According to the American Hair Loss Association, a whopping 85 percent of men experience noticeable hair loss by age 50. The one upside is, at least all those dudes can commiserate together. But those who deal with conspicuous hair loss at a much younger age — say, in their early twenties — often find themselves both embarrassed and alone.
“My balding really hit hard when I was in Ranger School,” says Andrew, a 26-year-old military man. “I had to shave my head for hygiene reasons: Having hair can attract dirt and grime, and you don’t really get to shower in Ranger School. Your hormones are also pretty messed up — you shift to survival mode, where your body reduces the testosterone production. So there are actually quite a few dudes who come out of Ranger School and notice some balding. It’s a combination of shaving your head, which means a combover is out of the question, and your body being messed up — growing hair is less important than storing fat.”
While Andrew has mostly come to accept his relatively hairless head, he does admit to missing his old long strands. “I was super self-conscious when I was younger,” he says. “I wanted the hair I had in college back. I had long hair for an army dude — I could pull it down over my eyes. It was a pretty nice flow.”
Andrew also admits to being in denial about his hair loss for quite some time: “It took two years until someone was like, ‘Dude, just cut your hair. Walk up to a barber and admit you’re balding.’ Once you come to terms with balding, you can be more proactive about it.”
Speaking of which, hairdresser Cleve McMillan previously gave us some advice about balding gracefully:
“If you really want to hide the fact that you’re going bald (and have money and time to spend), you can undergo hair transplantation or get yourself a custom-made toupee. If you’re just trying to lessen the impact, you can purchase a spray that reduces the shine of the scalp — you oftentimes look more bald than you actually are when the light reflects off your scalp. If you go that route, remember: Less is more when applying the stuff. Finally, you can undergo hair regrowth treatments, which basically delay the inevitable. It should be noted, however, that some versions of those treatments have been known to cause impotency, so you’ll have to decide what’s more important to you: Your hair or your sex life.”
“If you’re simply looking for a way to style what hair you have left, keep it short and avoid thick hair products. Start by requesting a #7 clipper — which is seven-eighths of an inch long — for the top, while asking to go a little shorter on the sides. From then on, go one number shorter each subsequent visit to your barber until you find the perfect length for you.”
Andrew has been using minoxidil, a common ingredient in many popular hair loss treatments, and it’s been working. “I’ve actually gotten a lot of compliments, like, ‘Wow, your hair is actually starting to come back.’ It doesn’t come back where it was receding in the front,” he admits. “But I was kind of getting the reverse-skunk look — like a bowling alley down the middle — and that actually filled in pretty nicely.”
“My hair is probably an inch and a half to two inches in length now,” Andrew continues. “I think minoxidil has probably been pretty good at reestablishing some thickness on the top, but I’ve still kind of got a little bit of a widow’s peak.” He’s still waiting on that all-encompassing balding cure, though.
In the meantime, coming to terms with that hairless head might actually open the doors to a new, interesting look. “Balding doesn’t have to change our identity; we can simply incorporate it into our identity,” explains Deborah Heiser, an applied development psychologist with a specialty in aging. “Balding is an opportunity to change up your look and add accessories — hats, facial hair and so on — to complete that new look. For those who have a harder time with change, balding can also become the ‘new norm’ with an updated style, such as a fully shaved head, that can be kept the same and can become your new comfortable look.”
Even with some medicinal help, Andrew still considers himself a bald(ing) dude, and like I said earlier, he’s come to accept that. “My thing is, I always kind of make a joke about it,” he says. “I don’t know, a good portion of balding is genetic, so you kind of need to accept that. Whenever I walk up to a bar and they ask for my ID, I say, ‘Oh, can I show you my hairline instead.’ If there’s one thing that will put a smile on a sad balding man’s face, it’s that.”