Going bald at 23 is not an option. What do I do?
June 13, 2013 4:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm a 23-year-old guy, my hairline is starting to recede, and I want to know what my real options are.

I'm coming here because it's hard to tell what's real and what's bullshit about hair loss. I'm starting to get "entryways" above my temples, and a line just above my widow's peak is starting to thin out as well. The back of my head is so far unaffected. My father was completely bald by age 30.

This hurts me particularly because I have thick, wavy brown hair, and I consider it my best physical feature (it is by far the part of me that I get the most physical compliments on). I've struggled with body-image and self-esteem issues in the past, and the thought that my "one good thing" is going away is hitting me harder than I was expecting.

What can I do to mitigate or recover the damage? I'm not wearing a toupee or anything obvious and gross. Failing that, how do I cope with it? I'm 23 for God's sake! I'm too young to be old!
posted by nickhb to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm ten years older than you, but my hair was pretty great until about three years ago, when I had the same problem (rapidly thinning widows peak). My solution was to buy some clippers and use the 1 guard, which I do about once a month.

(My father had a combover in his high school graduation picture, so I'd been preparing for it for a while.)
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:56 PM on June 13, 2013

Propecia or Rogaine (or both). Personally I value my liver and my wallet more than my hair and I've been going bald since I was 17.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:57 PM on June 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your options are to figure out a way to accept it and go bald gracefully, or to get upset and go bald anyway. I'm sorry.

I personally think that shaved heads or short buzz cuts work best once someone has noticeable hair loss. I have never seen a combover or other hairstyle to disguise hair loss that worked - they all just draw attention to the receding hairline.
posted by insectosaurus at 4:57 PM on June 13, 2013 [23 favorites]

get a set of good clippers and some cool hats that work with your lifestyle and own the shaved head. there is pretty large part of the population that finds shaved heads (and confidence!) super attractive.
posted by justjess at 5:01 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Whatever you do, don't get some awkward long bangs/combover type haircut to cover it up. I have a friend whose about your age and has a similar thing going on. He's determined to pretend it isn't happening and just have a long shaggy haircut that covers it up.

It looks awful, to everyone but him. He wears a hat almost all the time now.

The options are pretty much deal with it, wear a hat, or try some kind of Rogaine type stuff. Although my old roommate(also your age, also similar issue) was doing that and it wasn't making much of a difference...
posted by emptythought at 5:03 PM on June 13, 2013

I've been shaving my head since I was 22-23 or so. The *confidence* your hair gives you is your best feature. The best thing you can do for the remainder of your life, apart from this specific issue, is to be comfortable in who and what you are at any given point. Maybe it's clippers, or a hat, or any of the solutions, but attachment to your former hair isn't it.
posted by kcm at 5:06 PM on June 13, 2013 [12 favorites]

Live with it until your hairline goes too far and then just shave it.

Just remember to wear sunscreen. Or a hat. On the plus side, no hat-head.
posted by GuyZero at 5:08 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll just leave this here.
posted by 256 at 5:10 PM on June 13, 2013 [21 favorites]

Chill out. A recent study showed that baldness can be a powerful business advantage. I'm a mid-20s woman and definitely attracted to bald men. As long as you're reasonably wealthy, you'll be fine in the dating market.
posted by Unangenehm at 5:11 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Your dismay is totally understandable. As far as I've heard, nothing out there works highly effectively (but there are a lot of companies selling "solutions" to take advantage of said dismay). One possibly viable option at some future point might be hair transplantation unless when you say totally bald you mean really totally with nothing left on the sides and back.
posted by Dansaman at 5:13 PM on June 13, 2013

You'll find tons of balding questions on here if you search. There was just one less than a week ago.

You'll notice the general theme is, "just let it go and cut it short" and that's because it's really the only solution. Save your sanity and work towards acceptance. I was basically bald by 23 (I'm 24 now). I started balding at 18/19 and as it started accelerating it also hit me hard, so don't feel bad about feeling bad either. I was pretty depressed over it for a couple months. Now? It's really not that bad. I'm still successful professionally, I haven't had any troubles with the females, and I don't have to pay for haircuts anymore. Take care of your body, be confident, and go forth with life.

That said, if you're determined to fight it for a bit (and I did too), everything but Propecia, Rogaine, or transplants is bullshit.
posted by Defenestrator at 5:14 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Listen to justjess.

Men with shaved heads are super hot.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 5:17 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband has a receding hair line. He is 25. His started going back from high school, but then kind of stopped and has stayed where it's at for a while. He trims the back of his hair short, then keeps the top part longer and kind of messy (he is in my profile pic on my page.) I actually cut his hair to keep this affect.

I didn't know he was losing hair when I met him until I showered with him and he told me. He said he used Rogaine in the past, but it only works while you use it so you have to keep applying it. I have seen things online that make you look like you have hair temporarily. I can't remember what it was called, but it was like a fiber/powder that made it look like hair.

Therefore my vote would be to try for a hairstyle that makes it look more full. I don't know you normally wear your hair. My husband said that at some point he will probably just cut it short. Really though the easiest option is to just accept it.
posted by Crystalinne at 5:29 PM on June 13, 2013

Failing that, how do I cope with it?

kcm has it. It's not your hair that makes you attractive, it's the confidence that it gives you. Since you say "I've struggled with body-image and self-esteem issues in the past" that says to me that the way to handle your hair loss is to concentrate on these issues you know you have. Get yourself another "one good thing". Feel good about your clothes or your health or your sweet dance moves. It's hard! But it's ultimately worth it and your hair won't be relevant to your self worth.
posted by Mizu at 5:36 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Unangenehm posted:

As long as you're reasonably wealthy, you'll be fine in the dating market.

Which is such a painful thing to hear as to be straight-up hilarious, BUT she does sorta have a point, that you might just need to focus on something else entirely.

my "one good thing" is going away

You need a new "one good thing". It doesn't have to be wealth! It can be any combination of things, such as:

sexy body
listening skills
some kind of trick-based skill-set (yo-yo-ing? jumping real high?)

There's probably tons of other things I'm not even thinking of.

Ah! On preview, Mizu is suggesting the same thing:

Get yourself another "one good thing".

Mizu is right! This is hard! But our bodies all decaying anyway, so this is a good time to start dumping your points into another stat. Time to multiclass! I wish you the best of luck. If you want advice on any of the above categories, mefi will be happy to assist you with how to build those stats.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:45 PM on June 13, 2013 [20 favorites]

There's always the Andy Warhol approach. If you have the guts, charisma and bravado; and if you don't, go get some. What were your options before you started going bald? Resting uneasily on your "one good feature"? Pfft. Life of precarious mediocrity. But now that option is foreclosed. And your choice is to fold, or sally forth with an all out attack. Which is it gonna be? I say, don't defend, attack!

I propose silver, metallic, shoulder-length, and a life of a creative artist.
posted by VikingSword at 6:20 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Go to a dermatologist. You can't stop it, but you can probably DELAY the inevitable. They're doing interesting things with Latisse for hair rather than just lashes now (it's in FDA trials for hair loss), and I've heard really good things about that, but your dermatologist will know the most. If it's bothering you, get some Propecia and Rogaine and practice better living though chemistry.

That being said, you will have to accept that hardly ANYONE keeps all their gorgeous youthful hair forever (even women) so it's also good to have other things to offer, as noted above. And if I may be super blunt, as a straight woman, personally, a great body will really even out any perceived lack of sexiness from not having any hair -- and we have a lot more control over our muscles than our hairline. Think of all the hot fit bald celebs: The Rock, Jason Statham, Taye Diggs, Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis.

If it makes you feel better, in 10 years almost all the dudes you know will be losing some hair. Everyone I know who's into dudes really doesn't care as long as you don't.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:24 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was in the same boat as you. Costco-brand Rogaine kept back the tide for a while, but I got tired of dealing with the application and having a stinky head all night long (cost really isn't an issue with that stuff - it was like $20 for a four-month supply). Propecia is supposed to be better (a pill, not a drip), but was much, much more expensive when I was looking at it, as there was no generic alternative available.

One of my wealthy relatives heard me complain about my rapidly thinning hair, once, and offered to pay for hair transplant surgery. I don't remember the name of the place -- there are a few national outfits that offer basically the same package. What they do is they take a strip of hair & skin (a horizontal line) about a 1/4" tall out of the back of your head. They then stretch the skin to cover the part that was removed, dice up the removed bit into extremely tiny bits just a few follicles large, and then implant those little bits into the areas from which you are missing hair.

The results are impressive. It is your real hair, it really goes where it ought to, and it will look good.

The downsides, as I could see it, were two-fold: one, there is no guarantee that one surgery will be enough. It might cover the current losses, but if you keep getting balder, you will just keep thinning. Everyone who has the surgery goes on propecia for life to try and mitigate this. The second aspect is that the surgery is extremely expensive. I was quoted a price of something like $18k.

Ultimately, I decided not to go for it. Although my wealthy relative (who could easily afford it) would pay, I just could not justify spending that much money on my own personal vanity. Now, it's not like my relative went out and gave this money to starving children in Africa after I turned it down, but the basic idea of spending so much on something so ultimately trivial just did not sit well with me.

Still, I felt good to hear my options and to know that these things were available and, ultimately, that I wasn't interested. It gave me a kind of confidence to say, "no thanks," and then embrace my bald future. I started cutting my hair short, wearing jaunty caps, etc. and although it took me some time to really accept that being bald was not the end of the world, eventually it happened.

My hair was GLORIOUS. I thought going bald was the end of the world, but eventually, I met someone who liked bald guys. Sometimes these things work out just fine.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 6:40 PM on June 13, 2013 [8 favorites]

I've been there man. It took me years to start cutting my hair short and I looked stupid and terrible until I did. I wish I had done it sooner.

Get a trusted friend to tell you when it's time to cut all your hair off, then trust them.

Here's a nice upside of accepting balding: You get all your aging done early. You will look the same at 25 as you will at 45, more or less. I mean, Patrick Stewart looks almost the same now as he did when Star Trek TNG was running twenty years ago.
posted by JDHarper at 6:48 PM on June 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

Anyone can grow hair, a real man wears it off.
Also, my best friend went mostly bald around your age and he went on to have a happy and successful life with no apparent difficulty attracting the ladies.
I worried a little about going bald myself until my barber convinced to try a "number 2" - all remaining hair clipped to 2mm. Works a treat, you're in and out of the barbershop in 5 minutes, no combing required, ever.
With the right attitude, going bald can be a feature, not a bug.
posted by islander at 6:54 PM on June 13, 2013

I started losing my hair around 18 though it didn't get serious until I was about your age. I shaved my head and never looked back. I use clippers on the lowest setting once a week. It's super easy and you never have to buy shampoo or pay for a haircut again.

What I want to emphasize is now, 5 years later, I almost never feel like a 'bald man.' It's just the way I look and women are either neutral or love it. I feel 100% better about how I look now than when I had longer thinning hair.
posted by saul wright at 6:54 PM on June 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Aderans Research is developing a technique of cloning hair follicles that in the initial testing was very very promising. It was in development for at least 8 years. Unfortunately, in the wider clinical testing the results were really bad. I know someone who used to work there who told me about it. Seems there was one tech who got great results, but they were unable to widely replicate it. Most of the division were laid off last November, so it's back to a very small research group. If you have a few million to invest this would likely be your best bet.
posted by Sophont at 7:01 PM on June 13, 2013

1. Most women don't give a shit about bald or not bald. Seriously. No combovers, but other than that, whatever! I think Will Arnett is really sexy, and that dude's hairline is so receded that his forehead is now a five-head. I could go on and on about sexy bald and balding men, but I won't. I think you get the picture.

2. Your "one good thing"? Find another good thing. Dress well, smell good, work out. Take pride in your appearance.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 7:37 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Bald men, especially IN SHAPE bald men, are sexy as hell. Especially when you can tell that they've closely cropped their remaining hair and have a wicked receding hairline. It helps if you're hirsute on your body otherwise, which I'm gonna bet Donuts to Dollars you are. Those kinda things go hand-in-hand. Bald head = Hairy Chest, no?

With that in mind, sexy is as sexy does... it's all just a mindset and how one carries one's self. And of course, stupid is as stupid does. (Thanks Forrest!)

You can propecia yourself, you can rogaine yourself, and you can get transplants - but in the end none of it will make any difference. Sorry. Try again in 20 years for a better technological breakthrough.

I've seen dudes with comb-overs, fake-rugs, and transplants that looked like rows of planted corn - and they all looked ridiculous. Of note was a fellow Naval Officer with a transplant job that left him with obvious rows of transplanted hair - I felt sorry for him because even though he now shaved his head, the 'roots' of the transplant job always showed through like even rows of dots on his forehead. He was such a nice guy too, and had to put up with people giving him second glances and talking about him behind his back. An aside, he died of cancer last year. But yeah - people always find a way to be cruel.

And then there's this guy in my office... probably in early 50's. He has a GORGEOUS head of auburn hair. It's always perfectly coiffed, and always perfectly the same. And it always never matches his grey beard or eyelashes, nor does it match his skin or general look - he looks like a mature man with the hair of a man who is... NOT HIM. So it makes him look very insecure. Don't let that be you.

And THEN I've seen men in good shape with closely cropped hair, or even shaved bald, who carry such a sense of confidence and pride that I just want to. LAP. THEM. UP.

Point is... it ain't about your hair dude. It's about who YOU are.
posted by matty at 7:42 PM on June 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know if it works as well for receding hairline as it does for back of the head baldness, but my dad has had great success with a combo of Rogaine and Propecia. Go see a dermatologist.
posted by radioamy at 8:15 PM on June 13, 2013

I'm in the you'll probably be happier if you just buzz it short camp. It's really in style now so there's going to be a lot of 20 somethings doing it just because they like the look.

If you still want to try other options, I know someone who uses a laser comb who's had decent results. She's a woman and her part was really thinning. It does look better, not perfect though. It does seem to have stopped the thinning. She got hers on e-bay but she told me she wishes she had made her own because it's so much cheaper. She tried Rogaine and quit it because the mousse was so drippy in thin hair.

From a quick google search, the laser comb seems to be mildly effective like Rogaine but really expensive if you buy a commercial one. I think the one she bought on ebay was $200 a few years ago but it looks like you can build one fairly easily for around $50.

About laser combs

How someone made a laser comb with photos to show you how to copy it
posted by stray thoughts at 8:28 PM on June 13, 2013

When I was young (which I am way not now) and hot (which I still am ;) I was drawn to bald or balding men with beards. Something about that combo was/is just oo-la-la. Of course I ultimately married a man just like that. I have all this clarity in hindsight now... it was not a conscious quest at the time but looking back the pattern of my lust is very clear. I have actually thought about this quite a bit because my husband was kind of apologetic about his balding and it bothered me that it bothered him because I loved him so much and it did not matter to me at all. He wasn't obsessed or anything but it would come up every now and then. He ended up just going with it by close-cutting his ever-narrowing ring around the skull and being careful to protect the top from burning with caps or sunscreen. He looked great, IMHO!

I have a friend since childhood who tried all the products to little to no avail. Both his father and his maternal grandfather lost their hair on top. He ended up spending a small fortune to get a series of successful implants. He is in his 60s now and still has hair on top. It is thin but tasteful and looks far and away better than a toupee, combover and whatever it is that Donald Trump does. He is to this day self-conscious about his hair.

I am sure you know that genes are involved. My son comes from baldness on his father's side of the family and from my side it is a mixed bag and I am not your or anyone's geneticist. My father (a barber!) died with a thick head of hair but a deeply defined widow's peak. On my mother's side, the men went bald on top all the way. My son has always chosen to close-crop his own hair for whatever reason. He plays with a tiny strip of a chin beard on and off. He let me dye his hair green one time in middle school. That was a long time ago.

If I were you and brave and young and had your fears, I might try buzzing it all off now and see what I liked and/or hated. The hair you have is going to grow back fast. It won't get thicker but it won't get thinner faster by cutting it.
posted by maggieb at 8:37 PM on June 13, 2013

There were some articles last that more effective baldness treatments were on because they discovered prostaglandin D2 was involved in a lot of hereditary hair loss. Currently propecia is the most proven remedy out there. It can cause lowered sex drive and other problems. The side effects are pretty variable with some people experiencing none and other people experiencing more than one at levels that cause them to discontinue treatment. Salicylic acid shampoos have some anti-prostaglandin activity. Maybe propecia plus salicylic acid shampoo? Just making a guess.

23 might not be the age where you need to understand this but likely there will be a few points where you will end up having to accept it more than you do now- New cars can not keep their new car look forever. It is good to keep things looking as good as they can but eternal youth isn't really attainable. More and more things will happen that will remove your young adult veneer because more and more you will be transitioning to not being a young adult.

There are literately thousands of blogs and forums on hair loss with many oodles of research topics discussed. Some of the sites are mostly con-artists but some of them are really trying to sort out what sorts of treatments have some actual value. If you check these things out be very weary and try to check their data against places like pubmed.
posted by logonym at 8:53 PM on June 13, 2013

My husband and his twin brother started going bald when they were 18. Fully bald except for a bit of fluff around the back before 30. My husband responded by shaving his head and took up weight lifting. His twin wore toupees until it became ridiculously obvious, took every regrowth medication possible and stressed about the whole thing endlessly.

Between the ages of 20 (already clearly balding, remember) and when he meet me in his late 20s, my husband had 10 girlfriends/fuckbuddies. He still gets women hitting on him (people say he looks like a young Patrick Stewart). His brother, on the other hand, has never had a girlfriend at all. (Or boyfriend). There you go. As close to a natural experiment as you could ask for!

It's not the hair. It's the confidence.
posted by lollusc at 9:22 PM on June 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

I started losing my hair at 17. I tried many things, mostly at my family's insistence, who were more neurotic than me about it. At 20, I shaved it all off and have been doing it for the last 15 years.

You know what? It's liberating. No more neurosis, no more wondering if people can tell, no more astonishment from tactless people. You're done with being a guy whose balding. Now you're just w guy who shaves his head.

That in itself becomes a feature that defines you, in a good way. And you know what else? Women will want to touch the peach fuzz on your head.

It's going to happen eventually. You can work on delaying the inevitable, or you can work on accepting it now. After you take the leap, you won't be able to look at yourself in the mirror for a week. Then you'll adjust and life will go on.

You'll be fine.
posted by dry white toast at 9:32 PM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

So I'm going bald a little bit on the back, and only one person has ever said anything mean about it to me. She would say it every now and again when she was around me, and it was a pretty quick way for me to learn about how horrid of a person she was. She was my next door neighbor in my old college town, and when I moved away, my old roommates replaced me with her. I visited them a few months later, and as it happened, they all began to realize how horrible of a person she was over their few months of cohabitation. If only my old roomies had the blessing of baldness.

That's an over simplification, but you get the point. Werk that shit.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:11 AM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's like dry white toast is my spiritual brother.

I had soft, light, fluffy hair that people liked to pet. It was wonderful. When I was lying down one day, a friend sat down on my fluffy hair, and I sat up out of reflex, and everyone in the room looked at the bed, then at me, then at the bed again, and made sort of a sad collective sighing sound. I'd sat up, but a large chunk of my hair didn't make the trip with me. It was a decent handful, and it hadn't hurt a bit. I was twenty-one. I went back to my dorm, borrowed my roommates clippers, and that was the last time I had hair more than a fraction of an inch long.

It was my best outward feature, and yes, I've had body issues, esteem issues, possibly very much like you mentioned. I looked at it in that moment as something that couldn't really be avoided. It couldn't be helped, and as such, it wasn't something to spend energy mourning. Don't get me wrong. I loved my hair. I miss it dearly. But it was going, and it was probably well past where yours is at. I could have put all my energy into keeping it, but instead I cut it off and went on with my life.

It's a physical feature. It's not you. Don't a thing, or it's lack, become who you are.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:14 AM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

1- I'm pretty sure the Rogaine and Propecia drugs don't work as well, or at all, on forehead baldness. Only on crown baldness.

2- If you go the transplant route, you are stuck with two things: a transplant scar on the back of your head, and a very strange hairline as your hair continues to recede behind the transplanted spots. You have to keep up on it. There is a guy at work who did not keep up on it and it looks ridiculous.

I agree with the other posters. Either be ridiculously vigilant, forever, about the hair replacement method you choose, or accept the hair loss and own it.

Also, your hairline could just be doing that thing where it matures up a little, and then stops receding again.
posted by gjc at 2:46 AM on June 14, 2013

The incomparable Gregor Fisher with a combover. Bonus for the youngsters, they used to advertise cigars on British television.
posted by epo at 4:27 AM on June 14, 2013

Digitally high-fiving Greg Nog for his comment above. Find your one good thing.

But I feel you. Girls used to play with my hair in college, and watching it fall out was like watching my youth fall out. Sucked. Particularly when literally no one else in my family is bald. My dad's barely grey up top, so I didn't have time to prepare myself for the inevitable.

Strictly for what to do with the hair? I shaved my head a few years ago for solidarity when a family member got cancer. Not razor-every-day shaved, just balding-clippers-couple-times-a-week shaved. Wound up sticking with it because my hair had pretty well reached the point of making a decision (about 50% density up top, give or take), my skull shape's okay, and I just didn't want to go the fringe route.

I like it. I like the ease of maintenance, I like that it takes less time to get ready for work, and I like that I can ride in convertibles with impunity. Women in my life have reported that it makes me look older but more distinguished. And some women do have a thing for shaved heads.

The drugs won't work on forehead baldness and plugs/wigs are a non-starter for me. So if it were me, I'd either get comfortable with letting things progress naturally or else wait until things have gotten really thinned out, buy some balding clippers, and nuke the site from orbit.
posted by middleclasstool at 7:03 AM on June 14, 2013

The thing about a shaved balding head when the rest of the hair starts doing its little suede thing as it grows back in: it's The. Most. Tactile. Thing. EVER.
posted by glasseyes at 7:48 AM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shave it off. I think men with bald heads look badass.
posted by futureisunwritten at 1:13 PM on June 14, 2013

Shave it off, and get some muscles for good measure. Bald heads and muscles are a lethal ladyslaying combo of manliness.
posted by Broseph at 10:59 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd generally caution against the shaved head and hats combination. It's becoming the new combover and it's something that men who call themselves "Mystery" or "The Edge" would do.

If you want to see late-stage "owning it" look at Bill Bailey or, more conservatively, Alain de Botton.
posted by PJMcPrettypants at 3:45 AM on June 15, 2013

Try to pay your attention to your hair care as it plays a great role in its health. Some of the common tips that will help to keep your hair healthy are:
1) do not dry it with towel, as wet hair damages easily especially when you rub it with a towel. 2) Wash your hair in warm water, not hot as hot water strips too much of the essential oil from the hair and scalp and leads to dryness.
3) Don't use a brush on wet hair
4) Do not use much of shampoo, as over shampooing is one more reason for thinning hair. Because it strips away the oils with harsh chemicals contained in most shampoos hair becomes dry and brittle, falling out easier.
5) eat healthy to consume an appropriate amount of proteins that are important for healthy hair.

These are just some advices for the future.
To restore the hair that was lost, try the medicinal way, I mean Rogaine or Propecia (or some other finasteride medications). Do not think it is time to go bald or to opt any surgical methods.
posted by mitch311 at 3:03 AM on April 17, 2014

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