How To Go Bald Gracefully, Whatever Stage Of Hair Loss You’re At
Going bald is a lot like going through a divorce, with your scalp as the injured party. There’s denial, anger and resentment, but ultimately, resignation, acceptance and relief. As someone who has experienced all these emotions (my hair’s relationship with my scalp broke down in my twenties and I’m rapidly approaching the decree absolute stage), I know how devastating it can be.
If, like me, your thatch isn’t quite as thick as it used to be, you’re certainly not alone. According to trichologist and founder of My Hair Doctor Mr Guy Parsons, it’s more unusual for men not to go through this. “Most men will begin to notice thinning hair or a receding hairline in their twenties,” he says. “By the age of 60, it will affect about 60 per cent, so most men will have some form of hair loss during their life. Even so, it still causes untold distress and anguish and is strongly associated with anxiety, self-doubt and low self-esteem.”
Male pattern baldness – the pesky, genetically inherited condition that causes most cases of hair loss in men – affects everyone differently, but generally follows a set course, starting with a receding hairline and a thinning at the crown and ending up with a perfectly polished pate. The good news is that there are styles, cuts and a raft of products to help you every step of the way.
A receding hairline
If you’ve just noticed your hairline’s receding, your key objective is to hang on to what hair you have by showing it some love (start by turning down the heat on dryers, avoiding rough towel-drying and treating your scalp to a cleansing scalp mask to reduce follicle-blocking product build-up) while avoiding styles such as quiffs, which can accentuate the recession.
“Any style that pushes the hair back will enhance a receding hairline, making the forehead look wider,” says barber and male grooming expert Mr Carmelo Guastella, who’s tended to the tresses of everyone from Mr Robert Downey Jr to the England football squad. “Instead, style your hair forwards, but avoid a long fringe as this can work against what you are trying to achieve, becoming limp and gappy. A shorter, cropped hairstyle with a short, textured fringe or a cowlick is by far your best bet.”
To add texture and body to thinning hair, he suggests using thickening shampoos, which work by plumping individual hair shafts, and styling with matte clays, light powders or sea-salt sprays, but not overdoing them. “Less is more with fine hair, so use sparingly and definitely avoid greasy products and heavy waxes, which will just weigh hair down,” he says.
When you’re thinning on top
“If you find yourself thinning mainly on the crown or have a bald spot, keep the front and top of your hair longer and then style it up and back from your face with a quiff or pomp to help with coverage,” says celebrity hairdresser Mr Joe Mills, whose nifty fingers have styled the hair of everyone from Mr Taron Egerton to Normal People actor Mr Paul Mescal.
He also suggests avoiding sharp partings if you’re thinning. “As a rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid these because they tend to highlight hair loss,” he says. “Having a natural break in the hair is far more flattering and works with most styles.” A shorter, textured cut with a blunt finish or a crop, meanwhile, is perfect for helping disguise the classic M shape of hair that forms as hair loss accelerates.
Like Guastella, he recommends arming yourself with a sea-salt spray. “It’s my go-to product for thinning hair as it helps plump out what you have,” he says. “Simply apply to damp hair, then use a hairdryer, which can also add volume, to dry and style.”
The tipping point
The midpoint of male pattern baldness comes when hair loss at the temples and crown meet, often forming a somewhat forlorn-looking island of hair (think Mr Jude Law or a mid-1980s Mr Phil Collins).
“The basic rule when your hair is thinning on top is to keep the sides and back as short as possible and to keep what’s left on top a touch longer,” says Guastella. “Fading the hair at the sides and back will give an optical illusion of fuller hair on top.” Cutting techniques such as blunt cutting, where hair is held horizontally and snipped at the ends, can be used to create fullness, while salt sprays can add texture and hairsprays hold. Otherwise, be brave and think about a low-maintenance, military-style buzz cut.
According to Dr Bessam Farjo, hair restoration surgeon and co-founder of the Farjo Hair Institute, this might also be a good time to think about a hair transplant if your hair loss is really bothering you. “It’s best to have transplant surgery when the loss is fairly stable because this makes planning, design and longevity of the look more predictable,” he says, the worst time being when you’re at the beginning of your hair-loss journey. “At that assessment stage, we can make a guesstimate as to what the future might hold.” Check your bank balance first, however. The average transplant costs about £7,000 in the UK.
Bald up top, but hanging on at the back and sides
The temples and the crown are the areas most sensitive to dihydrotestosterone, the hormone that causes male pattern baldness, which is why hair often vanishes there first but is left at the back and sides.
If all you’re left with is a ring of hair that stretches from ear to ear, your style options may seem like they’re pretty much limited to a combover or a grown-out hippy do like The Rocky Horror Show’s Riff Raff. “Combovers never work,” Mills says of the first option and it’s not Halloween, so forget the second. The third option is a neatly trimmed horseshoe of hair, as sported by Sir Patrick Stewart or Prince William.
“My advice is to keep hair short in this situation and to make sure any wispy bits of hair on top are trimmed or removed,” he says. “Hair at this stage will always look better if it’s kept neat and tidy.” To keep the hair you do have looking its best, he recommends using a lightweight wax.
If the transition to a full Statham is an emotional challenge, as it still is to me, Mr Bradley Fearn, a head barber at Murdock London, suggests keeping the hair short and gradually taking it shorter and shorter over a period of time. “This way, you will prevent the horrible moment of committing to shaving loads of hair off the top too soon,” he says. It may be tough, but you’ll know when the time is right finally to let go.
Going, going, gone
There comes a point in every balding man’s life when he has to face the fact that his hair has gone for good and has shut the door on the way out. Too late for a transplant, it’s time to embrace your baldness, as countless men (Mr Billy Corgan, Mr Karamo Brown and Lord Voldemort included) have done before you. Just remember to protect your pate with an SPF moisturiser (the scalp is a common site for skin cancer in men) and exfoliate twice a week with a scalp scrub to keep it looking tip-top.
If being bald still makes you feel self-conscious and you don’t fancy wearing a hat for ever, a beard or smattering of stubble can help draw attention away from your dome – a trick used by everyone from Mr Jason Statham to Mr Stanley Tucci to impressive effect.
To dodge the awkward-looking disconnect where beard growth ends and baldness starts, Fearn suggests having a barber blend it when you have a beard trim or do it yourself at home with a trimmer. “Take the longest guard on your trimmer and stroke downwards from the top of the sideburn,” he says. “Slowly and gradually work your way down the guard sizes, getting shorter and shorter.” According to Fearne, this downwards technique is better for beginners because it reduces the risk of cutting too much off and leads to an altogether tidier transition. “It’s accident-proof,” he says.
Illustration by Mr Iker Ayestaran