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hims is taking the embarrassment out of hair loss and erectile dysfunction

TextAlex Peters

Founder Andrew Dudum on the politics of male wellness

According to hims founder Andrew Dudum, men are embarrassed to speak to their doctors about their health – a discovery he made while setting up his business. The male health and wellness company conducted research during development that found that less than 10 percent of men aged between 20-40 were comfortable talking to their doctor about concerns such as hair loss and erectile dysfunction. hims was not alone in this discovery. Last year, research commissioned by the razor brand Gillette in partnership with the Movember Foundation found that three-quarters of men will put off going to the doctors when showing signs of illness, while 35 percent won’t talk to others about their health concerns. 

Galvanised by his findings, Dudum launched hims in the US in 2017 and in the UK earlier this year - positioning it as a digital health platform that provides a space for men to consult with and be evaluated by doctors online. hims hosts roughly 140 doctors who are then able to prescribe patients treatments for ailments including hair loss and erectile dysfunction with generic forms of two main drugs – Viagra and Propecia – at a lower price than what most pharmacies sell them for. While Viagra was recently made available over the counter in the UK, it remains prescription-only in the US.  

While there are some concerns from experts over the ease of getting prescriptions through hims and other telehealth platforms, the trend is not going anywhere. According to a report by Global Market Insights, Inc. earlier this year, the global telemedicine market is predicted to grow from its current value of $38.3 billion to a massive $130.5 billion by 2025. Telehealth is a broad term which encompasses the provision of healthcare remotely by means of telecommunications technology. Under this umbrella are apps such as KRY – a Swedish start-up that offers medical care, mental health support and child counselling in over 25 languages over video; Babylon app, the UK’s leading digital health provider through which you can speak to an NHS doctor over video or call; and Push Doctor which offers appointments with doctors over text chat, as well as video.

As well as eliminating some of the embarrassment of a face-to-face consultation, hims is looking to change the dialogue that surrounds men’s health in general. Encouraging open conversation and education through their blog, Savoir Faire, hims aims to make issues of men’s health more relatable and accessible, particularly for a younger demographic. “Erectile dysfunction could really happen to any guy, it’s not just the 70-year-olds that you see in the advertisements walking down a beach in white linen pants,” says Dudum. “I think the lack of conversation around men’s care has bred confusion and hesitation, and it’s difficult to break down and show men it’s ok to want to take care of yourself, your skin, your hair or whatever it may be.”

hims recently expanded into women’s health with sister brand hers – a platform which covers products including birth control, acne treatment and, somewhat controversially, Propranolol. hers came under fire, including from beauty watchdogs Estee Laundry, for their positioning of the anti-anxiety medication which many felt trivialised the drug. Despite this, hims continues to grow in popularity amongst men, with sales increasing 20 percent month-on-month. They recently raised an additional $100 million in venture capital bringing their valuation to $1 billion. So we caught up with Dudum to find out more about the platform’s future.

What is the story behind hims?
Andrew Dudum: My older sister took me out for dinner and half-way through told me I should be taking better care of my skin. After a shopping spree and $300 down on my credit card, she came back with a ton of different products (which were all women’s) and that’s where it all started! I felt super overwhelmed and thought it was an outrageous price for an everyday guy to pay.

After a few conversations, I realized my friends weren’t broaching the topic of personal care or wellness, and when challenging them, I soon found that some of them were dealing with hair loss but were too embarrassed to open up and were confused by the information online. This really drove the idea for hims, I wanted to encourage open conversations around men’s wellbeing and provide both education and hassle-free solutions to pain points impacting men’s health.

What did you think was lacking in the industry that you wanted to address with the brand?
Andrew Dudum: The wellness industry at that time felt very focused on women’s health and there was little available for men, particularly younger men who are too embarrassed to see a doctor. We thought about all the issues men face across all aspects of their wellness, including hygiene, haircare, sex etc, stuff that men felt embarrassed to talk to a face-to-face doctor about. I wanted to simplify the process and create a cost-effective, trusted platform for men to get the products they needed.

Through telemedicine, we are enabling men to take care of their health on their own terms, acting as a trusted self-care solution, where we can cut out the middle-man and eliminate any embarrassing feelings men faced going to a doctor.

Hair and sex may not seem like obvious bedfellows. Why did it make sense for you to work across both categories?
Andrew Dudum: ED and hair loss are two really common issues with men, which are rarely talked about openly. If we look back, medication for these common issues has been marketed at an older demographic, when in reality, these issues also affect younger guys too. I felt obligated and wanted to address all common issues men face and the stigmas surrounding them. We wanted to create a place for all wellness needs, and so it was important for us to focus on and highlight solutions surrounding both categories. We also provide solutions for other categories - like acne and are excited to continue to expand our offerings.

Why was it important to have the educational side of your brand?
Andrew Dudum: Our goal is to be a resource for men’s personal care and an all-encompassing wellness brand. Education is such a crucial part of our mission and we want men to have an informed view on issues such as ED and hair loss - which is normal. We created our blog, Savoir Faire so we could arm our readers with the knowledge they need. Creating an open dialogue is so important, and guys are now realizing that ED could really happen to any guy, it’s not just the 70 year old’s that you see in the advertisements walking down a beach in white linen pants.

What was the process like to get doctors on board? What was the reaction from the medical community?
Andrew Dudum: Overall it has been pretty seamless and the roughly 140 doctors that conduct consultations on our platform enjoy the convenience and flexibility that comes with practising telehealth. It’s received a fair amount of attention, but doctor burnout in the U.S. is something many in the profession have experienced because running a medical practice entails a lot more than just seeing patients. Doctors I’ve spoken to see our approach as the direction the industry is progressing.

I think the broader medical community is also embracing the direct-to-consumer telehealth model as well. Especially when it comes to access. There’s a report I read recently that said 1/4 of rural hospitals are on the brink of closure in the U.S. and more than 1/5 of the nation's rural hospitals are near insolvency. We can absolutely help fill that void and provide services to that segment of the population.

Is it safe to be prescribed things online without having any face to face contact?
Andrew Dudum: We provide the platform for a patient to be evaluated by and consult with a doctor online about treatments that are best for them, but ultimately, physicians are held to the same standard of care in prescribing through a telehealth consultation as they would be in an in-person visit. Only a licensed physician is in the best position to know the risks and benefits of a certain medication and whether it's the best option available. There are many medications on the market a doctor might prescribe that you had no idea existed or was an option a certain ailment. That said, we believe all patients should have the ability to make health and wellness decisions with a doctor free of judgment or misinformation.

Every doctor-patient interaction is guided by highest priority for patient care. Consultations and corresponding health questionnaires are tailored to the patient and the specific condition being treated to ensure doctors are addressing all possible causes and evaluating the correct aspects of a patient’s medical history for any red flags. Notably, the physicians providing clinical services through our platform under no circumstances receive any compensation based upon the number of prescriptions they write. To that end, if the doctor believes they do not have sufficient medical information about a patient to make an appropriate diagnosis, or a doctor does not feel medication is the correct treatment course, then a doctor will not prescribe.

Why did you decide to expand into female health?
Andrew Dudum: Soon after launching hims, we realised the women’s market also lacked a streamlined approach to a more efficient and informed process for receiving medical care and we wanted to bridge that gap. Men have been told for years that it’s weird to want to take care of themselves, but on the other hand, women are inundated with unrealistic expectations of self-care and beauty needs. The hers team believes women have a right to make informed decisions about their well- being, without obstacles standing in their way. 

Should wellness be gendered? Do men need branded products targeted towards them specifically?
Andrew Dudum: hims and hers offers a modern approach to health and wellness. Our mission is to eliminate stigmas and make it easier for people to access care and treatment for the conditions that impact their daily lives. That starts with creating an open and honest culture of care that is accessible for everyone, no matter who you are or where you live.

I don’t think there needs to be strong lines of demarcation in terms of wellness and especially the products people use, however men and women have separate health and wellness needs. We understand that men have intimate issues that they haven’t wanted to open up about in the past and hims has recognized this and become the trusted resource that reassures them on a breadth of issues that are normal. The industry is full of “masculine” stereotypes with dark color schemes and aggressive, sometimes-misleading marketing, so it was really important for us that we made our branding and packaging aesthetically simple, and not overtly masculine.

Why was/is there such a stigma surrounding men looking after themselves?
Andrew Dudum: There’s a lot of judgement in today’s society and you can only imagine the impact that has on male consumers and readers that are dealing with hair loss, especially in today’s viral ‘meme culture’. This and a history of teaching men it’s weird to want to look after yourself for example, can make guys tackling these issues feel more insecure, while also feeding stigmas and embarrassment, which in turn makes men shy away and ignore any issues.

When we were in the research phase ahead of launching hims, we found that less than 10 percent of the guys in our target age group (20-40 years old) were comfortable talking to their doctor about these health concerns. We wanted to minimize feeling ashamed or embarrassed in seeking treatments – we made sure we created a straightforward yet lighthearted dialogue alongside or products. We wanted to create something that looks good on your bathroom shelf without pointing out they are being used to eliminate an issue. Our goal is to educate men in their prime to get ahead of natural conditions by taking preventative measures early on.

What role has social media played in the changing attitudes?
Andrew Dudum: Social media definitely has a part to play in encouraging men to open up. Our online community is amazing, and I think this really helps to get guys talking about their experiences. Lots of guys are posting pictures of themselves with their hims products, which is awesome to see. Our customers are speaking out and helping to break down the stigma’s, which in turn encourages even more men to open up about the problems and insecurities.

Men aren’t alone in their problems – it’s really inspiring to see the community respond so positively!

What do you hope to achieve with the brand? Where do you see the brand evolving?
Andrew Dudum: We’ve seen incredible growth this year, and we’re only just touching the tip of the iceberg with men’s issues. Although we have launched in the UK with treatments for erectile dysfunction and hair loss, there are lots more product categories to come very soon, that span across various areas of men’s wellness.

What is the future of wellness?
Andrew Dudum: We’re just getting started but the future is bright and the possibilities are endless. Especially within the male wellness market, there is so much more to be done and so much more to offer. We continue to have daily conversations with our customers about their health concerns, and we want to listen and evolve our product categories to ensure that we cover all of their health and wellness needs. hims is dedicated to addressing the education and access men need to care and we’re here to deliver!

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