Skip to main content

The Young Parent Hypothesis | Is Balding Unattractive?

By May 10, 2022June 20th, 2022Uncategorized

Evolutionary psychologists have a tendency to have adaptive explanations for why certain traits exist, whether they be good or bad. Baldness is no exception, despite the fact that study after study has shown that baldness is associated negatively with perceived attractiveness, both for observers and individuals suffering from it. This is unequivocal. The International Journal of Dermatology by Lee et al. (2002) looked at how bald people are perceived.

Balding men were found to appear less healthy, confident, and attractive. They also came off as older, according to 90% of those surveyed. Even those who shave their heads without natural baldness are perceived as less attractive, with a study by Mannes in 2012 showing that shaving your hair adds almost four years to a man’s perceived age, and the men were viewed as considerably less attractive with shaved heads, despite the minor benefits in appearing more dominant and masculine.

Many have posited that, despite this, baldness exists in order to exhibit maturity, gravitas, and even sexual virility, due to the fact that baldness can be prevented or even reversed by castration, which stops testosterone production. However, no studies have found differences in hormone levels or other measures of masculinity between PB patients and controls. Rather, researchers have found that the sebaceous glands of bald men, the glands underneath the hair follicle which lubricate the hair, have twice the number of testosterone receptors than those of controls. It is therefore rather sensitivity to testosterone, or more specifically dihydrotestosterone, that causes baldness, and not higher testosterone levels. Although it can often sound comforting to believe, so such trade-off (between masculinity and hair loss) exists.

A more prescient factor in baldness appears to be the presence of inflammation in the scalp. Kligman (1988) was the first to notice the relatively high amount of inflammation in balding patients. Inflammations in the scalp tend to be localized mostly around sebaceous glands, which contain androgen receptors.  Kligman’s hypothesis was that chronic inflammation among bald patients prevents follicles from being fully reconstructed during each new cycle of hair growth. Later studies confirmed this.  Young et al. (1991) found antibodies present on the basement membrane of 96% of individuals with PB and on 12% of controls, showing that microbial infection is far more common on the scalp of balding men. Pattern baldness, therefore, seems to be a natural process of inflammation rather than ageing.

While baldness is clearly not adaptive per se, it does not mean that there is no evolutionary explanation. The Young Parent Hypothesis explains baldness as an unfortunate consequence of the fact that, since baldness tends to start after the age of 30, it simply occurs due to natural processes that were not selected against by natural selection. This is because, in our evolutionary past, men who had already produced offspring had already ensured the passing of their genetic lineage. Nature, unfortunately, has no interest in the welfare and wellbeing of the individual, only the selfish passing on of genes. While selection against premature balding would have surely been selected for, this is only up to a certain point. This poses a problem for the 85% of men who are balding by the age of 50, as the loss of confidence that comes it can significantly harm their quality of life, both sexually and professionally. Instead of ignoring the problem and creating adaptive reasons for its existence, we can treat it preventatively. Given the variety of causes of pattern baldness, the success of each treatment will vary according to the individual.

For example, derma rollers and minoxidil act as anti-inflammatories. Derma rollers have thousands of tiny needles which puncture the skin. The body recognizes this damage and begins the healing process, improving circulation leading to nutrient & hormone-rich blood with plenty of white blood cells rushing to the area and removing microbes which are causing prolonged inflammation. Minoxidil is similar; it tends to dilate blood vessels, which in turn stimulates the movement of more white blood cells to a microbe-dense area near the surface of the scalp. If microbial infection does not work, another option is finasteride, which reduces the conversion of testosterone to DHT. Given that an excess of DHT in the scalp seems to enlarge the sebaceous glands, which tend to harbour inflammation-causing microbes, it makes sense that it is effective in the majority (around 59%) of patients.

Pattern baldness affects most of us; in lieu of potentially expensive or invasive corrective procedures such as hair transplants, preventative treatments in the form of minoxidil, finasteride and derma rollers have long been shown to correct for us what evolution couldn’t.