One of many long-held myths about testosterone in men is that more hair is a sign of more testosterone. But like many myths, there’s some truth to it, but it’s also more complicated than it looks. Hormones and body hair are linked, but so is male-pattern baldness, so what’s the real story here when it comes to testosterone?
Levels of sex hormones like testosterone are linked to body hair and baldness, but it’s also partly related to genetics. Some people will have genes that make them more sensitive to testosterone’s effects, making them grow more body hair. However, Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) commonly causes male-pattern baldness.
Nothing is ever straight-forward when it comes to the human body, and there are many myths, half-truths, and a lot of confusion about testosterone and what effect it has. Whether it’s horror stories about roid-bros in the gym to fear of low testosterone and how it can affect your life, plenty of people are understandably confused by conflicting takes on testosterone. We will look at how testosterone levels will affect the body, particularly hair growth.
Does More Testosterone Mean More Hair?
Every person, whether male or female, will have the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone in their body, and it’s the levels of these that affect different aspects of the body, including strength, libido, and hairiness.
Testosterone is known as an androgen, and in men, it is produced primarily in the testicles. After the high growth of testosterone in your teenage years, your testosterone levels will naturally decline as you age. But testosterone also fluctuates throughout the day – these hormone levels are usually at their highest in the morning.
Having excessively high levels of what is known as free testosterone in your blood (that is, testosterone not bound to a protein) usually has some clear and often visible side effects.
We’ll go into detail about the various signs, but high testosterone can increase body hair, often making it thicker and coarser. The areas on the body most affected appear to be the chest, back, and facial hair (but not the hair on the scalp.)
Does Less Hair Mean More Testosterone?
Another familiar myth about hair and testosterone is that male-pattern baldness automatically means you have higher testosterone levels. While it can be a sign that points towards high testosterone levels, that’s not the whole story.
Male pattern baldness is a well-known pattern of hair loss where the front of the hairlines recedes, and the distinctive ‘M’ shape forms. As the baldness progresses, eventually, the top or crown of the head can become completely bald.
However, this baldness is caused by the hair follicles shrinking and disrupting the hair growth cycle. As the hair becomes finer and finer, eventually, the hair follicles go dormant. A combination of hormones and genetics causes this particular issue.
DHT, or dihydrotestosterone, is made from the free testosterone in the body by an enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase. DHT is the hormone most often linked to hair loss in men, but DHT alone is not the problem – the sensitivity of your hair follicles to the actions of DHT will be the most significant cause of hair loss, which is a genetic factor.
If the AR gene results in you having sensitive receptors on your hair follicles, then even a tiny amount of DHT can trigger hair loss. So yes, in this case, the higher your testosterone levels are, the more likely it will be that you’ll have excess DHT, causing baldness.
How To Tell If Your Testosterone Levels Are High
While the symptoms I’ve listed above are often signs of high testosterone, men are more likely to suffer from lower amounts of testosterone, especially as they age.
Signs of high testosterone are:
- Increased acne due to higher production of sebum
- Blood pressure changes – can either become too low OR too high
- Excessive hair on the body. Often this thicker, coarser hair will be on the back, chest, and face
- Conversely, high testosterone can also cause baldness, though this may be a genetic trend
- Lower sperm count, as higher levels of testosterone decrease the hormones needed to produce sperm
- Gynecomastia, or the growth of breast tissue in men. This can also be caused by too low a testosterone level, which allows gynecomastia to form due to higher levels of estrogen
- Sleep apnea, which disrupts sleep due to breathing issues
- Mood swings caused by either an excess or too low an amount of testosterone.
Excessively high testosterone in men is usually caused by supplementation such as testosterone or anabolic steroids.
However, it may be caused by tumors growing near testosterone-producing glands like the testes and the adrenal glands. Suppose you have a sudden increase in body hair, acne, or other such symptoms and know you have not been taking any supplements. In that case, it is advisable to see your doctor, who may recommend surgery or other approaches to cancer.
Of course, higher testosterone is not bad – there are many benefits to testosterone – but excess testosterone can cause issues that have consequences for your health.
How Can You Tell If You Have Low Testosterone?
Once you are over 30, low testosterone becomes much more common, as the testes and adrenals produce lower amounts of hormones. The effects of decreasing testosterone can lead to a lower quality of life, and many men will find that Testosterone Replacement Therapy(TRT) managed by a doctor can improve their life dramatically.
Signs of low testosterone in men include:
- Depression and other emotional swings
- A loss of energy that leads to decreased performance in the gym or physical training
- Finding it harder to build and maintain muscle, and an increase in fat deposits
- Reduced libido and sexual performance
- Hair loss such as thinning body hair, or bald spots
Blood Tests to Determine Testosterone Levels
As you can see, more testosterone can cause more body hair, especially on the back and chest, but it is not the only sign of testosterone, and body and facial hair patterns are also linked to genetics.
To know if you have the right testosterone level, you should have a blood test done, which will determine if you low or high levels of total testosterone. Many tests for men are readily available online through various laboratories or pharmacies, or in person through your doctor.
If any of the signs I’ve pointed to above affect you, it may be worth looking into a testosterone blood test. From your results, your doctor will be able to determine the best course of action.
Can Testosterone Injections Cause Hair Loss?
Increased testosterone, such as from HRT or anabolic steroids, can result in hair loss because the increased testosterone can be converted to high DHT. As mentioned earlier, DHT’s actions on the hair follicles cause baldness.
To avoid increased hair loss from taking testosterone, you need to prevent testosterone from converting to DHT, particularly in areas where hair follicles could be affected.
Medical methods can help prevent the gradual death of hair follicles due to excess DHT.
How To Prevent Hair Loss While Taking Testosterone
Topical medications are your best defense against DHT-related hair loss. If you have increased testosterone levels that are causing male pattern baldness, two medications known to work are finasteride and minoxidil.
Daily application of minoxidil solution can reduce DHT’s effect on hair follicles, slowing hair loss, and in some cases, even reversing it. Minoxidil is usually available in 2% and 5% versions.
Finasteride is an oral drug that is available on prescription. Finasteride blocks the enzyme which converts testosterone to DHT, thus slowing hair loss. Like minoxidil, it can result in new hair growth. Taken in combination, the two are highly effective, although their effect will eventually disappear when you stop taking the medication.
Some people have had success in preventing hair loss by using shampoos designed to treat dandruff containing ketoconazole, which also inhibits the 5-alpha reductase enzyme, which converts the testosterone.
Natural Ways to Increase Testosterone
Healthy testosterone levels will mean you have lower fat levels and can build and retain muscle, your bones will be stronger, and your libido higher. Testosterone also plays a role in your verbal memory, the speed at which you process mathematical reasoning, and your spatial memory.
While doctor-regulated HRT and use of steroids drastically increase testosterone, the over-the-counter supplements which claim to be ‘testosterone boosters’ are largely unproven to have any effect. However, some research suggests that the herb ashwagandha may be beneficial by lowering cortisol levels.
The best natural methods for increasing testosterone are increasing muscle and decreasing fat with weightlifting and HIIT exercises, increasing protein intake, taking vitamin D (a very important prohormone), reducing stress and cortisol levels, and getting enough sleep.
Recreational use of drugs and alcohol are known to inadvertently affect testosterone levels, as does high exposure to chemicals containing estrogen or estrogen-like substances.
Treatments For Unwanted Hair Caused by Testosterone
Suppose your natural testosterone levels and genetic make-up mean you suffer from unwanted and excessive body hair or hirsutism. In that case, there are several different methods you can use to remove the hair you are uncomfortable with. Some people like their body hair and prefer to retain it, while others don’t – all treatments are only if you want them and are not required.
Shaving Unwanted Hair Caused by Testosterone
The simplest, cheapest method of hair removal is via shaving. While shaving easy-to-reach areas presents little problem, if you are trying to remove back hair, you may find it helpful to purchase a product like the Mangroomer, an electric back shaver designed for extreme reach, and with interchangeable heads.
Check it out on Amazon below.
Shaving will have to be done regularly, as the hair will grow back quickly (and even more so with higher testosterone levels.)
Waxing Unwanted Hair Caused by Testosterone
Waxing can be done either in the home or in a salon. If there is a large amount of hair to be removed, my recommendation is to go to a salon unless you have a partner who is willing and able to help you apply and remove the wax. Salon waxing will be more expensive but possibly achieve better results.
Hair takes longer to grow back from waxing, so this may be preferred, though there is a possibility of some ingrown hairs.
Depilatory Creams to Remove Hair Caused by Testosterone
Hair removal creams are readily available to buy and easy to use. While you should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, the general technique is to apply to the area of skin you want to remove the hair from, wait the recommended amount of time, then wipe away.
As with shaving, the hair grows back within a few days, but there is no risk of cutting yourself with a razor blade. Depilatory creams can smell a bit odd, and some people react badly to the chemicals used, so always do a patch test first.
Laser Hair Removal of unwanted Hair Caused by Testosterone
This is the most expensive but also most effective option for hair removal. Treatments for laser hair removal are pricy, and usually, several treatments (around seven to ten) need to be done before the hair is entirely removed. However, the hair can remain away for months or years once removed.
Laser hair removal is so effective because the laser targets the hair at the root, destroying it so that it is unlikely to grow back. The specialist will first assess your skin type to determine if you’ll be a good candidate for laser hair removal.
Price varies from practice to practice, but in 2020, the cost of lasering a large area like the back was approximately $600 per treatment.
While excess body hair on the chest and back and male pattern baldness are often signs of high testosterone levels, they may also be genetic. Several other signs can suggest whether you suffer from low or high testosterone. Still, the most accurate way of reading testosterone levels is through a blood test that tracks free and total testosterone levels. If you find excess body hair a problem, you have several removal methods available, and testosterone-related hair loss can be treated with prescription drugs.