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Cowlick or Balding: 7 Ways They Are Different

Having a cowlick and balding are two very different things. Learn 7 distinct ways you can tell them apart.

Read on

A cowlick and balding are two totally different hair issues. Yet, on some people, a cowlick may look slightly like a small patch of balding.

If you have an area on your head that you are unsure is a cowlick or the first sign of balding, there are a few tell-tale things that you can check on to help clear up the confusion.

Below, we will cover 7 of the main ways that cowlicks and balding differ, as well as give some ideas on what to do if you don’t like the appearance of what you are seeing on your scalp.

1. If you have had this area on your head your whole life

If the patch of hair in question has been present on your head your entire life, you are likely dealing with a cowlick. Cowlicks are hair follicles that just happen to face in a different direction than the rest of the hair, and this direction is determined way back when you were just a growing fetus in the womb.

For this reason, if you have a cowlick now, you have always had one. For some people, a shorter haircut, or new style might uncover what was always there -- but cowlicks don’t “develop” over time.

The opposite is true for male pattern or female pattern hair loss. The first signs of balding tend to occur sometimes after puberty for men, generally in the late 20s or 30s, and hair thinning tends to occur in women around menopause.

Basically, if you are actually dealing with hair loss, it is a new development that has not been a feature of your hair your whole life.

2. If the hair is sticking up or growing in a spiral

The biggest feature of cowlicks is that they go against the grain -- literally. Since cowlicks are small portions of hair that grow in a different direction than the rest of the hair in that area, it can lead to unusual hair patterns. 

Sometimes the hair will be difficult to tame and stick straight up, or be whorled in a playful spiral, or even determined to lay completely flat (when the rest of your hair is not like that).

Hair loss may change the way your hairstyles over time, but hair sticking up or forming a spiral tends to be a sign of a cowlick over patterned hair loss.

3. If it doesn’t change in hair density over time

Cowlicks may be harder to control some days, but the hairs in the area tend to stay about the same thickness and density for the long term (unless you are also dealing with hair loss at the same time).

On the other hand, patterned hair loss tends to be a progressive situation. If you are eyeing a portion of your scalp and noticing that the covering hair is getting thinner over time, signs are pointing to hair loss.

4. If the scalp is showing through due to less hair or from the hair growing in a different direction

Just because you are seeing a little bit of scalp showing through in one area, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is hair loss there.

With cowlicks, since they tend to have a spiraled growth direction from a central area, that center may give you a little peek of scalp, even if the hair density there is just as lush as other parts of your head.

On the other hand, scalp showing through in areas that, upon close inspection, definitely do not have the same amount of hair as some other areas, is a sign of hair loss or thinning.

5. If you aren’t noticing more hair fallout in the shower or when brushing your hair

Hair loss tends to come along with a few different hints or signs at once, not just an instant balding patch.

If you are also noticing more hair down the drain when showering, filling up your hairbrush, or even on your pillow -- these might be hints that pattern hair loss is creeping in.

Alternately, if all you are dealing with is a cowlick, this should not also come with signs of more hair shedding than usual.

6. If you aren’t experiencing hair texture or appearance changes

Similar to #5, another sign that your hair is going through changes due to patterned hair loss is a change in the look of the individual strands themselves. Often with pattern hair loss, hair strands will look thinner, wispier, less pigmented, or even take on a different texture than usual.

A cowlick should not have hair with a different texture than the rest of your head, and the cowlick hair wouldn’t be expected to experience changes.

7. If there is no follicle miniaturization occurring in the area

This difference is a big one, but it might be hard to identify without the help of a medical professional that is familiar with hair loss.

Basically, the whole issue underlying patterned hair loss is that the hair follicles start miniaturizing -- literally shrinking. Over time this leads to the production of thinner, shorter, wispier, and less pigmented hairs. If the hairs on your questionable area show signs of miniaturization, you are almost definitely dealing with some degree of hair loss.

For cowlicks, it would not be expected to see miniaturization (unless you are dealing with both hair issues, of course).

If you don’t know where to start to tell if your hairs are looking miniaturized or not, talk with a doctor or dermatologist familiar with hair loss. Often, one quick look at your scalp can give them all the information they need to tell you if you are dealing with miniaturized hairs or not.

What to do if you think you have a cowlick?

If you have read through these differences and figured out that you probably just have a cowlick, you don’t necessarily need to do anything. 

Some people embrace their natural hair growth pattern. Heck, cowlicks can even look downright cute and fun.

But, if you hate your cowlick and want to do something about it there are options, too. Some people find ways to style their hair to disguise a cowlick growth pattern, by using well-placed products, or even a quick hit with a heat-styling tool like a blow dryer or hair straightener.

Alternatively, you can talk with your hairdresser about styles that might make a cowlick less noticeable. Sometimes a more texture style can cover a cowlick, or growing your hair a little longer might be the ticket by letting the extra length weigh everything down a bit.

What to do if you think you are experiencing hair loss?

If you are experiencing patterned hair loss, you also do not need to do anything about it. But, it is important to know that patterned hair loss is a progressive process, so the hair tends to get thinner, and larger bald spots may form if nothing is done.

If you do want to address the early signs of patterned hair loss, you can look to medications like Minoxidil or DHT-blockers like Finasteride to help try and reduce the root cause of the follicle shrinkage and enhance growth. You can’t always stop this genetic process, but you can help slow it down.

Talk to a doctor to see what hair loss treatment routes might be the most appropriate for you.

Strut Health prescription hair loss medications online

Here at Strut, we help people take control of their hair loss concerns by utilizing prescription medication options.

We offer hair loss treatment plans for men and women, and carry both FDA-approved go-to medications like oral Finasteride or topical Minoxidil, as well as more innovative outside-the-box customizable off-label treatments like topical Finasteride, oral Dutasteride, or topical Spironolactone.

If you are interested in seeing if a Strut prescription hair loss medication is a good fit for you, simply select the general formula you may want to try, and complete a free online questionnaire and image-based telemedicine consultation. Our U.S. doctors will review your information and put together a customized treatment plan for you, if you are a good candidate.

Then, your medication will be put together at a U.S. compounding pharmacy and shipped to your door with our fast and free shipping.

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