Is hair loss hereditary? The baldness gene, explained

Hair loss absolutely can be genetic — but the way it all works is a bit more complex.

Written by
Gemma Kaczerepa
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
March 4, 2024
min read
Is hair loss hereditary? The baldness gene, explained
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Your dad’s gone bald, your mum’s dad lost his hair way back when, and now you’re starting to lose yours, too.

As a result, you might be wondering if you’re likely to experience baldness further down the track thanks to your family history.

In short, hair loss absolutely can be genetic. But the way it all works is quite a bit more complex.

What is the baldness gene?

The ‘baldness gene’ simply refers to being genetically predisposed to losing your hair.

The technical term for this kind of hair loss is androgenetic alopecia, but it’s also known as ‘male pattern baldness’ or ‘female pattern hair loss’. Occasionally you might hear it referred to as 'male pattern hair loss' or 'female pattern baldness'.

Androgenetic alopecia is common.

In fact, it’s the most prevalent type of hair loss; it’s estimated to affect about half of Aussie blokes over 50 and 50 million men in the US [1][2][3].

With male pattern baldness, hair loss occurs in a noticeable pattern.

The condition typically starts above the temples before receding into an ‘M’ shape, while the hair also thins on the top of the head — sometimes leading to total baldness. It can begin as early as your teenage years, but it becomes more likely with age. 

It happens because of something known as the human androgen receptor gene.

This pivotal gene determines how sensitive your hair follicles are to androgens, including dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — a testosterone-derived hormone that helps develop and maintain the growth of facial and body hair.

If someone has the baldness gene, their hair follicles are particularly sensitive to DHT.

This means the hair follicles shrink when DHT binds to the receptors within them, thus condensing the hair growth cycle. After a while, the hair becomes thinner and shorter, and eventually, the hair follicles may give up producing hair entirely.

In short, androgenetic alopecia is referred to as the baldness gene because while there are lots of factors that contribute to its development (such as age, hormones and environment), studies show that up to 80% of male pattern baldness could be due to genetic factors [4][5].

What else causes hair loss?

Even though androgenetic alopecia is the primary cause of baldness, there are many other reasons why someone might lose their hair.

Here are some of the most common:

Medical conditions

Hair loss can come about as a result of several medical conditions, including lupus, thyroid disorders, syphilis or a nutritional deficiency [6].

It can also be triggered by an autoimmune disorder known as alopecia areata, where the immune system starts attacking the hair follicles, causing hair to fall out in patches.

Another condition called trichotillomania — where you’re compelled to pull out your hair — can cause hair loss

Hormonal shifts

Hormones change as you age, which can, in turn, affect the health of your hair.

Fluctuations in testosterone levels are a big factor in hair loss, occurring naturally during puberty but also through influences like obesity, testicular or pituitary gland damage, genetic disorders and some medical conditions [7].


Numerous lifestyle factors can cause hair loss, like chronic stress, poor nutrition and even hairstyles that pull at the hair and cause damage [8][9].

Research shows that smoking is also linked to hair loss [10].

Medications and other treatments

Medications that address conditions like heart issues, hypertension (high blood pressure), depression, arthritis, gout and cancer can have hair loss as a side effect.

The same goes for radiation therapy used to treat cancer, although this is often temporary [11].

It’s worth mentioning that even if you're experiencing genetic hair loss, all of the above can have an impact, too.

In other words, having the baldness gene may make you more likely to lose your hair, but the way it happens can change. You might lose your hair earlier or more severely if you’re suffering from chronic stress or taking a particular medication, for example.

Does baldness come from your mother's side of the family?

You may have come across the belief that baldness is inherited from your mum’s side of the family.

Perhaps your granddad has lost his hair or even an uncle. This belief is borne from the fact that the gene associated with androgenetic alopecia is found on the X chromosome, which you inherit from your mum. (You get the Y chromosome from your dad.)

But, while your maternal genetics certainly have an impact on your likelihood of going bald, research shows that both sides of the family influence baldness [12].

As an example, a 2017 literature review found that 63 different genes can contribute to male pattern baldness. Of those, only a minority (6, to be exact) are found on the X chromosome [13].

Other research has found 11 hair loss genes that are located on various autosomal chromosomes — specifically, numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 12, 17, 18, and 20 — which you get from your mum and dad.

This means that baldness genes can absolutely be inherited from either parent’s side of the family [14].

Will you be bald if your dad is?

We know now that baldness can come from either side of your family, but if you’re a bloke, is your dad’s lack of hair a sign of things to come?

Not necessarily. Hair loss isn’t inevitable, even if you do have a predisposition for baldness from either side of the family. 

If your dad’s bald, you could experience hair loss too.

The same goes if he has a full head of hair and there are other family members — say, on your mum’s side — who’ve lost their hair. Just because your dad isn’t bald, it’s not to say that you’ll maintain a full head of hair too.

Genetics are nothing if not complicated and aren’t yet fully understood, and many other factors can determine your likelihood of losing your hair, like your unique genetic makeup, plus environmental ones such as lifestyle and health.

Can you prevent hereditary hair loss?

Unfortunately, it’s a no on that one.

The very nature of hereditary hair loss is that it’s effectively hard-coded into your genes — thus making it impossible to avoid [15].

However, there are things you can do to help maintain your hair health and reduce the risk of making hair loss worse.

There aren’t any guarantees with preventative measures — and it helps to have realistic expectations — but at the very least, you’ll be doing some good for your overall health.

These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet. Eating foods that are high in sugar and fat can contribute to hair loss [16][17.] Instead, opt for foods rich in iron, zinc, niacin (vitamin B3) and omega-3 fatty acids, as a deficiency of these is linked to hair loss [9].
  • Keeping your stress levels in check. Stress is a major factor in hair loss, so keeping your stress levels down may help you slow the onset of male pattern baldness. Prioritise self-care, practise meditation, get enough sleep and exercise regularly to try and regulate your mood.
  • Avoiding smoking. As we know, it’s connected to hair loss, which is why quitting the smokes can help your hair health.
  • Treat your hair with care. Harsh hairstyles like tight ponytails, as well as heat styling and chemical treatments, can contribute to hair loss. As such, be gentle with your hair and opt for less severe styles and treatments instead.

Looking to keep your hair in tip-top shape? Pilot’s Hair Growth Kit can help. 

The kit is packed with everything you need to maintain your hair and scalp health, including Growth Shampoo & Anti-Dandruff Conditioner, Biotin Hair Gummies and a nifty Derma Roller to activate the hair follicles and stimulate hair growth.

How to treat hereditary hair loss

Even though you can’t necessarily prevent male pattern baldness, there are a few ways to treat it once you’ve already started losing your hair.

Once again, there are no guarantees. But you may find that treatment helps to prevent further hair loss or even allow you to regrow or replace some of your lost hair.

  • Try a hair loss treatment. There are numerous baldness solutions on the market, including Pilot's Hair Loss Treatment. With a combination of proven hair growth ingredients, ongoing support from a practitioner and free, discreet delivery, the treatment is an all-in-one solution that may just help you regrow your hair. In fact, 90% of men have managed to keep their hair and 66% have even regrown it.
  • Hair transplant surgery. A hair transplant is a surgical option that involves taking healthy hairs from the sides and back of your head and moving them to parts of your scalp where hair is thinning or completely gone. It can be effective, but it is expensive.
  • Low-level light/laser therapy. Low-level light therapy, AKA low-level laser therapy, is a milder option. It involves using gentle lasers that stimulate the hair follicles to reduce hair thinning and inflammation. It can be pricey, though, and requires multiple sessions to be effective.
  • Embrace it. You could also style out your hair in a way that compliments, rather than works against, your new look. Some men shave their head completely or go for a buzz cut to make hair loss less obvious, while others balance their thinner hair with a full beard.

Image credit: Getty Images

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