You’re noticing more hair in your sink and in your shower. But for awhile you ignore it. Then one day you’re staring at your ugly mug in the mirror, and there’s simply no denying it anymore. You’re starting to go bald.
No one’s ever referred to men’s hair as our “crowning glory” but hair loss can still be a big psychological blow to men. For many men, it’s likely the first sign they’re getting old. Baldness is a subtle reminder that one’s youthful glory days are slowly slipping away. And it can make a man feel less confident and attractive.
Feeling blindsided by their traitorous scalp and missing their old hair, some men can get stuck in different stages of the grieving process, unable to move on to acceptance. They start wearing a ball cap or a beanie wherever they go. And they stubbornly stick with the hairstyle they rocked when they were 20, even though it’s now making their thinning hair look even worse than it has to. They don’t know how to go bald gracefully.
Because hair loss is something that affects over 40 million men in the U.S. and hundreds of million more worldwide, I thought it would be good to offer the follicley-challenged out there some help on how to deal with baldness like a man. For advice, I talked to master barber Tony England from Red’s Classic Barbershop Co. in Nashville, TN. Tony has seen plenty of men with hair loss come through his shop, and he himself is a distinguished balding man, so he knows what you’re going through. Here are his tips on balding gracefully.
Find Out the Cause
When a client comes in who’s noticed he’s starting to go bald, Tony tries to find out what’s causing the customer’s hair loss. “In many cases, hair loss isn’t caused by heredity, and steps can be taken to stop hair loss,” Tony explains. He’ll ask his client if they’ve been under a lot of stress lately. If so, he recommends that they get a massage and chill the heck out. Stress can be a big time cause for hair loss in men.
If his client is calmer than the Dali Lama, then Tony asks if they’re taking any medicines, as some medications come with the unfortunate side effect of hair loss. Once they stop taking the medication, the hair comes back. Of course, stopping or switching medication just so you don’t go bald might not be an option for most men. Check with your doctor if you are experiencing hair loss to see if a) the medication might be causing your balding and 2) if there’s an alternative you can take that doesn’t thin your hair.
Another possible cause of balding is calcium deposits on your scalp. “Calcium deposits shut the pores on your head which prevents hair from coming through the scalp,” says Tony. To clear up these calcium deposits, Tony suggests shampooing your head with hot vinegar, wrapping a hot towel around your head, and letting it sit for a few minutes. Shampoo normally right afterward, unless you want to smell like you stuck your head in the pickled egg jar at your local bar.
If you’re not stressed, taking medications, or have calcium deposits, you’re probably like millions of other men who have inherited their receding hairline from the men in their family. There’s a lot of old wives tales out there about which side of the family passes on the genes for baldness. You’ve likely heard someone say that if your mother’s father or grandfather was bald, then you’re destined to be bald as well.
But if you thought you were free and clear from inheriting your father’s bald head because your mom’s dad has a thick lush mane at 95, I’m sorry to break it to you, you’re not. Some recent studies have identified a gene that shows men are more at risk for hair loss if their father is bald. But you can also inherit this gene from your mom’s side of the family. So basically if you have any bald eagles roosting on your family tree, there’s a chance you’ll go bald, too.
Fighting Nature’s Course
So genetics has dealt you the bald card. What do you do? Well, if going bald really bothers you, you can always try to fight Mother Nature using a few techniques.
- Rogaine. Rogaine is a topical medication you put on your head that promotes hair growth and keeps the hair you do have left from falling out. You can buy it over the counter at most drug stores. The biggest drawback is that once you stop using Rogaine on a regular basis, your hair loss will resume once more. Thus, you’re pretty much signing over your scalp to Bossman Rogaine for the duration of your natural life. Rogaine isn’t cheap, either. That means you’ll have to invest a small fortune just so you can keep your hair. “You have to ask yourself if the daily regimen and expense is worth it,” Tony advises.
- Hair transplants. Another option is Hair Club for Men. You probably remember the old commercials where the guy proclaims, “I’m not only the Hair Club president, I’m also a client,” followed by a parade of before-and-after pictures of bald men who magically grew their hair back. The “magic” behind Hair Club for Men is hair transplants. A doctor will relocate bald resistant hair follicles from the back of your head to the balding areas on the top of your head. Because the hair follicles on the back of your head are resistant to hair loss, in theory you’ll never have to worry about balding again. But be careful with transplants. They’ve come a long way from the hideous and conspicuous hair plugs of the 80s. But even now, if they’re done poorly, your results will look unnatural. Moreover, hair transplants are expensive. Really expensive. You’re charged by the graft. Many hair transplant procedures require 600-1,000 grafts. A conservative cost per graph is $6. So do the math, and you’re looking at about $6,000 for the procedures. That’s quite a rich head of hair.
- Toupee. Toupee wearing men have been the butt of many a joke. With good reason. Most wigs are poorly crafted and poorly fitted. Result? You look like Uncle Louis from Christmas Vacation. But, according to Tony, a toupee can actually look completely natural if you spend enough money to get the best of the best. “You’d be surprised how many male celebrities wear wigs.” Tony notes.
If worse comes to worst, you can always try your vacuum cleaner and a cigarette.
Accepting and Embracing Your Baldness
Tony thinks, and I definitely agree, that the best option is for a man to accept the fact that he’s balding and simply embrace it. It’s cheaper and involves less work than the above options. No need for snake oil cures and tearing up pieces of your scalp like layers of turf. When you start noticing your hairline recede, just remember that millions of men go bald and still have successful careers, attract the ladies (many women actually prefer bald men), and generally have kick ass lives. Your worth as a man isn’t tied up with how much hair you have on your head. If you don’t make a big deal out of your hair, no one else will either.
Hairstyles for Balding Men
You’ve decided to accept your hair loss and revel in it. Congratulations. You’ve got moxie, my friend. But how should you style your hair now that you have less of it? Here’s what our friend Tony the Barber suggests.
The General Rule. Keep your hair short. According to Tony, short hair minimizes the appearance of balding and also gives your hair some lift which makes it look like you have more hair. Some guys don’t believe this and try to hold onto to their old styles. But if you’ve ever seen a guy with a big curly fro and a bald spot at his crown, you’ve seen how longer hair simply makes bald spots more conspicuous. So go short.
With this general rule, you can rock several hairstyles with confidence.
Clean shaven. The completely bald look is a great option for men who have very large bald spots that cover a good portion of their heads. The clean shaven look has a host of benefits. For starters, you free yourself from the tyranny of ever having to style your hair again. And you can wash your chrome dome with the same bar of soap you use on your body. On top of that, shaving your head definitely makes a statement. It shows the world you’ve accepted your hair loss and decided, “The hell with it! I am who I am.” Finally, a clean shaven head can become your signature look, one that makes you unforgettable to the people you meet. Everyone remembers the guy with the completely bald head: Seth Godin. Jesse Ventura. Patrick Stewart. Mr. Clean. You get the idea.
Buzz cut. If the clean shaven look is too severe or you don’t feel like you’re someone who could pull it off, but you still want something simple and sleek, the buzz cut is a great option. The buzz cut is an especially good way to go if your hair is starting to thin on your crown or near your hairline. The buzz cut gives you a clean, yet edgy look that will make the ladies swoon and will prevent some dude from pulling your hair when you attend your next Fight Club meeting.
Short Caesar Cut. Inspired by Roman Emperor Julius Caesar and made famous by George Clooney, the Caesar cut is a stylish way to conceal a receding hairline and a thinning top. The bangs are cut with a horizontal fringe and styled forward.
Shaggy layers. If you’re just starting to thin, but aren’t ready to go super short, compromise with some light, shaggy layers. Ask your barber to cut the top of your hair in uneven layers. When you’re styling it, just kind of of tussle your hair around. It will give you a sort of endearing disheveled look that hides your thinning hair.
The Roger Sterling. Want to get that dapper “Mad Men” look? Try the hairstyle of Roger Sterling. It’s a great do’ for men who have a receding hairline, but still have some hair on top. Get it cut short on the top, but leave it long enough so that you can comb a part on the side of your head. Sides are tight. Make sure the barber tapers the sides so they blend in nicely with the top.
The Power Donut. Instead of keeping your remaining hair close to your head, you can just say, “screw it,” and let it grow out au naturel. GQ calls this ring of hair the “Power Donut.” What’s nice about the Power Donut is that it doesn’t require much work except for an occasional trim so you avoid growing a skullet. Sean Connery, Gerald Ford, and Larry David are examples of men who rock the Power Donut. There’s something admirable about a man who doesn’t worry about adjusting his hairstyle just because he’s balding and hasn’t jumped on the buzz cut bandwagon. He just keeps doing the same hair routine he’s been doing his entire life, except he doesn’t have to spend as much time on top. Just let nature run its course and spend time worrying about other stuff.
Grow facial hair. A lot of celebrities with thinning hair rock some sort of facial hair. The facial hair directs attention from your balding head to your face. Mustaches and goatees work best. However, if you’re Kimbo Slice, then a full, “I’m going to eat you liver” beard is in order.
Just say no.
Never under any circumstances should you attempt the comb-over. No matter what style you go with, never, ever use a comb-over. Oh, and for the love of Pete, do not fall under the delusion that having a ponytail in the back will compensate for baldness on top. Hair math just doesn’t work that way.
If you’re not sure which way to go, just ask your barber for some advice the next time you’re in for a haircut. There’s no need to be embarrassed to talk to him about it. Think of your barber like your doctor, he’s seen this stuff a thousand times before.
Many thanks to Tony at Red’s Classic Barbershop for his help with this post. If you’re in the Nashville or Indianapolis area, check them out. Red’s is a classic, manly establishment where you can get great haircuts, shoeshines, and good old fashioned hot lather shaves.