Millions of men all over the world know the feeling of disquieting horror when they look in the mirror and start to see a shiny patch of scalp glaring mockingly at you through their hair. Hair on your pillow, seeing your hairline creep back by a quarter inch every few weeks and playful remarks from your other half about how you’re ‘getting a little thin on top’ may seem fairly innocuous to those who haven’t needed to endure male pattern baldness, but for some it’s a crippling blow to their self-esteem.
A full head of thick, glossy hair has been a symbol of health, youth, vitality and male potency for thousands of years. Just think back to the biblical legend of Samson and Delilah. Whether we like it or not, whether we’re even aware of it or not, western society has an inexplicable prejudice against those afflicted by male pattern baldness and while a great man women (and men) firmly believe that bald is beautiful that can be cold comfort to men who are seeing a symbol of their youth and vitality falling from their heads. If you keep yourself looking young and healthy by staying fit and looking after yourself then hair loss can undo a lot of your hard work. Even though hair loss affects some 70% of men in their lifetime, many men feel isolated and alone in their hair loss. All of those flawless heads of hair in the media and popular culture don’t help either (more on that later).
The great news is that if you’re affected by male pattern baldness, you’re living in the best possible age as there has never been a broader range of solutions to your ‘problem’. Hair loss has become a billion dollar industry over the past few decades with a range of scientific solutions designed to help you to prevent, disguise or reverse your hair loss. Sounds expensive? Sure, it can be. But there are a range of less expensive yet extremely effective ways to address your hair loss and you may just be pleasantly surprised by the results.
First, though, let’s have a look at just why society has it in for men with hair loss.
Baldness… the unfair stigmatism
The associations with baldness are almost universally negative. By some strange, unwritten consensus bald or balding men are viewed as less attractive, youthful or healthy than their hairy-headed counterparts. Perhaps it’s the portrayal of baldies in popular media? While there are a few sexy bald men in Hollywood to fly the flag such as Jason Statham, Corey Stoll, Woody Harrelson, Patrick Stewart and Dwayne The Rock Johnson, the fact remains that by-and-large baldness seems to be used in popular media as a shorthand for villainy. Walter White, Freddie Krueger, Gollum, Darth Maul, Pinhead, Voldemort, Bane, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his parody counterpart Doctor Evil, Lex Luthor, Ming The Merciless… The list goes on and on.
That said, negative connotations with baldness predate popular media. Men have employed all kinds of strange and unsavory means to avoid facing the stigmatism of hair loss for centuries. Follically challenged men in ancient Rome would run hippo fat into their bald patches to stimulate regrowth. We can only assume it didn’t work out. And all of those 16th century fops? We can only assume that they didn’t wear all those elaborate wigs for their comfort.
Before we go into discussing treatments, let’s look at the route cause of male pattern baldness…
Know your enemy
If you expect to beat your hair loss, the key is to understand it. Male pattern baldness is a genetic, hereditary condition passed down through the X-chromosome (you mother’s side of the family). It is dormant in childhood and tends to activate in men when they mature. The older you are, the greater chance that your hair loss will develop. Some men start to experience it in their early twenties but most begin to encounter it in their thirties and forties. Baldness is linked to testosterone, though men who encounter it tend to have normal testosterone levels. Cells in the skin of the scalp convert testosterone into a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Over time, affected hair follicles become more sensitive to dihydrotestosterone, which causes the hair follicles to shrink resulting in the shedding of hair and eventually the death of the follicle.
So… Now that you know the cause, let’s explore some of your options.
Let it go!
Of course the cheapest and simplest option is to do nothing. This may sound glib, but embracing your male pattern baldness with confidence (and / or shaving your head) can be a highly effective way of ridding yourself with the anxiety and poor self-image caused by your hair loss. It worked for Jason Statham, it worked for The Rock, it can work for you too!
Before you consider a transplant
Remember that a hair transplant does not guarantee a healthy head of hair for life. Any trichologist (scalp doctor) worth his or her salt will likely supplement or precede a treatment of follicle grafts with another treatment. Topical Minoxidil will usually be applied to affected areas for a period of months (or even years) prior to a transplant. This will improve circulation of blood to the scalp, nourishing anaemic follicles and improving their ability to produce thick, healthy hair. You may also be prescribed Finasteride tablets which will inhibit your body’s production of DHT. Even if your trichologist recommends a transplant, it’s likely that you will have to maintain a course of Minoxidil, Finasteride or (most likely both) following your transplant to prevent the loss of your existing hairs which have not been transplanted.
Out of sight, out of mind
If treating your hair loss isn’t feasible then there are more options than ever for disguising it. Keratin fibers are an affordable and effective way of concealing areas of thinning hair or bald spots. These stick electrostatically to your existing hair, thickening it and bonding to your scalp to create a seamless appearance that’s virtually undetectable at a glance.
While this is a great solution for thinning hair, it’s not so hot against receding hairlines.
If your hair loss is too extreme for keratin fibers and a hair transplant doesn’t appeal to you then wigs are worth considering. While they’ve gained an unfortunate reputation over the years, they’ve become far more sophisticated over the years than many may expect. Non-surgical hair replacements are the exact middle ground between a transplant and a typical wig, attaching a layer of polyurethane to the scalp as a second skin into which are woven strands of real hair for a seamless appearance.
Transplants. Know your options. Know the risks
If you decide a hair transplant is the way to go then take a look at Seager Hair Transplant Centre for a detailed explanation of the transplant techniques on offer. There are two prevailing techniques for transplanting healthy hair follicles onto an area affected by hair loss. These days, most surgeons now use the FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction) technique. This involves the extraction of individual hair follicles from ‘donor areas’ which are replaced on affected areas. This is preferred by many as it allows follicles to be replaced without scarring. FUT (Follicular Unit Transplantation) involves the extraction of long, thin strips of skin from the sides of the head, where the hair is thickest, to different areas of the head to cover areas of hair loss. While this technique is less expensive, it is seldom used because it does leave scars and is not recommended for those who favor the short back and sides look.
Like any surgery, a hair transplant comes with a risk of complications and side effects. Hair transplants are extremely safe but you may expect to experience these after the procedure:
- cysts around transplant site
- thinning of pre-existing hair.
As with any surgery, there is also always a risk of infection. Minoxidil and Finasteride are also not without their risks. Side effects of Minoxidil may include:
- weight gain
- chest pains
- swelling of the face, hands, ankles, or abdomen
- trouble breathing when lying down
- rapid heartbeat
While the side effects of Finasteride can include:
- Build up of fat on the chest (breast growth)
- swelling of the face or lips
- loss of libido
- painful ejaculation
- pain in testicles
- difficulty getting an erection
It’s all about you!
Ultimately, the approach you choose to combat your hair loss (if any) is your decision. You shouldn’t allow anyone to influence your decision or push you into surgery if you don’t feel you’re ready. If, upon consultation, your trichologist tries to push or rush you into making a decision… You need to find a new trichologist. That said, it’s important to remember that unless treated your hair loss will only ever increase over time. It usually takes between 10 and 15 years for a man to become totally bald but in some cases the process can take less than 5. The younger you are and the earlier you are in the process then the better chance you have of regaining a full head of hair.