GQ Magazine Imagine a World without Baldness
Imagine a World Without Baldness
There’s nothing that causes more heartbreak for some guys than seeing their (once) thick head of hair disappear down the drain. But as Jason Chen explains, transplants have recently gotten so good, so convincing (we’re talking to you, McConaughey), that losing your hair is no longer a life sentence
GQ – November 2010
Let’s say you’re going bald. Not losing the standard fifty to one hundred hairs that come with a day’s brushing, washing, and scratehing, but full-on thinning- at-the-crown, receding-at-the-temples, barely-enough-for-a-sorry-ass-combover male-pattern baldness. No shame in it-by age 50 about halfofguys will experience some noticeable hair loss. Used to be that those of us who couldn’t pull off the Andre Agassi shaved-head look had few solutions: start on Rogaine or Propecia (whose effects wear off soon after the drugs are stopped) or consider some scary hair plugs (we won’t even get into toupees). And while most guys just resign themselves to a life of baldness, there’s a modern-day, under-the-radar solution that Costanzas the world over may have been waiting for.
Take Jordan Blackmore, a 27-year-old New Yorker who cuts hair for a living and opened his own salon last year. We’re not talking some poncey hairdresser- Jordan’s a dude, the kind of guy you’d go out with for a night of drinking and end up wTestling after getting completely sloshed. (You’d lose: Kentucky state wrestling champ, 2001.) He started seeing hair loss in his early twenties and stalled it with topical solutions and Propecia. “Then, about a year and a half ago, I noticed I was losing it around the corners of my hairline;’ he says. “I knew where it was heading, so I just decided to do something about it:’ Blackmore got a hair transplant in June 2009, and today he’s got a head of hair he hasn’t had since his teens. “lttook about a year and a half for the hair to grow in, but my transplanted hail”s as normal and natural as my nontransplant hair.”
Blackmore’shardlyalone;it’snotasif, because he’s in the business. he has access to insider information that the rest of us don’t. Designer Marc Jacobs recently admitted to getting the procedure, and more than a few whispers have been exchanged about men in Hollywood whose mops have gone from patchy to jam-packed. (See: McConaughey, Costner, Danson.)
And when we say “procedure;’ what we mean is surgery. A hair transplant is a serious investment of your time and money (more on that later). But it does work. After the pills stop cutting it, you do have a way to get your hair back that doesn’t feel like the outrageously extreme expression of insecurity that’s long made guys with toupees or plugs into punch lines. And if you want to get all Marc Jacobs- or for that matter, Jordan Blackmore-and trumpet the success of your procedure, good for you. But if you want to keep it under your hat, so to speak, no one’s going to be the wiser. To understand hair transplants, you need to understand a bit about baldness. Without getting too technical, it occurs when a hormone called DHT shortens the growth cycle of hair follicles. Whereas a normal hair usually falls out after three years, DHT-affected hair can fall out after a few months as the follicles shrink and ultimately die. For most men, though, hair on the back and sides of the head is genetically resistant to the effects of DHT (hence that Larry David hair halo we all fear). A haJr transplant takes permanent hair from the back of the head and moves it to areas where the hair’s sparse (or gone).
Here’s essentially how it works: In the most common procedure, a five-to- eight-inch strip of scalp just wider than a pencil is cut from the back of the head. (Yes, you get plenty of local anesthesia.) The wound is closed, and the surgeon then extracts individual grafts-called follicular units-from it. The units, itty-bitty nubs of skin with one to four hairs puking through, are then placed in little nicks the surgeon makes at the sites of balding. The nicks will scab over, so if the balding’s extensive and your roots show, you’ll probably want to wear a baseball cap (or hey, a fedora!) for about ten days as they heal.
Now, before you get confused, keep in mind that hair transplants are not hair plugs, those early, obvious, sideshow- worthy clumps that resembled doll’s hair more than anything. “In the old days, up until the early ’90s, they used to transplant multiple follicular units at once;’ says Robert Bernstein, M.D., clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University, “so what you got were those plugs, which look completely unnatural and gave the surgery a bad reputation:’
This isn’t to say that hair-transplant surgery isn’t without its limitations. You might not feel any pain during the operation (which can start around $4,000 and go up to $13,000; see below), but you’ll be hurting that night-enough for your doctor to prescribe Percocet for the pain on the back of your head. (Jacobs said it was so severe he had trouble sleeping.) And results won’t take root immediately.
Your hair-jolted from the shock of being transplanted -will actually go into a shedding phase, starting to grow in about three months after the procedure and reaching a noticeable length only around the six-month mark. Butjust as the hair halo remains, the newly transplanted hair will be DHT-resistant, continuing to grow, taking to pomades (or waxes or whatever product you typically use), and requiring regular cuts just as normal hair would.
As Blackmore experienced, the full results of the surgery-transplanted hair that’s indistinguishable from nontransplanted hair-didn’t become evident until about a year to sixteen months after the surgery. He also concedes that there are things he has to be careful about: “I can’t wear my hair supershort in the back or else the scar will show:’ And even though his doctor did a crackerjackjob at filling in the hair around the temples, others can be less than capable. “There’s a real art to creating that hairline,” says Bernard Nusbaum, M.D., ofthe Hair Transplant Institute of Miami. “If it’s too straight, it looks funny. Ifthe hairs are growing in everywhich direction, it looks unnatural.” Finding the right doctor is key to an authentic look; the best ones understand that a hair transplant is as much an aesthetic as a technical process, one that requires trained eyes as well as hands.
For Blackmore-whose life is hair- the transplant solved a problem no one in his twenties wants to think about, much less confront. “Well, obviously I’m someone who’s very concerned with hair;’ he says. “But I think that for most guys, it’s a huge part of their identity-it’s right out there for the world to see. And when you lose that, it can be really damaging to your psyche, especially as a younger guy.” It’s true that hair isn’t everything, and for some guys, losing it is no big deal. But for others, who feel like they’re losing a part of themselves-who look in their bathtub drain every morning with a mixture of denial and dread-hair transplants may represent a last chance to go back in time. An imperfect chance, yes-but also a viable, legitimate, real(ish) way to reclaim a self- image they’d given up. Because let’s admit it: Not everyone can be Jason Statham.