When someone is trying to point me out in a room, I’m “the bald guy over there.” But even then, I don’t stand out, since an estimated 70 per cent of Australian men will be affected by something called androgenetic alopecia, more commonly known as male-pattern baldness.
Losing your hair in your 20s and 30s might seem like the end of the world at the time, but I’m here to tell you it isn’t. Forget the fear that beautiful women won’t date a man whose hairline has turned and fled. A few years ago, a study from UPenn’s Wharton School found that guys with shaved heads were perceived as being more dominant than those with full heads of hair. Check out John Malkovich or Vin Diesel for proof. And we shouldn’t have to tell you that women find power sexy.
Still, most bald guys, given a choice, would prefer to have more hair to comb rather than more hair in the comb. We’ve been promised for more than a decade that a cure for thinning hair is just around the corner, and frankly our patience is now thinning too. Sometimes, despite the huge and lucrative potential market for an affordable and effective hair-loss remedy, it seems as if nobody is even trying to find one.
An online troll through some hair-loss forums led me to a few interesting underground “remedies,” including scalp tattooing (camouflage that bald spot!), caffeine-laced shampoos (make those follicles so jittery they have to produce something!), and various herbal concoctions containing capsaicin, the compound that makes chillies hot (flush out your scalp with fresh, oxygenating blood!). According to a National Enquirer story—and who am I to doubt them?—Leonardo DiCaprio regularly smears his handsome noggin with all kinds of stuff, including lemon juice, horseradish, and spice mixtures. Evidently, it’s so smelly that some of the models he chats up have complained.
Before you make a titanic mistake by spending lots of your hard-earned money on any of these solutions, understand that none of them will restore your once-flowing mane or fill in your bald spot in a way that preserves your respectability. But legitimate treatments are coming—really, says Dr Angela Christiano, a Columbia University professor who specialises in researching hair loss and its potential remedies. In fact, sometime in the next decade, I may be able to choose from several good options to regrow my mane and once again enjoy the distinction of being identified at parties as “the guy with the great head of hair over there.”
Here’s what’s on the horizon.
The Wait: 3 to 5 years
Healthy hair grows in cycles. A follicle produces a hair; the hair hangs out looking sexy for a while; then the hair falls out. When that happens, the follicle goes temporarily dormant before sprouting anew. The number of cycles is supposed to be unlimited, but in balding men, the new hair grows back finer each time, until it’s like peach fuzz. The hair isn’t gone; it’s just imperceptible. In October, Christiano began using a class of drugs called JAK inhibitors, which target inflammatory cell pathways, to stimulate follicles back into robust growth cycles. She did this successfully in mice and in human cells. Whether it’ll work on real men remains to be seen. Since the drugs are already approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for other purposes, they have cleared major safety hurdles and could be in clinical trials for hair loss soon.
The Wait: 5 years
For quite some time, researchers have been betting big on the potential for stem cells to grow human hair. But when hair-follicle stem cells are grown in the lab, they lose their capacity to induce new hair follicles when placed back into the scalp. These hair-follicle stem cells don’t seem powerful enough to do the trick on their own. One solution, says Christiano, is to find ways to restore their inductive properties, by growing them in special conditions in the lab and coaxing them back into a potent state. Scientists at the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute recently discovered they could grow new follicles by using a type of human skin cell derived from pluripotent stem cells. So far, only mice have been enjoying the fruits of these findings. Regardless, researchers believe pluripotent cells could be used to grow new hairs. Human trials are scheduled to begin in the near future.
The Wait: 5 to 8 years
Right now, the best way to restore a receding hairline is via hair transplant surgery (see “A Tale of Two Transplants,” right). The days of corn-rowed hair plugs are long gone, sometimes replaced by robot-assisted microsurgery devices that can create a remarkably natural look. But these procedures aren’t cheap and rather than creating new hair, transplants merely move existing follicles from the back and sides of the head to the front of the scalp. If you’ve been balding for a while, your remaining hair may be too sparse to provide enough donor sites. But what if you could take just 100 follicles and clone them into 100,000—the number most men are born with on the scalp? In 2012, a Japanese group reported preliminary success cloning follicles. According to Christiano, the field of regenerative medicine is rapidly advancing, so you might have the opportunity to become a successful farmer soon.
Fibroblast Growth Factor
The Wait: About 8 years
Conventional wisdom says we’re born with all the hair follicles we’ll ever have, and some of us are simply destined to have clogged shower drains in our future. But in a study in Nature Medicine, Dr George Cotsarelis, a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist, reported on a possible way to grow new follicles by wounding the scalp and treating it with a substance called Fgf9, or fibroblast growth factor 9. The process produced hairier mice by creating new follicular stem cells in an area of the epidermis called the bulge. The problem is that humans don’t have much Fgf9. The solution, says Dr. Cotsarelis, is a combo treatment that involves “microwounding” the scalp and then applying a drug with synthetic Fgf9. Dr. Cotsarelis is involved with a startup company, Follica, that’s exploring the feasibility of doing the same thing with men.
The Wait: At least 10 years
What if the cure for baldness involved yanking out your few remaining hairs? Counterintuitive, yes, but science backs this theory. Last year, researchers at the University of Southern California discovered that removing about 200 individual hairs induced the regrowth of about 1,200 dormant hairs—again, only in mice. Still, there’s hope. The science behind this has to do with a process called “quorum sensing,” where a group of stem cells responds to an injury afflicting its colleagues. The resulting inflammation signals the surviving stem cells to wake the hell up, get busy, and grow more hair. For this procedure to sprout significant coverage in humans, researchers say they need to figure out how to deploy stem cells to foster controlled regrowth. So be patient. Someday soon we may finally have a legitimate reason to go pluck ourselves.
Not Your Old Rug
Plenty of celebs are rumoured to be sporting toupees. Can’t tell? That’s the point.
The opening scene of American Hustle is a painful 90 seconds. You see Christian Bale before a mirror, carefully covering his bald spot with a 1970s-era toupee. He glues the hair into place, coifs it, and then hits it with hair spray. The scene aims to stain Bale’s character with the mark of dishonesty. It works, too. But why? Is the toupee really that bad? It’s hard to imagine Jason Statham or Patrick Stewart wearing one, but plenty of other celebrities do it. And maybe that’s fine. The old days of toupees so obvious they could be spotted from a Landsat 7 satellite are gone, and so are the days of gluing them on. Today’s hairpieces are mostly undetectable. The process of attaching them and blending them with existing hair is painstaking and expensive, and as the natural hair grows, everything needs to be readjusted every week or so. Are we saying you should buy a rug? No. But if you do, no one will ever know.
Two Hair Replacement Rip Offs To Avoid
If wishful thinking is a commodity, consider Nioxin its primary purveyor. The company that makes this line of topical treatments claims that it can rid your scalp of follicle-clogging sebum and surface residue. While the claim may be true, it’s irrelevant for balding men. “Every shampoo does that,” says dermatologist Dr Papri Sarkar. “Sebum is simply an oil produced by your sebaceous glands. Getting rid of it does nothing to help reduce male-pattern hair loss.” So why do some men insist they’ve seen results? It’s probably because they’re initially washing their hair more often, which leads to fewer hairs clogging the drain. “If you wash your hair every three days, you might lose 300 hairs per wash,” says Dr. Sarkar. “But when you do it daily, you’ll lose only 100 hairs.” Plus, clean hair has more body than greasy hair, so it looks thicker.
The hair you see is dead tissue. Feeding it won’t bring it back to life any more than fertiliser will revive the dried-out plant in your office. Don’t bother googling “supplements for hair loss” because all you’ll get are bogus claims and “reviews” from shills working for companies that sell overpriced rubbish. The US FDA is clear: “Based on evidence currently available, all labeling claims for OTC hair grower and hair loss prevention drug products for external use are either false, misleading, or unsupported by scientific data.”
A Tale of Transplant
In the early days of hair transplantation, doctors harvested large multi-hair grafts, known as plugs, from the back and sides of the head and transferred them to sparser patches, where they were coddled until they hopefully took root and flourished.
It was a painstaking and expensive process, done entirely by hand, not unlike trying to grow corn in the Sahara Desert. By the time hundreds or even thousands of hairs had been transferred, the pincushion scalp often resembled a doll’s head.
Despite all the jokes and porous scalps, hair transplantation is still around today and still beyond the financial reach of most regular guys ($10,000 and up for quality jobs). But it can be much less time-consuming now, and the results look far more realistic and attractive. The surgery today utilises more-advanced techniques, including high-tech robots that methodically punch microscopic holes in the scalp and quickly fill them with smaller natural-hair groupings, or “micrografts,” instead of clumsy plugs.
Skeptical? Take a look at the photo of Matthew McConaughey. Pretty natural, huh? In fact, if you haven’t been following his career, you might never guess he’d thinned out and allegedly resorted to this procedure to replace some of his hair. It looks that good. And it could for you too. Just start saving now.
The Truth About Trump’s Hair Tower
What the hell is happening with this dude’s hair?
And we don’t mean that in a mocking way. (The rest of the Internet certainly has that more than covered.) We’re asking the question out of sincere, unironic, fascinated curiosity.
Is it a toupee? Probably not. Is it a comb-over? Absolutely. But what is it combing over? Trump appears to have a full head of hair. So why does he comb it like he’s walking backward on a windy day?
The most probable reason is that at some point in the 1980s, Trump may have had a hair-loss scare and resorted to a rarely used procedure called scalp flap surgery. This involves taking a section of hair above the ears, cutting it loose on three sides, and flipping it up and over the front of the scalp, where it was sewn down. Because that hair originally grew in a different direction and continues to do so, the new hairline looks unnatural. (The surgery likely produced a scar he’s covering up.)
“I do not question Trump’s assertion that his hair is 100 per cent his own,” says hair transplant specialist Dr Paul McAndrews. “I believe it is his hair; I just do not believe that God was the architect of his hairline.”
Unfortunately, Trump has repeatedly refused to provide even a hairbreadth of explanation.