Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration - Family History
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Q: Why do some people have a full head of hair into their seventies or eighties and others start to go bald in their late teens or early twenties? — E.Z., Darien, CT

A: The difference is genetic with the inheritance coming from either side of the family.

Although a person will have the genes his/her whole life, a gene’s expression (also called phenotype) can be quite variable. The factors that cause this variability are still unknown.

Read more about the Genetics of Hair Loss

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Most medical conditions can best be addressed with early diagnosis. Genetic hair loss is no different. A test now has the ability to identify whether or not you may be genetically predisposed to hereditary male pattern baldness (Androgenetic Alopecia).

The HairDX genetic test offers information that can aid you and your doctor in making an informed decision about the treatment of your hair loss.

This test is not a substitute for an examination by a physician experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of hair loss. It offers one more bit of information that, in the context of other data (such as hair loss pattern, scalp miniaturization and family history) can help guide you and your doctor to formulate an appropriate treatment plan.

How does this test work?

This new genetic test examines genetic variables (SNP) which are responsible for recognizing Androgen hormones in our bodies. These specific genetic variants of the X chromosome (the Androgen Receptor or AR gene) are found in 95-98% of bald men.

These genetic differences are associated with Male Pattern Baldness (MPB) and by identifying them; the onset of MPB might be better predicted. If a person is predisposed genetically to these chromosomal variations, they may be more likely to develop male pattern baldness prior to age forty.

The test consists of a simple swab of the inside of your mouth. The skin cells are then sent to the HairDX clinical laboratory for a confidential analysis.

How accurate is the test in predicting baldness?

HairDX tests for a genetic variant of a gene (the androgen receptor gene) found on the X-chromosome that is present in more than 95% of bald men. Sixty percent of patients with this variant experience male pattern baldness before the age of 40. Therefore, if a person has this gene, they would have an increased risk of significant pattern baldness.

Another, less common genetic variant of the same gene (present in about 1 in 6 men) indicates a greater then 85% likelihood that a person will not experience early onset pattern baldness. If a person is found to have this gene, they are unlikely to become very bald.

Why is the genetic test not 100%?

The androgen receptor gene identified thus far is only one of a number of genes that affect hair loss.

How does the test compare to information obtained from a history and physical exam by your physician?

An assessment of scalp miniaturization by an experienced physician using a densitometer, combined with a history and physical, appears to be a far more reliable way of predicting future hair loss. The genetic test can complement this information, but does not replace it.

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Q: I have hair loss due to a treatment of Accutane. I have been off this medication for about a year and a half now, yet my hair has not recovered. The texture of my hair has completely changed. Given the fact that there is no family history linking me to male pattern baldness, I attribute my hair loss exclusively to Accutane. What should I do? — H.F., Eastchester, NY

A: If the texture alone has changed there is nothing you can do except to wait. The texture should improve over time even though it has already been 18 months.

If there are signs of genetic hair loss (i.e. male pattern alopecia), then finasteride should be considered.

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Q: I believe I am an “early” IIIA or IVA. I am not losing any hair on the back of the scalp. There is no substantial hereditary hair loss on either side of the family, but I began taking Propecia four months ago and recently noticed a dramatic thinning of hair on the top (front) of the scalp, extending back to the rear of the head. — B.M., Lower East Side, N.Y.

A: Often people experience some shedding the first six months on finasteride as the new hair essentially pushes out some of the old. I would wait a full year before making any judgments about a hair transplant since you may see significant regrowth from finasteride in the second six months and may not need surgery at this point, particularly if the hair loss is early.

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Q: Can stress accelerate hair loss? I am 25 and there is balding on my dad’s side of the family. I never had any thinning or hair loss till this year. I guess you can say I’ve been under a lot of stress. When I did notice shortly after my 25th birthday I started stressing even more, which led to more hair loss. It is thinner up front and it is thin on top. I have heard of some hair docs mapping your head for miniaturization, do you do this too? — E.W., Miami, FL

A: Yes. The presence of miniaturization (decreased hair diameter) in the areas of thinning allows us to distinguish between hair loss due to heredity (i.e. androgenetic alopecia) — in which hair progressively decreases in diameter under the influence of DHT — and other causes. The degree of miniaturization can be assessed using a hand-held instrument called a densitometer.

The pattern of hair loss and the family history are also important in the diagnosis.

Stress more commonly produces telogen effluvium, a generalized shedding that is not associated with miniaturization and is often reversible without treatment.

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Q: I know that I am going to be bald because my father is bald and I am losing my hair just like him. What actually causes this kind of hair loss? — J.P., Paradise Valley, Arizona

A: Although there are many different causes, the overwhelming number of people that have hair loss have what is referred to as “patterned hair loss” or “androgenetic alopecia.”

In men, it is due to a hormone called DHT, which is a by-product of testosterone produced by the action of the enzyme 5-alpha reductase. This enzyme is inhibited by the hair loss medication Propecia. See the causes of hair loss in men page on the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration website for more information.

In women, the mechanism is a little bit more complex as another enzyme, aromatase, is involved in the metabolic pathway. See the causes of hair loss in women page on the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration website for more information.

We know that the inheritance comes from both the mother’s and father’s side, although the actual genes causing hair loss in men and women have not yet been identified. Statistically, the inheritance from the maternal side appears to be a bit stronger, but the reason for this is unknown.

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Q: Why do some people have a full head of hair into their seventies or eighties and others start to go bald in their late teens or early twenties?

A: The cause is genetic and this poly-genetic trait can be inherited from the mother’s side, the father’s side, or both.

There is an old wives’ tale that it is inherited only from the mother’s parents. Although the inheritance can come from either side, it is actually greater from the mother’s side – but only slightly.

Read about Hair Loss Genetics

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Q: I am 27 years old and have a Class 3 degree of hair loss. Should I do a hair transplant or consider non-surgical methods of hair restoration? — Y.B., Lake Forest Illinois

A: At age 27 with early hair loss, you should consider non-surgical options first.

Propecia is the most important medication, but you need to be on it for one year at the full dose of 1mg a day to assess its benefits.

If you have done this and other parameters are OK for a hair transplant, such as adequate donor hair density and scalp laxity and you have little evidence that you will become extensively bald (i.e. no donor miniaturization and no family history of extensive baldness), then hair transplantation can be considered.

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Hair loss has a variety of causes. Diagnosis and treatment is best determined by a board-certified dermatologist. We offer both in-person and online photo consults.

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