We investigate the lengths men are going to in a bid to combat male pattern baldness
It was on a windy day back in May that Lily Bling, London’s foremost fashion and cosmetic surgery socialite, realised he needed a hair transplant. “A gust of cold air forced itself towards my visage, and I caught a reflection of my widow’s peak in the Prada Bond Street window,” he tells Dazed Beauty, looking back on that crucial moment in his journey. “And with that, I decided: enough was enough.” One £7000 bank transfer from his father later, and Lily was on the surgery tables of Harley Street, starting his own journey to a fuller head of hair.
Lily isn’t alone: even men that are shy of the knife, or wouldn’t consider themselves vain, are now contemplating hair transplant surgery to give themselves a whole new head of hair. Recent statistics from the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery show that, in Europe alone, nearly 80,000 procedures related to hair restoration were completed in 2016; a vast increase from the 29,800 completed a decade earlier. The one constant though? 85% of those opting to go through with the arduous process are men.
It’s not necessarily a new trend. In fact, as far as back as the 1940s, Japanese doctors were using what we consider to be pretty modern processes to graft hair follicles on to people’s brows and lashes after various war injuries from World War Two. It would take two decades for similar techniques to finally reach the US, where an abundance of cosmetic surgery research led to the procedure becoming far more common in men hoping to combat early onset male pattern baldness.
Dr Raghu Reddy is a hair transplant surgeon at The Private Clinic of Harley Street. “In recent years there has been a steady increase in the number of men coming to me for hair transplants, and I don’t see this slowing down in 2019,” he tells us, saying their first surge in bookings came from “a growing number of clients, including celebrities, openly admitting to having had a hair transplant” and subsequently referring their friends. An advancement in techniques plays a huge part in it too; the slick end results today are a far cry from the drab toupee looks of the past.
There are two common types of procedure to solve hair loss: Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE), and Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT). While these days the former is more popular, due to less intense scarring as individual hairs are removed and placed elsewhere, many surgeons still prefer FUT, which involves a strip of skin being removed from the back of the head and individually harvesting as many hair follicles as needed, before replacing them in the desired places. It’s more effective for certain patients, but the aftercare is a little more difficult to deal with.
Over the years, there’s been a sizeable stigma attached to men losing their hair at a younger age, with the notion of naturally going bald being treated like it’s something to fear. Just look at all the memes dedicated to mercilessly mocking HRH Prince William. But on the flip side, those who are experiencing male pattern baldness and are actually doing something about it – undergoing surgery, for example – are also stigmatised for indulging in a moment of vanity.
As a result, many famous faces have undergone the surgery in the past without telling the public, leaving the rumour mill to churn out ‘has he or hasn’t he?’ stories. It was, funnily enough, a famous British footballer who managed to change the conversation slightly: Wayne Rooney. The British press and football fans ridiculed the player, then in his early 20s, for having a receding hairline, and so in 2011, he underwent a £13,500 procedure to restore it. And he let everybody know too, tweeting about how happy he was with the results. From that moment forward, the likelihood of men – particularly heterosexual men – being ridiculed for going under the knife to fix it dropped slightly. “From Premier League footballers to Hollywood actors, more and more stars are going public with their treatment,” Dr Reddy concurs. “With hair transplants becoming mainstream medicine, we are operating on men who in the past may not have had the confidence to go ahead with the treatment.”
One of them is Ross: a 25-year-old creative from Peckham who, despite still having a full head of hair, is fully aware of the fact that becoming bald is on the horizon. “I’ve always been super conscious of losing my hair, taking loads of care to make sure that doesn’t happen. But if it did go? 100%, I would get a transplant.” We wondered if that was because people still considered baldness a terrifying thing to encounter. “It’s definitely still a bit taboo,” he claims. “We still associate age as a sign of weakness in our society, and baldness is associated as a symptom of ageing – even though it’s something that can happen no matter how old you are.”
Charlie, a trainee lawyer from Glasgow, has been faced with a similar fate when it comes to his hairline. The social stigma surrounding surgery doesn’t bother him so much. “I reckon celebrities getting it done helps others who want to go down that route,” he tells us. “There’s more acceptance towards men who look after themselves. Now, it’s nothing more than personal preference. I would consider it if it was safe and the price was decent.”
That is, perhaps, the biggest obstruction for anyone contemplating a transplant: cost. To go through a private clinic – the only reliable way to undergo the procedure for cosmetic purposes as it’s seldom covered by the NHS – FUE would cost anywhere from £3,000 to £30,000. It’s no surprise that the super wealthy are the ones going through with it.
Just to confirm to all my followers I have had a hair transplant. I was going bald at 25 why not. I'm delighted with the result.— Wayne Rooney (@WayneRooney) June 4, 2011
That cost also cuts out the very demographic that is showing an interest in undergoing surgery too: cash-strapped millennials in their 20s and 30s. Nowadays, studies conducted in China show that men are going balder faster than any generation that came before them. Some think it may be down to stress; others, like Dr Emily L Guo who studied the trend, think it might be down to a lack of proper nutrients in our increasingly common vegan and vegetarian diet.
There are cheaper alternatives for that group, though. Minoxidil is a chemical found in the over the counter treatments that, when massaged into the scalp, helps blood flow to shrinking hair follicles. There’s also a pill available on prescription called Propecia that blocks testosterone breakdown, which is primarily used to combat male pattern baldness. But there’s a number of factors, based on your skin type and the way that you’re losing your hair, that means none of these – including transplants – can be considered reliable ways of rescuing your balding head.
But for those who can, perhaps that deep-rooted stigma attached to men proudly gracing a full head of surgically-enhanced hair after being spotted balding a few months prior is finally reaching its end; a beautiful embrace of the Blings and the Rooneys of the world, the gays and the straights coming together to promote a world of stunning, zhuzhed up hairdos with not a bald spot in sight. “We all have a fear of ageing, hence our current obsession with quick solutions like botox and fillers,” Lily says. “But why have a head that resembles an egg, when it could be fertilised with long luscious locks that flow like the Ganges, hiding your jowls and nasolabial folds?”
Lily has a point: suddenly resembling Botticelli's The Birth of Venus after weeping over strands of hair in the shower plug is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it’s a glow-up that men should embrace like no other. So if someone approaches you, asking if your hair is naturally that full, well-formed and iconic, don’t be afraid to tell them the truth. This is 2019, and sometimes giving a middle finger to nature’s path for you can be more empowering than you could ever imagine.