For the average hirsute, image-conscious man, there are no three words in the English language more likely to prompt a gulp of foreboding than … ‘male pattern baldness’. A lexical trio so follicularly frightening that some men (Jude Law, we’re looking at you) feel the best course of action is to ignore it entirely.
But why should we? What’s so terrible about having a baldy bonce anyway? Well, nothing. In fact, studies have consistently found smooth-headed blokes to outperform their hairy cohorts when ranked in terms of perceived alpha male traits like manliness, dominance and power. In fact, many men attach a stigma to baldness that actually only exists in their own unconvincingly comb-overed heads.
Yes, being completely bald may mean you’re never able to wear your faux fur-trimmed parka zipped right up to your chin again without looking like a hard-boiled egg emerging from the rear end of a German shepherd (the dog breed, we hasten to add). But if that’s the only drawback then what’s all the fuss about?
In order to answer that question and all the rest of them, we’ve delved bald-headlong into the subject of male pattern baldness to equip you with everything you need to know before embarking on your own fuzz-free journey into the great hairless yonder.
Why Is This Happening?
For young men in particular, the realisation that you’re losing your beloved locks can feel like God is singling you out and punishing you for a crime you may or may not have committed. In reality, there is something far less holy, yet every bit as uncontrollable, at play.
Male hair loss, premature or otherwise, is not caused by the judging hand of an omnipotent deity but by genetics and a chemical imbalance of a hormone called DHT (or dihydrotestosterone for syllable fans).
DHT is a chemical derivative of testosterone, created when the androgen gets mixed with an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, causing some complicated science stuff to happen involving lots of numbers and letters… but let’s not get bogged down in that. The thing we’re really interested in is what DHT actually does.
DHT: The Baldness Hormone
“DHT’s main function in the body is to maintain and develop sexual characteristics in men, as well as promoting a better sense of wellbeing due to the fact that it inhibits aromatase [an enzyme linked to estrogen levels],” explains renowned Harley Street hair specialist Dr Raghu Reddy of The Private Clinic. “It also plays a key role in the development of male characteristics such as facial hair during puberty.”
Put simply, DHT is the chemical responsible for granting you a nice, bushy flavour saver. However, while it may be good news for your chin, DHT can spell disaster north of the eyebrows.
“While DHT helps with facial hair, it is also one of the contributory factors for male pattern baldness,” Dr Reddy adds. “This is because, in genetically susceptible men, the activity of DHT hinders the proper growth of hair follicles through a process called ‘miniaturisation’.”
When this happens, the DHT hormone attaches itself to the root of the hair follicle, causing the growing stage to become shorter and shorter with each new cycle. “Eventually the hairs will stop growing altogether,” adds Dr Reddy. “At which point hair loss will become more visible. This could be in the form of a receding hairline, a thinner head of hair or the all-too familiar bald patch.”
Dispelling The Myths
For each male pattern baldness fact served to us by science, the internet spews up several complete and utter fallacies. Allow us to debunk five of the most prevalent for you right here, right now.
Baldness Is Inherited From Your Mother’s Father
Taking a look at your maternal grandfather’s head is often sold as a surefire tonsorial barometer, but as any bald grandson with a hairy grandad will tell you, it’s not always pinpoint accurate.
In fact, while there is a key gene for baldness carried in the X chromosome, a chrome dome anywhere on either side of the family could be an indicator of your own hairless future.
Thanks a bunch, Uncle Bill.
You’re Only Receding Because You’re Brimming With Testosterone
Sorry to break it to you, but having a shiny melon doesn’t actually mean your body is bursting at the seams with testosterone (or ‘man juice’ as we almost wrote before quickly realising our mistake).
Male pattern baldness is dependent on testosterone but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have more of it than normal (with the obvious exception of Dwayne Johnson, that is). Unfortunately for your bragging rights, the process is mostly down to genetics.
Your Hair Loss Could Be Down To Stress
Contrary to what cartoons may lead you to believe, there is no correlation between high levels of stress and an increase in the likelihood of permanent hair loss, though it has been linked to temporary shedding.
So don’t worry next time you get a week’s worth of work dumped on your desk at 3pm on a Friday – at least your hair won’t fall out for good. Unless you tear it out right there and then, that is.
You’ve Been Wearing A Hat Too Much
So, you saw the video for Limp Bizkit’s ‘Rollin’ in 2000 and refused to remove your red baseball cap for the two consecutive years that followed. Since then you’ve gone balder than Fred Durst, the bassist and the drummer combined. And you’re probably kicking yourself because you heard that hat wearing can play a part in your follicular fate. But don’t worry, it doesn’t really.
Baldness caused by wearing a hat is simply an old wives’ tale. So you can stop beating yourself up over your adolescent headwear habits. As for the regrettable rap-metal phase…Yeah, feel free to continue berating yourself about that.
Shaving Hair Makes It Grow In Thicker
Many a bumfluff-moustachioed teenager has eagerly shaved away at his sideburns with his dad’s Mach 3, in the hope that maybe – just maybe – he’ll be greeted by Wolverine staring back at him from the bathroom mirror the following day. Many have tried; all have failed.
This is because shaving hair doesn’t actually cause it to grow back thicker. When the hair grows in again it may feel slightly more coarse at first but this is only due to it having a blunt tip.
The Psychological Toll
For all the jokes it has cracked about it, there’s no escaping the fact that even for the most laid-back of individuals, hair loss is no picnic. And it’s not purely an image thing, either. Even for men who are completely unconcerned with their looks, going bald is a sign of ageing and a grim reminder that the clock is ticking away.
“While hair loss may have few physical health consequences it can have a big impact on people’s mood,” explains Kerry Montgomery, a research associate at Sheffield Hallam University who has co-authored papers on the psychological effects of hair loss. “Hair is such a big part of how we look, and our identity. It represents our individual image and style.”
Because hair loss is so much more common in men than in women, it’s all too often assumed that the psychological effects are much less prevalent for those of us with a Y chromosome. However, in a world where male grooming is a thriving, multi-billion pound industry and social media has us more obsessed with image than ever before, that could not be further from the truth.
“We know that men experience difficulties,” adds Montgomery. “Their daily care routine may change, the way they view their appearance, and thoughts about how others view their appearance are all significant changes. We also know that men are less likely to get help if they are experiencing problems with their mood.”
However, support is available if your journey through male pattern baldness is proving to be a particularly rough ride. In addition to healthcare services, charities such as Alopecia UK can provide assistance for people living with hair loss, including practical advice, as well as the opportunity to speak with others going through the same thing. There’s even an international radio show called The Bald Truth, described as an on-air support group for people losing their hair.
So, if hair loss is really bothering you that much, what can you do to combat it?
Toupée, Or Not Toupée?
Male pattern baldness is no longer the guaranteed path to a shiny scalp it once was. We may not have a miracle cure just yet, but scientists keep assuring us that they’re right on the cusp of a major breakthrough.
In the meantime, there are a few other things you can try in order to reclaim some of your hair.
While it’s true that an easy fix remains just out of science’s reach, there are drugs that can fight the onset of male pattern baldness – namely Minoxidil (marketed as Rogaine) and Finasteride (sold as Propecia). If you’ve noticed yourself thinning on top, chances are you’ve already come across one or both of them during a frantic Googling session. But do they actually work?
“Both Finasteride and Minoxidil have been proven to preserve existing hair,” says Dr Reddy. Effectiveness and results vary from person to person, but the claims that the drugs can halt hair loss are actually completely true.
However, there are a couple of caveats. “None of the medication can actually regrow hair,” Dr Reddy adds. “But finasteride does have a propensity to reverse thinning hair.”
In addition, if you want to continue to enjoy the benefits of the medication, you will have to keep taking it until something better comes along. This is a commitment, financial and otherwise, that a lot of men either choose, or are forced, not to make.
Non-Surgical Hair Replacement System
Not only do old-fashioned wigs carry a bit of pantomime stigma, they also force wearers to live in constant fear of strong gusts of wind, thieving pigeons and the grasping hands of inquisitive children sitting behind them on the bus. However, if the advent of driverless cars, canned sandwiches and actual robots hadn’t already given the game away, this is the future we’re living in, and now we have the hairpieces to prove it.
Non-surgical hair replacements offer a semi-permanent fix for male pattern baldness by attaching real hair to the head with a strong adhesive, thus ensuring it stays firmly in place, no matter how determined that child may be to remove it.
A hair replacement system allows the wearer to wash, colour and style the hair just as he would if it were his own. The only downside is it will need to be changed every 2-5 years at a cost of £500+ each time.
Semi-permanent options are all well and good for some, but if you’re looking for the full Monty (or the full Rooney) the surgical route could be the best way to go.
“A hair transplant can significantly restore lost hair from the head, and even the beard,” explains Dr Reddy. “It’s a permanent solution that can be completed in as little as one or two sessions.”
The procedure works by taking functioning hair follicles from the back of the head (the donor site) and implanting them in the top of the head. Once complete, the follicles harvested from the donor site continue to behave in the same way as they did before they were removed, resulting in new hair growth on what was previously a barren scalp.
However, what many people thinking of undergoing the treatment don’t realise is that its success is dependent on the interlinked use of Minoxidil or Finasteride in order to prevent any of the other non-transplanted hair from thinning further. If that’s a commitment you’re prepared to make, then a hair transplant is probably your best course of action.
Embracing The Bald Life
Pills, potions, surgery and wigs may be the answer for some men, and if that’s you, fine. However, for the rest of us, there is a much simpler, faster and cheaper option available. Let’s put it like this: if you like the idea of being able to spend 10 minutes longer in bed every morning and have men in pubs assume you’re twice as hard as you actually are, the solution is merely a haircut away.
The practice of head shaving has been turning balding men into badasses for as long as there have been razors. That wispy combover can give off a vibe that you’ve lost control, but by picking up a pair of hair clippers, removing the guard and going to work you’ll put yourself back in the tonsorial driving seat and allow yourself to face hair loss on your own terms.
Talk to any shaven maven and he’ll likely tell you how much better he felt after he stopped desperately clinging onto the last of his hair and plucked up courage to take it off once and for all. It can be a liberating experience. Plus, get it out of the way while you still have youth on your side and you’ll grant yourself a nice head start on your peers, most of whom will have to contend with the onset of male pattern baldness and a mid-life crisis all at the same time.
But those aren’t the only plus points when it comes to taking the nuclear option. Once you’ve invested in a set of clippers and taught yourself how to use them, you’ll find that you’re practically rolling in money that you’d have otherwise given a barber to try in vain to disguise your ever-receding hairline. And as far as how you’ll be perceived by any potential partners, just look at Jason Statham and Samuel L Jackson. Even Larry David, who refuses to shave the back and sides has made the look his own.
How To Shave Your Head
Getting rid of the fluff is a big step but you probably know deep down it’s the right thing to do. However, before you take the plunge you’ll need to make sure you know what you’re doing. With that in mind, we hit up Joe Mills, one of London’s finest barbers, for his advice on the matter.
“If you think the time has come to shave your head then I would suggest you clipper it down first,” says Mills. “Initially, you want to start around a grade 3 and then work shorter. If you have a round face I would suggest you have a 3 or 2 on top and the top of the sides and go for a 1 and a fade around the edges. This will help change the shape of your face a little. “The trick is to keep it trimmed as it won’t look great if it gets fluffy.”
So, pretty simple. However, if you’ve had a taste of the bald life and are craving that next hit, you may decide you want to get the razor involved.
“If you want to shave your head bald, then this is best done the same way as your face,” explains Mills. “You need to trim the hair down super short with clippers first, then wet your scalp down with warm water and apply a shaving cream or gel. The hair on your head is different to your face and tends to be less coarse. Also, your scalp isn’t used to a razor so go easy. Rinse the blade regularly during the shave to keep it clean and clear of stubble.”
The Best Haircuts For Thinning Hair
If you’ve not quite reached Prince William levels of thinning yet then you may want to consider taking a trim to your barber before you start going ham with the Bic and the shaving foam. Admittedly, no matter how good your barber is he won’t be able to restore any of your lost locks, but what he can do is give you a cut that flatters your receding hairline.
But what should you be asking for? Well, here are a selection of the best options.
The Buzz Cut
Taking your hair down with the clippers to a uniform length all over is a great way to cater for a diminishing hairline while not going all out bald. If you were thinking about shaving your head but want to test the waters first this could be the trim you’ve been looking for.
The High & Tight
If the illusion of thicker hair is what you’re aiming for then this sibling to the military crew cut can grant you the added volume you desire. The cut takes the length very short on top and even shorter on the back and sides. This will help to create some balance between the thinning hair around the crown and the denser hair elsewhere.
The Slicked-Back Undercut
While it may not be much good for disguising a receding hairline, this undercut look is a great option if the offending area is at the crown of your head. The combed-back length on top will cover any embarrassing bald spots once its styled. Just try to avoid swimming pools.
The Short Crop
If your thinning is still relatively minor a short crop might be a good way to go. This style is cut short all over with scissors and has the power to make your locks appear fuller than they actually are.
So, far from being the terrible fate many men make it out to be, going bald is just a natural part of the ageing process and there are a number of things that can be done to fight it if you decide that’s the way to go.
However, before you spend your life savings on an expensive cosmetic procedure, do us a favour and try shaving your head first. You never know, once you start saving money, enjoying more time in the mornings and getting compliments, you might just realise that a bit of hair isn’t so important after all.