Hair loss becomes harder to treat as it becomes more severe. If you have Norwood Type 5 hair loss, your treatment options are much more limited than they are if you have milder Type 3 or 4 hair loss.
Medications like minoxidil and finasteride may help to prevent your hair loss from getting worse over time.
However, it’s important not to expect miracles from medication when your hair loss is relatively severe.
At this stage, hair transplant surgery might be a viable option if you’d like to add some coverage to your scalp and hairline.
However, it’s important to have realistic expectations, as you may not have sufficient donor hair to achieve complete coverage.
Norwood Type 6 hair loss is very severe. By this stage, you’ll have lost almost all of the hair that previously made up your hairline and vertex scalp, or crown.
There may still be a band of hair to separate these areas, but it will be sparse and thin.
Although you may still have some hair across your scalp, coverage is minimal and your scalp is clearly visible through your hair in all lighting conditions.
By this stage, the classic horseshoe pattern of hair on the back and sides of your head is easy to see.
By this point, it’s very difficult to treat your hair loss effectively using medication.
While hair loss medications like finasteride and minoxidil might be the best treatment to prevent further hair loss, you’ve already lost so much that it’s unlikely they’ll have a significant aesthetic impact on your hair.
While you may be able to restore some coverage with a hair transplant, it’s unlikely that surgery can fully restore your hair. You may need to undergo several procedures to achieve a satisfying result.
Norwood Type 7 hair loss is the most severe form of hair loss. By this stage, almost none of the hair on your scalp will be left, aside from a few stray hairs or small areas with relatively mild hair growth.
By this point, the classic horseshoe pattern of hair around the back and sides of your head is all that’s left. This hair may be relatively fine and lacking in density.
Unfortunately, by the time you make it to this stage, your options are very limited.
Because your hair loss is already severe, medications like finasteride and minoxidil aren’t very likely to have a significant impact on your hair’s thickness or appearance.
While a hair transplant may help to give you some coverage, it’s unlikely that you’ll have enough donor hairs for an appealing result.
However, there’s still one option: shave your head and own the fact that you’re bald.
Not only does Mr Clean look unapologetically masculine -- it’s also a simple way to save money that you’d otherwise spend on haircuts.
Your first move should be making an appointment with a certified dermatologist or healthcare professional that specializes in hair loss.
But, if you'd rather monitor the situation yourself before calling in the heavy artillery, here're a few useful tips:
To start tracking your hair loss, take a series of reference photos of your hair. You can use these as a visual baseline to see if there are any changes in your hairline over the next few months or years.
Take one photo of your hairline. You can do this easily with the selfie camera on your phone, or by taking a photo in the bathroom mirror. Make sure your face and hairline are well lit, as it can be hard to difficult your hairline clearly in a poorly lit or underexposed photo.
To get a good view of your hairline, tilt your head forward slightly so that your hairline and the top of your head are both clearly visible. This photo should show any change in your hairline from the front.
Next, take a photo of your face profile (the side view of your face). You can do this by putting your smartphone on a shelf and using the self timer to take a photo of yourself. This will show any change in your hairline around the temples.
Next, take a photo of the top of your head. You can do this by holding your smartphone above you using a selfie stick, then using the front camera, or by asking another person to take your photo. This will show any hair loss on your scalp and crown.
Finally, take a photo of the back of your head. You can do this using a selfie stick, or by asking someone else to take your photo. This will provide a clear view of any hair loss at the crown, or vertex, of your scalp.
Using your photos, compare your hair to one of the Norwood types. Every two to three months, take a new set of photos and check for any changes. To make sure you keep regular photos of your hair, you can set a reminder for every other month using your phone calendar.
If your hair has advanced from one stage to the next, it’s a good signal that you’re losing your hair and should think about taking action.
The earlier you take action to treat and prevent hair loss, the more of your hair you’ll usually be able to keep using treatments like finasteride and minoxidil.
If you notice your hair advancing from one Norwood type to the next, or if you notice any of the other common early signs of balding, take action as soon as possible. If you treat your hair loss while you’re still Type 2 or 3, you may be able to keep most or all of your hair.
As hair loss progresses to the later stages, it becomes more difficult to treat effectively, even via surgical procedures such as hair transplantation.
If you want to protect your hair from the effects of balding, it’s important to begin treatment action as soon as you notice the early signs of balding.
Currently, the most effective way to prevent hair loss from worsening and protect your hair is with FDA-approved hair loss medication such as finasteride and minoxidil.
When it comes to hair loss, the earlier you start to take action, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to prevent hair loss and potentially regrow hair. To learn other hair shedding scales you can read our blog.