Are You Balding or Do You Actually Have a Cowlick?


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It happens to a lot of us — you’re styling your hair and there’s one section that just won’t go the way you want it to. This could be a cowlick. Or, in some cases, it could be a sign that you’re starting to go bald.

You should know that dealing with the occasional unruly area of hair isn’t necessarily a sign of impending doom. 

While a cowlick on its own isn’t indicative of male pattern baldness or hair loss in general, it can often be mistaken for a bald spot. 

Below, we’ve talked about what a cowlick is, as well as how a cowlick can differ from a receding hairline, bald patch or other signs of long-term hair loss.

We’ve also discussed what you can do if you’re starting to develop a receding hairline, a balding crown or other signs of hair loss, from styling techniques to hair loss treatments.

What Is a Cowlick? 

A cowlick is a natural hair growth pattern that’s different from the pattern of the rest of your hair on your scalp. Often, a cowlick appears as one section of hair on the top of the head that sticks straight up or grows in the opposite direction from the rest in a “hair whorl.”

If you have longer hair you may not notice your cowlick, but they can be located almost anywhere on your head — near the crown (or vertex) of your scalp, near the sides or even in the middle of your hairline

Most people have one cowlick, or hair whorl, that’s located around the midline of their scalp and close to the crown. A small number of people — about five percent of the population — have two hair whorls, or a “double crown.”

(Related: FDA Approved Hair Growth Products)

What Causes a Cowlick?

Many researchers agree that cowlicks develop primarily due to your genetic makeup and family history. 

Cowlicks develop before birth and can affect both men and women. While a fetus is developing, cowlicks develop when hair follicles grow in a slant that’s opposite to the direction of the rest of the hair.

However, it’s possible that factors other than your genes also play some role in the development of cowlicks, even if their influence is relatively small.

For example, research has found that identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genetic material, almost always have matching hair whorls. However, a small percentage of identical twins show opposite whorls, suggesting that this trait isn’t entirely genetic.

What Is Crown Balding?

“Crown balding” is a term that’s used to describe hair loss around your vertex scalp — the area near the top of your head. Losing some or all of the hair around this part of your scalp is one of the most common signs of pattern hair loss in men. 

Balding near your crown is most commonly caused by male pattern baldness, a type of hair loss that’s due to a combination of genetic factors and the effects of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.

Over time, DHT can attach to hormone receptors located throughout your scalp and cause your hair follicles to miniaturize. As the follicles become smaller, they eventually stop producing hairs that are capable of penetrating the outermost layer of your skin.

This process typically begins at your hairline and crown, resulting in the classic receding hairline and bald patch that many men with male pattern baldness eventually notice in the mirror.

Other types of hair loss that can affect hair growth around your crown include:

  • Alopecia areata, a form of immune system-related hair loss that involves damage to your hair follicles.

  • Telogen effluvium, a form of hair shedding that’s triggered by stressillnesses that cause fever, nutritional deficiencies and other issues, and is usually temporary.

  • Traction alopecia, a form of hair loss that’s caused by hairstyles and products that pull on your hair follicles.

  • Tinea capitis, a form of hair loss that can develop as a result of a fungal infection in your scalp.

  • Cicatricial alopecia (scarring alopecia), a form of hair loss that happens when scar tissue develops over your hair follicles.

Hair loss can also occur as a result of certain medicationssuch as chemotherapy drugs, thyroid medications and anticoagulants.

For more, read our guide on the things that can cause your hair to fall out.

Cowlick vs. Balding: Key Differences

A cowlick differs from a bald spot in a couple key ways. 

First, a cowlick is a natural, normal feature of your scalp that occurs as a result of your genes. Most people are born with a specific hair whorl, meaning this feature rarely changes over time. 

Because a cowlick can disrupt your hair’s flow and make it harder to style, it can often result in the appearance of hair loss — but it’s not. We promise. 

In certain ways, dealing with a persistent cowlick can be like going through a never-ending bad hair day, as no style seems to “stick” or look quite like it should. 

In contrast, most forms of hair loss, such as androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness), tend to develop as you grow older. A range of factors can play a role in balding, from your genetics to your production of certain hormones, such as dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

Second, because cowlicks are genetic and formed prior to birth, they’re generally not something that you can treat. While you can conceal a cowlick by styling your hair carefully, there isn’t a pill that you can take to relocate a hair whorl or make it less visible. 

In contrast, there are several treatments available for both male pattern baldness and temporary hair shedding, from over-the-counter treatments to prescription medications. 

Normal Hair Part vs. Thinning

Similarly to having a cowlick, having a visible hair part is a normal aesthetic feature and isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re losing hair.

However, if you have a cowlick and have noticed that it’s starting to change, or that your hair is starting to thin and make your cowlick less visible or your hair part wider, it may be a sign that you’re starting to develop hair loss.

Other common signs of male pattern baldness include:

  • A receding hairline that’s unrelated to your cowlick

  • Slow or no hair growth in certain areas of your scalp

  • A hair part that’s gradually getting larger and wider

  • Diffuse hair thinning that occurs across your whole scalp

  • Thinning and lower hair density at the crown of your head

Our guide on how to tell if you’re going bald goes into more detail about these signs, as well as how you can catch male pattern baldness early.

How to Fix a Hair Cowlick

Even if you’re sure you aren’t balding, a cowlick can be frustrating to deal with. Although you can’t make a cowlick go away forever, there are several ways to make styling the hair around a cowlick easier, including:

  • Switching to a short haircut

  • Growing your hair out

  • Using styling products

  • Blow drying

Let’s look at each of these in more detail, so you can get rid of your cowlick — at least aesthetically — and make your hair look more even and consistent. 

Switch to a Short Haircut

Because a cowlick is a section of hair that sticks out from the crowd, one of the easiest ways to make this feature less visible is to stick with a short haircut.

The shorter your hair is, the less visible your cowlick will typically be. If you’re tired of having to style your hair to conceal a cowlick, consider a buzz cut or other short hairstyle to stop it from affecting your hair’s overall appearance. 

Grow Your Hair Out 

Another easy, albeit slower, way to cover up your cowlick is to grow out your hair. Longer hair is heavier, which means that your cowlick will eventually be pulled down so that it sits in line with the rest of your hair. 

For even better results, try applying conditioner to your hair regularly. This ensures that your hair stays moisturized, which can increase its weight and help it sit naturally against your scalp. 

Use Hair Styling Products 

If your hair isn’t long enough to sit down naturally on its own or short enough to conceal your cowlick completely, consider using styling products to bring it under control.

From a little bit of gel to some wax or pomade, many styling products can help tame even the most stubborn cowlick. 

When you’re choosing styling products, be aware that some hair styling products, such as those that give a wet look, can make thinning hair more obvious. Try experimenting with different gels, pomades and other products to find one that matches your hair texture and styling needs.

Blow Dry Your Hair

Even though you can’t force your hair to grow in a different direction, you can work with your hair to help it sit the way you’d like it to.

In addition to using hair styling products (or as an alternative to styling products), you can tame a cowlick by using a blow dryer to bring it under control. 

To control a cowlick using heat, blow dry it in the direction you’d like it to point, then use a comb to style it more effectively. After you’ve used warm air to control the cowlick, switch to cooler air to help hold it in place. 

One thing to keep in mind when using a blow dryer is that excessive heat can damage your hair, which may make thinning worse. To limit damage, use the lower heat setting and hold the blow dryer so that it’s as far from your scalp as possible while still providing adequate airflow.

How to Treat a Balding Crown

The key to preventing baldness is to take a proactive approach. If you wait until you’ve lost most of your hair or developed a severely receding hairline to take action, you’re unlikely to get the type of results you’d like.

On the other hand, taking action as soon as you notice a pattern of hair loss can put you in a position to keep most or all of your hair. 

Start Using Hair Regrowth Products

Currently, the most effective way to treat hair loss is by using medication.

One medication, finasteride, works by stopping the conversion of testosterone to DHT, the hormone that causes male pattern baldness. Specifically,  it prevents dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, from damaging your hair follicles, which allows new hair to grow. Finasteride is available both as an FDA-approved oral medication and a topical formulation that is not yet approved by the FDA.

The exact mechanism of action for the other big hair loss medication, minoxidil, isn’t entirely understood yet. But it is believed to work by increasing blood flow to your scalp and moving your hair into the anagen phase of the hair growth cycle.

Minoxidil is available as an FDA-approved topical liquid or foam, as well as an oral medication not approved by the FDA. It’s usually applied two times per day to areas of your scalp with noticeable hair thinning.

We offer minoxidil solutiontopical finasteride spray and oral finasteride online.

(Related: 9 Causes of Hair Thinning)

Consider Hair Transplant Surgery

Hair transplant surgery is a cosmetic procedure that involves moving healthy hair follicles from the back and sides of your scalp to areas with active hair loss.


The hair follicles that are used in this procedure are resistant to DHT, allowing them to be used to restore your hairline or fill in bald patches.

Hair transplant surgery can vary significantly in price based on the number of follicles required to fill in bald patches and the type of technique used. Our guide to hair transplant surgery goes into more detail about this type of procedure, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.

Learn How to Style Your Hair While Balding

Finally, if you have visible hair loss that you’d like to conceal, switching to a different hairstyle can often make it more difficult for other people to notice.

While the classic combover is rarely a good choice for hiding balding, haircuts that keep your sides short can often create the appearance of a thicker head of hair

Our guide to looking good while you’re balding shares tips and techniques that you can use to find the right hairstyle for your hairline and hair thickness. 

The Bottom Line: Is It a Cowlick or Balding?

At first glance, it can often be tough to tell if you have a cowlick or if you’re balding. This can result in confusion and panic when that old cowlick you’ve had for your entire life looks the same as a bald patch in the mirror. But remember:

  • While a cowlick can look similar to a bald patch, the two are very different. 

  • Cowlicks develop naturally as part of the pattern of hair follicles on your scalp, while male pattern baldness is a hormonal and genetic condition that tends to become more severe as you get older.

  • If you have a cowlick that makes styling your hair a challenge, try using the tips above to gain control over your hair. 

  • If you’re starting to notice the early signs of male pattern baldness, you may want to look into our range of evidence-based hair loss treatments.

Hair loss is treatable, and starting early is often the key to success. You can learn more about your options by taking part in a hair loss consultation, or by reading our full guide to preventing hair loss in men.

This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

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Discover the Most Popular Hairstyles the Decade You Were Born

Discover the Most Popular Hairstyles the Decade You Were Born

There are so many things that define each decade, from the food we eat to the clothes we wear. But none of the things we’ve looked back on were quite as polarizing as the hairstyles. From piled-high funky styles to buzzed dos, here are the most popular hairstyles from the decade you were born, spanning from the 40s to the 2000s. 

Wikipedia / Mediafeed

Inspired by the glitz and glamour of Hollywood women at the time, the victory roll hairstyle featured tight curls pinned toward the face to frame it. Victory rolls were customizable, so you could opt for a single roll or different symmetrical or asymmetrical versions of dual rolls. 

Other popular hairstyles of the decade for women included tight curls, waves, and the pageboy. Women were also big on hair accessories, particularly the snood, which was essentially a crocheted bag used to cradle the hair and keep it in place. Both men and women sported the infamous pompadour during the ’40s. Men were also partial to quiffed hair or short curls and were also prone to just slicking their hair back.

Wikipedia / U.S. Army – Yank, the Army Weekly

Everyone knows the beehive hairstyle, whether you associate it with the ’50s or Amy Winehouse. All you had to do to be cool in the 1950s was pile your hair on top of your head in a conical shape to resemble a beehive. Lots of hairspray was needed for this one.

If your hair wasn’t long enough for the beehive, you might have sported other bouffant hairstyles, a poodle cut, an Italian cut, victory rolls, or even a pixie cut. Men were still into the slicked-back look along with side parts, the pompadour, or — if they were influenced by Elvis later in the decade — a Rockabilly do.

Wikipedia / Warner Bros.

Bouffant (derived from the French verb “bouffer,” which means to puff or fluff up) hair became popular during the 1950s, but dominated in the 1960s thanks to the iconic Jackie Kennedy sporting the style. The puffy, rounded hairdo was especially popular among housewives during the ’60s. 

Women also gravitated toward shorter hairstyles (influenced by Twiggy), including pixie cuts and flipped bobs and, for long hair, bangs. Men styled their hair with everything from the bowl cut and the ducktail cut to shag cuts and styles copying The Beatles.

Public Domain / Wikipedia

During the 1970s, the afro became a symbol of cultural and political expression, particularly within the African American community. The style pushed back against Eurocentric beauty standards and celebrated natural Black hair. Influenced by icons like Angela Davis and the Jackson 5, the afro surged in popularity, crossing racial and cultural boundaries to become a mainstream fashion statement. Its voluminous shape was achieved through techniques like picking, and its prominence spread among both men and women.

Separately, and inspired predominantly by Farrah Fawcett, long, feathered hair was also sought after during the ’70s. 

Wikipedia / GeorgeLouis at English Wikipedia

Whether it was crimped, curled, teased, spiked into a giant mohawk, or cut into a towering flattop, the most iconic ’80s dos could all be tied to one main group: big hair. During this decade, freedom of expression was fully embraced and displayed through hair. Styles like Jheri curls were popular thanks to Michael Jackson, and Billy Ray Cyrus spearheaded the popularity of the business in the front, party in the back mullet. The ’80s were eclectic times that reeked of Aqua Net and perms. 

Wikipedia / Allan Light

You didn’t even need to be a fan or viewer of “Friends” to ask your hairdresser to give you “The Rachel” in the ’90s. Everyone knew exactly which version of Jennifer Anniston’s hair you wanted. Layered, framed around the face, and shoulder-length was the style that ruled the decade. Chunky highlights, side bangs, and hair flipped out at the bottom were also wildly popular during the decade. And who could forget chopsticks carefully stuck into buns? All the rage. 

If you were a cool dude during the ’90s, you might have had frosted tips, spiky hair, or cornrows.


All you needed was a few bobby pins and some hairspray to make a pulled-back pouf happen, and every girl in the 2000s was on board. High ponytails and pigtails, choppy layers, and money-piece braids were a go-to as well. 

Skater boy hair/emo boy haircuts that swooped halfway across a guy’s face were also iconic during the 2000s. Who else remembers watching guys shake their heads in slow motion to get the hair out of their eyes like they were playing a role in the “Baywatch” intro? We shudder at the memory. On the opposite end of the spectrum, buzz cuts were prominent, along with faux hawks. 


Featured Image Credit: LightFieldStudios/istockphoto.