Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow. Dealing With Hair Loss & Balding

There’s a saying that the information that we think is most private to us and of little use to others, is in fact most useful to others!

So although it seems like our personal experiences and failures as regards family, relationships, career, business, aging, sex, health… are of little value to the rest of the world, in reality those very experiences could provide valuable insights to others in similar situations.

That’s perhaps why honest autobiographies are so inspiring and thought-provoking.

However one cannot always share such information, because of the possibility that it might have financial or legal implications or might hurt or embarrass  loved ones. [ I am right now wondering what my 6 yr old son would think of this piece when he is a teenager (presuming he bothers to read it). Would he be embarrassed by his father’s blog about balding? I wonder…]

However we can choose to share information that primarily affects us and no one else. I suppose that’s why my detailed account of my knee surgery (2009) & rehab was well received and my IT Survivors (2004) article had received an overwhelming response.

hair-1What I am attempting below, is a far more personal account, of my march towards baldness (the ordeal of a balding man). I am 35 and I ‘like to think of myself’ as a fairly confident & moderately “successful” “young” man. I am not yet obviously bald but I am well on my way.

The reason I am writing this piece is because only when I started losing hair, did I realize how fragile my self esteem was, and how vulnerable I was to even a seemingly trivial thing like a receding hairline. I write this piece with the hope of refining my thoughts on the matter and maybe being of some use to others in a similar predicament.

I sported a soldier-cut till well into my teens, primarily because that was the only haircut considered “proper” in our house. However once I became more conscious about hair, I tried out most things possible with hair, from long, short, bald look, flowing beard, short moustache, curved moustache and more. I enjoyed tweaking my look (still do). So throughout college and later, hair loss was the last thing on my mind. Until…

Early Days – First Signs

My first ‘bad’ hair day was during a monsoon getaway. I must have been 24. A friend glanced at my drenched hair and joked that I better get married soon, as I had started going bald. I was supposed to get married in a few months time. I guess my wet hair had exposed some of my pate.

His casual comment went through me like a bullet. I tried to laugh it off, but was very upset, more at myself than my friend. It was like he had transformed my imaginary concern into a real one. I had so far ignored my changing hair patterns and the hair strands in the shower or on my pillow.

I know it sounds pompous… , but I did think – How could someone like me, start balding in my twenties? I had fooled myself into thinking that only those with bad diets / obese / smokers / drinkers… suffer from such stuff. It doesn’t happen to young men in good health, who exercised regularly, had never been overweight and had never smoked or consumed alcohol. ( I need to reexamine a similar bias that I have about diabetes & heart issues. I hope that I am not proven wrong on that front as well.)

On getting back home, I analyzed my hair and fooled myself into thinking that my hair was fine and that it was just that the wet hair appeared sparse, when they actually were fine. However once I had got sensitized to my hair loss, I started noticing that I was actually losing a lot of hair quite regularly, particularly after a bath and on the pillow.

I naturally turned to my friend & advisor for help: “The Internet”. I scoured the net, I must have read hundreds of articles on hair loss. The sad conclusion was that if it’s hereditary hair loss (androgenic alopecia/ male pattern baldness) there is little you can do beyond delaying things a little bit.

There are some cosmetic solutions and coverups available, but as of 2015 science, there is no medical “treatment / solution” for hereditary hair loss. It is most likely that if you are a man between 20 and 45 and losing scalp hair, it’s male pattern hair loss.

* NOTE: There are conditions other than male pattern baldness that can cause hair loss (hormonal changes, infection, hygiene, diets, illness… ). Consult a modern medicine doctor if you are not sure.

That should have laid the matter to rest, but no, I refused to accept it and continued looking for solutions.

Obsessed

Within no time, I was obsessed with hair. I still am to some extent. In meetings, movies, social interactions… I would invariably note the age & the hair density of the men around.

When I looked at myself in the mirror, I would often look at only my hair. I have taken selfheadies as well as 360 degree selfvideos, in an attempt to get a definite assessment of the situation.

I do recommend the 360 degree self video option. No better way to get a factual assessment!

So as to convince myself that my hair was fine, I started growing my hair long. However the downside of long hair is that long hair makes the reduced density of hair even more obvious.

The truly wicked part is that in most cases, the bald patch emerges at the back, around the crown of the head, such that it is visible to everyone… except you!

Myths

There are dozens of myths about hair loss, from balding being caused by sex, hats and shampoos, to balding being inherited from your mother’s side, to cutting hair helps it regrow thicker…

Some even think that balding guys have high levels of testosterone, are especially masculine, intellectuals and have super sex drives… unfortunately for balding men, even those are myths.

Magic Remedies

Offering a cure for hair loss, seems to be the fastest way to make a fortune in our image obsessed times.  So this segment has an abundance of bogus doctors as well as qualified doctors, all promising to fix your hair.

If it’s hereditary hair loss, in all cases, you will just end up paying big money for basic diet and lifestyle advice, some placebos and a ton of false hope.

Many years back, during my search for the magic remedy for my hair, I came across a quarter page slick ad on the front page of a leading daily. The hair clinic was run by doctors and the ad seemed to have more class than the cheesy “Get Back Your Hair in X months” kind of ads.

CAUTION: The hair loss business has many legit doctors as well as bogus doctors, all looking to make a quick buck. Do not be fooled only because the doc seems to have a legit degree / clinic. Even if it’s a doctor running the clinic, you would almost invariably find that the doctor is not a modern medicine doctor, but an “alternative” medicine doctor.

Although I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea, I thought that getting treated for a health issue was the logical way to go about it. So I visited the clinic in an upmarket neighbourhood in Pune. A slippery guy whom the staff referred to as a doctor, but I am fairly certain was not one by education, asked all kinds of questions ranging from diet, lifestyle and even sex life.

He then asked me to submit a hair sample for lab analysis. A few days later, when the report came in, he said that my hair was healthy but I was in a early stage of balding. He dished out some random hair facts about Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) , which can be found on page one of most hair fall websites. He then went on to prescribe some supplements and an oil. He also suggested several dietary changes.

norwood scale balding alopecia
Norwood Scale – Stages Of Balding – Hair Loss

At the reception desk, I was told that the medicine cost was Rs. 2500 odd. (2500 was a princely sum back then) . I asked if I could buy them at a medical store. The answer was no, as their medications were supposedly a special formulation that I could get nowhere else. So 2500 was the bill for a few supplements & a foul-smelling oil. They asked me to visit the next month for fresh supplies.

The clinic & the doctor seemed like a sham and I had no faith in them or their medicines. Yet I tried out the medication for a month. I noticed no difference and I anyway felt like an idiot for falling for a sham. It seemed like the plan was to milk me for thousands over many years and perhaps later milk me even more with cosmetic hair coverups. So I stopped the treatment and never returned to the place.

BTW the business at that particular clinic seems to have boomed over the years. They now have clinics all over India.

So, are all hair drugs bogus?

NO. Do note that there are a drugs like Finasteride and Dutasteride that can “stop” hair loss. There have been scientific trials that showed that they lead to a drop / stop hair loss and also some hair regrowth.

However the catch is that you need to keep consuming these drugs. You stop the drug and within 6–12 months, you are back to square one.

The bigger issue is that these drugs come with serious side effects including decreased sex drive, erectile dysfunction, increased risk of prostate cancer and more.

Should I consume drugs for hair loss?

Hereditary hair loss is a cosmetic problem that has no adverse effect on your health. So it seemed improper for me to consume hair boosting drugs and that too on an ongoing basis and with well-known serious side effects.

Also I thought that consuming such drugs would further feed into my insecurity and transform a molehill into a mountain. So I dropped the idea of using any such medication for hair loss.

I do wonder what would be the way to go if in the future,there’s a drug that offers a 100% safe and effective “pop a pill once and you are done” kind of solution. Would it then be ok to “get treated” for a cosmetic condition???

Stem cell research is also expected to come up with an effective treatment soon.

However as of today, there is no simple and safe solution for male pattern baldness.

Society, Media and Celebs

Media and celebs make matters worse for the balding populace, as their hair stylists ensure that they “appear” to have dense locks forever. No greys, no hair loss, ever!

I suppose many (most?) of them use hair colours, wigs, transplants, toupees and more, but to the layman, the movie & sports stars appear blessed with great hair for life.

I am not at all blaming the stars, as in the society we live in, it makes good business sense for them to cover up all signs of aging.

“Aging Gracefully” is a topic for another blog. Coming soon… that I hope to write soon.

Family & Friends

Most of your family and friends will not comment on your hair (many might not even notice) but there would be the occasional blunt wise crack that you need to deal with.

A funny but nasty one that I recall “Harshad, you are growing even taller, (long pause… ) looks like your head will soon pop out of your hair”.

Laughing it off by saying something like “age is catching up with me” or “time, tide and hair wait for no man” is usually your only option.

For some mysterious reason, I have often noticed balding men initiating balding related banter themselves. Bad idea. Unless you are always surrounded by people who truly care for you, you might just end up playing into the hands of ill-mannered folks around you.

Balding & Evolution

I recently read that balding has survived the forces of evolution, not only because it usually hits after the man’s prime reproductive years, but also because a balding makes man look less threatening to younger men.

So maybe young, testosterone-driven ape men did not think of the balding ape man as competition and did not club him to death! It is quite likely that you owe your very existence to that bald patch! 🙂

The balding gene continues to thrive and get passed on to future generations.

Accepting Balding

Once drug treatment was ruled out, I looked to get myself to accept that I was balding. However that was way more difficult than expected. Whenever I came across any old pics of close family, I would analyze the hairline of my father & uncles, with reference to their age, with the hope of predicting how much time I had.

I also developed an uncanny knack of noticing every hair related news report, many suggesting that balding hurts a man’s career prospects.

That’s the way it is… the brain is tuned into the problem 24×7 and is so much better at finding bad news than good. Bad news anyway make for better press and is more easily found in media reports.

So accepting and moving on is a tough ask.

Cosmetic Fixes – Weave, Transplant, Mask, Wigs…

The alternative or complement to hair boosting drugs, are fixes like ‘baldness masking’, wigs, hairpieces, transplants and hair weaving.

Many public figures opt for these “hair jobs” these days. Andre Agassi in his autobiography has talked at length of his hair issues. Many movie and sport stars have undergone hair coverups.

Hair transplants are apparently effective. However that also comes with the risk of inflammation and infection as well as ending up with an unnatural look. The transplanted hair are meant to be long lasting, but if the hair around the transplant doesn’t stay, you end up looking weird and might require yet another transplant.

Also these procedures might involve consuming various drugs to retain the hair.

What bothers me most about these cosmetic fixes is that that will keep the person bound to the problem. There’s no hope of ever overcoming it.

Head Shave

An alternative is to shave your head. Some studies show that the shaved look is more attractive than the visibly balding look, as shaving your head is kind of a bold thing to do. Those with shaven heads are also perceived as taller, stronger and with greater potential to lead*. So the shaved look might work well in the office or for business matters.

The shaved look however is not easy to maintain. a) It is ruined within a couple of days as new hair show up b) If you don’t shave every few days, your hair will soon grow beyond the range of a normal shaver. A hair trimming machine or an old style barber’s razor are the only device that seems to work well for a head shave.

Also I think all shaven men tend to look somewhat similar. Hair (even in its sparseness) seems to add character and personality to a face.

Bald also seems to lead to a significant drop in the cute/young quotient of your face.

It might be my personal prejudice, but a shaven head also seems to work only if the person is fit and well built. So shaven head sporstmen look fine, but shaven head with double chin and a paunch….Naaahh…

I had tried the bald look even when I wasn’t balding, so I have always been comfortable with the bald look and have gone bald several times over the past few years.

However maintaining the look was a pain. I have to trim/shave at least every 3-4 days and visiting a barber is too much to get done.

So I bought a hair trimmer and the machine served me quite well. I would cut using the shortest hair length attachment and the results were close to the shaven head look, but much easier to achieve and maintain.

Secure / Insecure About Balding

With the shaven head, I initially thought that going proactively bald was a sign that I had accepted balding and got over any insecurity. But after some time, I started wondering if it actually meant the exact opposite!

Considering that I was putting in so much time and effort into the shaven head look (to not appear balding), I wondered if it was a sign of being secure or insecure about the balding.

Actually, I have a similar predicament about this article. Does writing about the issue mean that I am secure in the knowledge or so insecure that I am attempting to cover up by trying to appear bold and candid? 🙂

Watch Out- Balding & Traditions

A shaven head has religious connotations in India. Traditionally men in India shave their heads if there’s been a death in the family. So the first time I shaved my head, my father joked that he should accompany me around for a few days, just so that people don’t get any other ideas 🙂 .

There is also a tradition of donating hair at religious places like Tirupati, so I would often be asked if I had visited some temple and so shaved my head.

Another query was if I had some skin/scalp ailment and I was looking to facilitate treatment by shaving my head.

Balding Men vis-à-vis The Opposite Sex

Fortunately for me, balding wasn’t an issue when I was most looking to impress the opposite sex. However if you think that balding will be the end of your prospects with girls / women, there’s great news for you!

Women apparently don’t care anywhere near as much as men do about their hair. Studies shows that women find humour, compassion and many other factors far more important than looks or hair. Books & articles say so, and so do the women I know. I am presuming that they weren’t pandering 🙂

Believe it or not, a “things that matter to women most” list on Mens Health  does not even mention hair! Other studies say that women value Time, Appreciation, Understanding, Fun and Kindness.

Yes, women are way smarter than men 🙂

So unless you are a movie/sports superstar, you can be certain that very few people have the time or the interest to notice/care about your hair.

Philosophy Of Cosmetic Fixes

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But the beholder’s eyes are constantly adapting to changing trends and fashions. Women with grey hair could “appear beautiful” until 10 years back. However the relentless “no more grey” ad campaigns have now made it pretty much impossible for women to choose to not color their hair. Grey Hair = Old = Unacceptable  is how the ads have trained us to believe.

So except for hardcore feminists, almost all 40 something women are forced to color their hair. It is no longer a choice but more of a societal compulsion. The hair color companies are laughing their way to the bank despite adding no real value to our society.

I suppose balding / greying would be even tougher for women, as anyway human society tends to judge them largely based on their looks.

I also find it rather hypocritical when many intellectuals talk of whiteness and fairness ads with utter disdain but think nothing of  “no more grey”.

It’s true that white/fair also has a colonial / racist dimension, but both ads are essentially telling the viewer that his natural look is unacceptable and the ad hopes to force him/her to buy a coverup.

Balding Positives (The Silver Lining)

Balding is a very humbling experience. It is known to cause serious mental issues including depression, but if you take it in the right spirit, you will certainly emerge wiser from the experience.

Solve / Overcome Baldness

NO. There’s no real solution. However you can overcome the issue by trying to accept reality. We all know that we are all slowly but surely dying, but because we don’t know when & can’t do much about it, we just accept and move on.

Similarly, hair loss, balding, greying is just a fact of life. Accept & move on.

The Uncle Effect: If you think bald will make you look like an ‘uncle’, that is not entirely true. If you are fit and active, you can take many years off your age. Pot bellies & double chins are far worse than a bald pate when it comes to looking an ‘uncle’.

Do not ever link your hair loss with any life/career lows. In case your hair loss leads to depression / loss of confidence, it will hurt your career, but that’s not directly a hair issue.

Hair is just one aspect of your personality. There are tens of far more important things that you can work on & improve

I like the mantra “Cool is what Cool does!” So if you are “cool” and have got “it”, clothes, hair… don’t really matter that much.

The “cool” and “it” mostly comes down to self-esteem & self-confidence , which are far more important aspects of personality and fortunately are things that you can work on & improve upon all your life!

Stay Cool!

Tips & tricks that I discovered along the way:

  1. Wet/Oily hair will usually make the balding most obvious.
  2. I have found dehydration to be especially bad for hair. My hair loss peaks after long flights if I forget to keep drinking water throughout. Solution: Aisle Seat -> Lots of water -> Can use washroom as often as I feel like it 🙂
  3. Eat, drink, sleep well.  It does seem to make a difference.
  4. How you deal with balding is more important than the balding itself. For example wearing a cap indoors is like a proclamation of your deep rooted balding insecurity. Relax, balding is ok.  (yes, easier said than done)
  5. Keep your hair short/ well groomed. Or shave.
  6. Focus on being fit & active. You would not only feel better about yourself but actually will look younger that way.
  7. While fake / coloured hair do seem to work to make you look young;  fit & athletic seems to work almost as well. Also while there are no health benefits of fake hair, there are hundreds of benefits of being fit & active.
  8. For info on hair loss, ensure that you read respected medical websites and not info sites put up by those offering hair solutions.

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SidePic

PS: I suppose some of you are wondering what my current hair state is like. In the left side panel is a pic from a couple of years back. Found this  sideview pic from Feb 2015. As of July 2015, I am back to sporting a bald look. 

I refuse to provide a backview pic that might expose the emerging bald patch 🙂

  • Mohit Hiralal

    Superb article. I also had these mental issues related to hair-loss. I starting losing hair at the age of 20! To put it simply, it was horrible. My self-esteem reached an all time low at that point. I tried the buzz cut a couple of times but it just didn’t suit me. Never tried any anti hair-loss treatment. But soon I moved on after accepting the fact that this hair-loss is hereditary.

    P.S. I was a student of yours at SICSR(semester ending April 2015)

    • Thanks Mohit ! Good that you managed to overcome the issue in quick time !