So you’re balding? Welcome to the club.
So it’s come to that time in life when you’ve come to the realization, as the famed George Carlin usted to put it, “that you’re getting old… er”. And probably what clued you in was your hair, or lack thereof.
I’ve seen my fair share of springtimes, and have come to realize that’s when most men figure out they’re not 20 anymore. They start to see that youthful hairline evaporate, then look at the guys in the cubicles next door and see nothing but insane Fabio Lanzoni heads, wonder just how off the market they’re at, you know the drill. Eventually you fall into denial: “it’s just a little thin on top”, “you don’t even notice it”, “that’s just the way I’m built”, “accept me for who I am”, “beauty is temporary”. And a lot of men even stay in that place forever.
“Well, this is mister conductor talking”, to quote George Carlin again. I’ve been there, and if there’s someone who’s qualified to talk about hair loss it’s probably me. I started losing my hair back in high school, must have been around 16. I didn’t exactly have a power donut back then, but people did take notice. I used to get offhand remarks on it from classmates, and few teachers asked me if I had talked to doctors “because there’s treatments for that” (obviously they had seen one too many Hair Club for Men commercials).
And really, there’s a lot of truth in accepting yourself and being comfortable in your skin when you’re balding. But there’s also some real truth in the fact that a messy head of hair gets even worse when you’re going bald. So if you want to keep that neat, polished look, or “age gracefully” as they say, you’re going to have to do something with that thinning hair.
- A primer on hair replacement, medications and treatments for thinning hair
- Just how complicated is your alopecia?
- What not to do with bald spots
- Can you grow your hair long if you’re balding?
- If you’ve got a beard, use it.
- Shaving your head
- Messed up hairstyles
- The crew cut
- The Caesar cut
- The high and tight
- Brushed back, revealing the forehead
- The Power Donut
A primer on hair replacement, medications and treatments for thinning hair
The first thing we need to do before we head off (yeah, pun intended) to the pharmacy is look at the wide variety of treatments and medications that are on the market for thinning hair. Anything from hair replacement therapy to the famed minoxidil treatments, electrostimulation, scalp massage, shooting lasers at your head, natural remedies for hair loss, and so on.
Short and simple conclusion to this primer? Don’t go there. Unfortunately there is no long-term, convenient, effective and affordable cure for hair loss. There’s lots of stuff out there to treat hair loss, sure, but in the long run it’s not sustainable. Better to deal with your balding head up front and make it a part of your personality.
Just how complicated is your alopecia?
Alopecia, that’s what going bald is called by doctors. Specifically in men it’s known as androgenic alopecia, in case you should hear the term. Or in layman’s terms, this stuff is called male pattern baldness.
There’s 3 main areas where your hair will start to thin out: your forehead, your temples, and the top of your head. Thin out there, you’ve probably got male pattern baldness.
Thin out in other places, it might be a treatable medical condition. And that’s why, despite it all, it’s important to see a doctor at some point. Especially if you’re thinning out in unusual ways, such as small patches on the side or back of your head. Stress, medications, fungi, that kind of stuff will make you thin out in strange ways. So go ask your doctor, even if it’s just to hear them tell you there’s nothing to worry about. You’ll sleep easier.
Now, what to do with your hair is going to depend on where you’re losing it, and how thin it is.
What not to do with your bald spots
Ok, let’s start with all the noob mistakes that people make when they decide to do something about that balding head. They’re pretty obvious, but still I see them, day after day. So avoid these like the plague:
- Hairpieces and wigs. Nobody should have to tell you a rug on your head is bad. “All natural hairpiece”, “Professionally fitted to your needs”, “High quality hairpieces that last a lifetime”, “Invisible hairpiece”. All marketing hype, forget it. People can see you wearing that thing from a mile away. The only invisible hairpiece is the one you don’t wear.
- Thickening or coloring sprays. Another one they shouldn’t have to tell you not to do. Spray painting your head doesn’t work. It might do something if you’re just starting to go thin, but maintaining that stuff day after day after day? Forget it. And if you go for the cheaper sprays, that don’t stand up well to the elements, you’re heading for a real disaster, real fast.
- Hair tattoos. You know all those people that say you should never tattoo your girlfriend’s name across your forehead? Well the same goes for hair. No amount of drawn on hair is going to make up for the real one you’re losing, no matter how well done.
- Combovers. Whether to the side, back to front, front to back, a combover is a combover. And that thing makes you look like a 70’s used car salesman. You can play around a bit with your hair to take attention away from trouble spots, you can comb to towards your forehead to get a bit more volume, but those are minor adjustments and hairstyles. When that turns to covering up a bald spot by slapping on hair from another part of your head… you’re in combover land, run for your life!
- Combing your hair back. Most 80’s and 90’s kids grew up with hairstyles that involved combing your hair front to back, and have stayed with them. Well, it’s time to ditch. Combing your hair back in any way reveals your forehead, and will accentuate a receding hairline. Styles that go towards the front is generally the way to go if you’re thinning.
- Hair extensions. Pretty much the same deal as hairpieces. Plus they’re expensive and high maintenance. So, no.
- Razor patterns. A lot of men that are thinning out decide to make a statement out of their remaining head and go for cutting line patterns into their hair. Which not only require a lot of maintenance, but get to looking really weird when they get to the parts of the head that are thinning out.
- Shaving your head. Don’t just go and shave your head because you’re getting thin on top. You’ll scare the crap out of your kids and wife. Have a look at your head, have a look at the available hairstyles for when you’re balding, and then decide what to do.
- Natural remedies from sacred herbs grown under the moonlight in Timbuktú. You might as well be buying pills from China to enlarge certain well known body parts. There’s no known all natural miracle remedies for male pattern baldness. If there were, we certainly wouldn’t be going bald on planet Earth. As you can imagine all this stuff is bull and a waste of money.
Can you grow your hair long if you’re balding?
Ah, that age old question that always pops us. Can you grow your hair long if you’re balding? I tried it recently, more out of curiosity than anything else. Wanted to see what my hair was like before it completely vanished. All my life stylists had told me my hair was not for growing long, and it would become a tangled awful mess and fall out and there was no way I could grow it long. But given the situation, I told them to go clip themselves, and stopped cutting my hair.
And it was actually pretty nice. Turns out I had Weird Al hair. It didn’t fall out, it didn’t become an awful mess. In fact it was so nice, in the end I donated it to Locks of Love. Had I known that 20 years ago, I would have never cut my hair.
The experience overall was great, but there’s two downsides. First one is contrast. Growing your hair long makes your bald or thin spots stick out even more, especially if you’re thinning on the top of your head or your forehead. Don’t think your long hair is going to cover it up. If you’re got missing hair in places, the surrounding areas are probably thin, so nothing is going to get covered up.
Growing your hair long if you’re balding doesn’t solve the problem. It’s a statement, one that can be pretty awesome, but it’s not going to cover up your thinning hair. Don’t expect to look like Michael Bolton. You might make a pretty good Walder Frey, though.
The second downside is maintenance. Oh the maintenance! You have no idea what it’s like to keep long hair in a decent, upkept state. When I had my hair long, my consumption of hair care products must have easily tripled. Not to mention the time I had to spend each day taking care of my hair.
If you’re got a beard, use it
One of your biggest allies when you’re trying to achieve a reasonable bald look, is going to be your beard. Your beard is an element that takes a whole lot of attention away from your head. It’s the cavalry that shows up at the last minute and saves the day.
Your beard helps to balance out your hairstyle, and can give your look the edge and energy it needs. A pretty dull hairstyle can be elevated with a well styled beard. Just ask Neil Strauss, who goes for no hair at all, and a well styled beard. Notice also how Neil didn’t go for the traditional, high volume, lumberjack type beard. Just goes to show you a well thought out style can go a long way with very little.
The easy way: shaving your head
Shaving your head is an option if you’re balding, or bald for that matter. The idea is to lower the contrast between the fuller parts of your head and the thinner parts, and bring your entire head into balance all at once.
You can shave your head, skinhead style, or simply go for a very close crop: #0 or #1 on the buzz clipper is what we’re talking about here. Try not to go above #1, anything above a #1 crop will make you look strange because you have hair, but it’s cut perfectly uniform in all places with no texture. If you have a very round head, your look will get even stranger if you cut above a #1.
Don’t forget the razor work on your forehead if you’re thin there. There’s always little clusters of hairs there that people skip with the clippers, and they give you that “missed spot” look: you have a perfect trim all over, and 5 strands of hair hanging off your forehead. And absolutely do not forget to get the back of your neck, off to the sides: that’s where hair tends to grow thick, and it’s one of the spots that people forget more often.
Some men say the holy grail of a shaved head is the shadow look: that time when the hair is just starting to grow back, but it’s not quite there yet. So you have a dark layer on your scalp, without it actually looking like hair. I tend to favor that look among the bald looks, the shadow makes for a nice effect that kills the shock of a completely bald scalp. But the shadow is hard to manage without a bit of experimentation, because it depends a lot on how fast your hair grows.
You’ll need a special clipper, like this Phillips that does 0.4mm. Beard clippers are normally best for this purpose, since they come with factory guides for low cuts like 0.4mm, but they can be a little slow. If you want to use a regular hair clipper for a shadow look, you’ll probably need to invest in a metal guide replacement that gives you the look you want. Here’s a guide replacement for Wahl clippers in 0.4mm, be sure to check the compatible models for the guide you’re buying.
You can also use a headblade. Those work pretty well, and women think the yellow lawnmower design is the cutest thing in the world… so more power to you. Only disadvantage? Replacement cartridges. You’re stuck buying cartridges for as long as you use this thing.
If you go for the shave or the close crop, use your beard to even out the look if you find your dome attracts too much attention. And remember to wear sunscreen or cover up when going outdoors: no hair means you’re now vulnerable to UV burns. If you’ve never had a sunburn on your scalp, you’re in for a nasty experience if you don’t take precautions. Hawaiian Tropic has always worked well for me, except the variety I prefer (Sport 45 spray) isn’t real easy to find. HT Sport 45 is excellent: it’s dirt cheap, lasts all day (and then some), and comes in a spray bottle, so you just spray the top of your head and you’re good to go.
Shaved and close crops tend to work better with medium or fit body shapes. If you have a heavy build or you’re overweight, be careful of this hairstyle. Overweight men and those with with heavy builds (like body builders) will find a shaved head or close crop will land you well inside social stereotypes in many parts of the world, and you’ll instantly become the “bouncer guy” or the “comic book store guy”.
“Messed up” hairstyles
Styles in which your hair is “somewhat messed up” and shooting off upwards, can work to cover up a bit if you’re starting to thin out. These hairstyles work good if your thin spots are on the temples and you’ve still got workable hair on your forehead.
If you’re that kind of balding guy, you can play with different lengths on top and on the sides to create contrast and cover up some problem spots. Just be careful not to make your hair too weird on top. If your hair is strangely worked on top, it’ll draw attention and people will start to suspect something’s going on up there.
The crew cut
A crew cut can play well for men who are balding, if you’ve got enough hair to give it shape. It’s more interesting and has more contrast than any close crop. There’s a wide variety of crew cuts that are in style, that can work for men with short hair on top, or longer hair on top. The formula for a crew cut is pretty much the same everywhere: close on the sides, longer on top.
Be careful with military style crew cuts. Those cuts usually favor younger men, and if you’re over 40, they’ll start to look weird, cartoonish or simply try-hard. When you’re older, the crew cut doesn’t inspire an air of youth, looks out of place, and will probably make you look like some version of your 40-year-old dad if he wore a crew cut in his time.
The Caesar cut
Ever since George Clooney hit mainstream TV, the Ceasar has been in and refuses to go out of style. There’s been several variations through the years, the most popular among balding men is long on top, medium on the sides, towards the front. You can also comb towards the front and sides, if you want to take care of thinning spots at the temples.
If you’re thinning out on top, be sure to shorten the hair as you reach that spot, or else you’ll create an unfavorable contrast. There’s nothing worse than seeing an Caesar well done, only to have the guy turn around and have a huge sun dome up there, in the middle of all that well styled hair.
The high and tight
The high and tight can work very well for men who are thinning up top. It works to cover up problem areas, without becoming a combover. If you part the hair, it becomes a vintage look, and is actually quite interesting if you can pull it off. If you’re into that retro air, this hairstyle is easy to manage, and can even take a few years off your look. You’ll probably need to do some beard work like the guy in the picture in order to balance out the cut, since the very short sides tend to attract too much attention to the top of your head.
Brushed back, revealing the forehead
This is one of those classic hairstyles that can work for men in their 30s. While elaborate, long hairstyles like the pompadour or the Ivy League tend to favor younger men, if you trim your hair in an orderly fashion, and then brush it back, you’ll get a style that works well for older men. This style doesn’t scream “I’m trying to look younger”, and speaks in a more moderate, organized fashion. If your face has a stylized shape, this hairstyle might just work for you.
The Power Donut
Now, when you’re a bit older, going past your 40s, the power donut becomes an option. While on a younger crowd the power donut looks disastrous, as you age it gets more becoming. It’s name describes exactly the air you’re going for: experience, power, influence. That’s exactly what the donut says.
Sean Connery and Jack Welch are examples of the power donut in the celebrity world. And Mark Strong has a more trimmed down, neatened version of the donut that works just as well.
You’ll need to sharpen your attire for maximum donut effect. Remember, you’re looking to say “CEO”, not “Mort from Family Guy”. Your body language and expression also plays a big part in the image you project if you’re wearing a power donut, so keep them up to speed!