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Home / Health  /
What Do Baldness Treatments And A Successful Life Have In Common?
 Prince William bald

The smallest of steps, but made regularly, can do wonders for your scalp and your life even if you're not born a prince


Five years ago, one of the first Doug's Republic articles I ever wrote asked the question of whether baldness was honestly that beautiful.   The startling conclusions that article drew played a huge role in proper self esteem determination for a new generation of the insecure.  Men now knew with close to near certainty that baldness makes them a helluva lot worse off.      

At an abnormally young age, I had already observed that certain men lost their hair.  When you're 8 years old, you don't accurately discern the differences in age between a 25 year old and 40 year old.  Adults fell into two categories.  They were old like your parents or old like your grandparents.

It was normal in my family circles to see bald men in both those age groups.  As I got a bit older, say 11 or 12, I got better at distinguishing the niceties of aging.  An older cousin, Jeffrey, ten years my senior, had already gone significantly bald.   Today, he has just marginally less hair than he did when he was 21.   I remember having a discussion with him about the loss of his hair.  He wasn't very sympathetic on the subject, probably because he'd already had the equivalent of the s-t kicked out his scalp at a supremely young age.  He said baldness ran through the maternal grandfather's side.  As we both shared the same maternal grandfather and that grandfather had balded completely by his early 20's, Jeffrey told me that this was my destined path as well.  "Enjoy your hair while you got it," he laughed.

Fortunately for me, Jeffrey didn't know what the hell he was talking about.  Baldness can come from either side of the family.  The glistening scalp of a maternal grandfather - or even a paternal grandfather -- isn't a hair death sentence, though it does, of course, increase the chances you inherited the baldness gene.  Jeffrey could have inherited the baldness gene from his dad, a platinum card carrying member of the Chrome Dome Association of Northeastern Ohio.  Jeffrey's father was also bald in his early 20's.  Lucky for me, my father was not.  By the time I was 21, I still had a full head of hair.

Norwood baldness scale

This isn't to say Jeffrey's conversation didn't worry me.  My maternal grandfather was a Class 7.  You can't get any worse than that.  My paternal grandfather was at least a Class 5.  My own father was evolving into a Class 5 by his early 30's.  My mother may have been carrying hirsute genes which she passed on to me, but I had no way of knowing.  As baldness is a sex linked gene, women can be carriers without balding themselves.  Their sons are the unlucky souls who have to pay the thin haired piper.  So by age 17, despite no signs of balding, I'd already begun rubbing lotions and creams into my scalp to forestall a nightmare that looked to me like it had more than a 50% chance of occurring.    

All this took place before Propecia and Rogaine became the only FDA approved treatments for hair loss.   Manufacturers then said whatever they wanted to about their products.   General Nutrition Centers were where I bought most of my hair 'treatments.'  The products were rubbish mostly.  I just didn't know that yet.  I used a biotin shampoo and gel which was supposed to nurture the scalp.  More products than not weren't based on any kind of hard science.   Once a week, I bathed my scalp in Pennsylvania crude oil, a treatment advocated by the psychic Edgar Cayce.  Wilford Grover Ph.D tabulated some research results for this treatment back in 1973.  About 2 in 3 respondents reported moderate to complete regrowth.  Admittedly, Grover's study wasn't very scientific.  

The treatments changed depending on what I had access to.  By the time I was 20, I was rubbing in a pre-FDA approved dosage of 2% minoxidil.  A year later I tried a Belgian treatment which came in vials.   Applying the fluid to my scalp made it tingle.  I dabbled in a treatment called the Helsinki Formula, which is still around today.  An inexpensive food emulsifier, polysorbate 80, was written up as a hair regrowth agent in the early 1980's in the book Life Extension.  My father conveniently had a copy of the book, and I began rubbing this in as a pre-conditioner for years.  If I were still able to easily get my hands on polysorbate in Thailand, I'm sure it would still be part of my hair fight.  

Now, mind you, none of these were frantic reactionary treatments.  I had yet to go bald.  These were all preventative.

The simple question you're likely asking at this point is:  did any of them work?  The answer is equally simple:  who the hell knows????  I'm still not classified as bald but I do have less hair than I did when I graduated high school.  So do Jerry Seinfeld, Clint Eastwood, and the late Robin Williams and none of these men are/were considered bald.  

Baldness is one of those afflictions that becomes more prevalent (and hence, more socially acceptable) with age.  The general accepted stat is that by 20, 20% of men have shown some measure of baldness, and these ramp up at a predictable rate all the way up to one's 80's.  By 50, 50% of men are balding.  By 80, 80%.  10% or less of the male population winds up like Alec Baldwin or my father-in-law who have either the same OR MORE hair at 70 than they did at 40.  The rest of us recede, either slowly (Henry Winkler) or quickly (Yul "The King and I" Brynner).   We only find out the rate by looking in the mirror and comparing ourselves to past photographs.

Today, there is a saliva swab test you can take at a cost of less than $50 if you order it online.  A positive result means a man has a 70% chance of losing his hair.   A negative signifies he has a 90% chance of not going prematurely bald.  These are pretty vague stats.  If you test positive, does that mean slight thinning or significant balding?  Remember, not all of us inherit the same balding patterns or recede at the same rates.   This test seems to be good for telling you you're off the hook or you're not.  And if  you're not, you're left with no idea how bad it could get.    

At any rate, no such test existed back in my teenaged days, and I'd wager that most men today have either never heard of the test or bothered to take it.  Baldness is one of those things men tackle only after it's apparent they've lost some hair.  

If you were trying to lose 10 kg, you have an easy and objective way to test whether your protocol is working.   Each week you stand on a scale and observe whether your weight is dropping.  If you were trying to get into better shape, there are other easy and objective tests to measure improvements.  Stress tests.  Standard pulse recovery rate.  Resting pulse rate.  

Baldness is different.  If you go on a treatment, you have to maintain a certain faith that the regimen is doing something since there's usually no baseline control to compare yourself against.  A precious few may have an identical twin brother. Comparing your scalp to your brother's, presuming he's on no treatment, will tell you if your treatment provides any real benefit.  For the rest of us lacking an identical twin, we're clueless.  It's all too easy to pronounce a treatment a dud when no new hair growth results, but that doesn't mean a treatment is a failure.  Regrowth of lost hair is always rare, regardless of the protocol.   Treatments are always more effective at retarding further hair loss.  It's true for anything that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.   But even if you continue to bald, it still doesn't mean the treatment is a scam.  Perhaps you're balding at a slower rate than you would have had you continued to do nothing.

In my case, I'm not bald now, but I do have less hair than I did when I was 18.  How much of my current growth is due to my genes and how much to the incessant treatments, some of which I still practice?  I'll never know.   Possibly I can find out if I quit all my treatments and my hair starts thinning at a rapid rate, but would I dare risk that?     

I cannot tell you how many times I've been to hair loss forums and seen a newbie post his baldness class and then say he went on treatments X, Y, and Z simultaneously starting last week.  Why hasn't he grown any hair yet?  Others post their regimens and assure the community they'll be back to post on their progress in the succeeding months.  Neither party is ever heard from again.  The former gives up before he's really begun because he has unrealistic time expectations.  The latter thinks that his rigorous regimen will reverse all signs of balding.  The only things that can (possibly) do that are surgery and cosmetic cover-ups like toupees.  When the regimen merely halts further balding - itself a sign of success - but without any regrowth, the victim dictates his treatment a waste, posts no updates, and probably quits doing any treatment altogether.   Winding up with a shiny scalp in a decade, he bemoans the sh-tty genes mom and dad gave him when there was a decent chance he could've forestalled the worst ravages of baldness had he stayed on course.

Sympathizing with balding men, twelve years ago I ran a business which provided generic Propecia to balding men each month.  At that time, name-brand Propecia cost a whopping $55-60.  My generic version, still containing the active ingredient finasteride in the same concentration, was priced at just $25 and included the fee of shipping their monthly dosage to their door.  I knew most people lack the discipline to stay on something for an extended period of time unless it's convenient and easy.  Propecia/finasteride was and still is the drug most doctors prescribe when the issue of baldness comes up.  Despite the societal acceptance, the great price, and the ease of administering this treatment, most of my customers didn't stick with it for any great length of time.  I presume that when they didn't see their teenaged hairlines magically reappear, they bailed.

Life is a lot like baldness.   A few of us are born into that lucky 10%.  We are gifted an unassailable hairline or a silver spoon in our mouth.  We never have to think whether something is working or not because we were fortunate to land on our feet with everything already working.  Maybe we're born with Ronald Reagan's hairline or as part of a family dynasty, and it's understood that after a certain age, we'll merely assume our role in the hierarchy.  Prince William inherited a crappy hairline which he didn't do anything to countermand, but then, his hairline or lack of one was never going to be a real issue, was it?  Baldness is almost a rite of passage in the British royal family.   Hair or no hair, he was destined to sit on the British throne, marry an attractive and wealthy woman, and go through all the motions royal family members are expected to.  

As for the rest of us, it's all a crapshoot.  We don't know if we're going to be in the group of 20% who bald by 20 or the 40% who bald by 40, any more than we know that the prestigious law job we were turned down for at Dickwatz & Schitzky was what made us desperate enough to work for that startup which wound up netting us $100m after it went public.  

A few of us, at young ages, are so determined to avoid some undesirable outcome that we do what seems extreme in order to avoid it.  We rub topical baldness solutions in our still hairy scalps.  Or channel obsessive efforts into starting businesses at young ages to avoid being stuck in the lower middle classes.  And one thing we can never be sure of, unless we're riding high, either with a full head of hair on the baldness scale or with the life we always dreamed of on the happiness scale, is if the decisions we've made have worked to get us to the best possible place.   Who of us isn't guilty of applying a few prescriptions onto our life, waiting a ridiculously short amount of time to witness results, and then quitting when the results haven't shown up yet?

The treatment for hair loss and an unsuccessful life is already out there.  Neither is a secret.  Baldness is expressed through some unique mix of genes, hormones, and age.  We cannot do anything about age and genes at this point in time, so topical and oral treatments, applied regularly, work on the hormone side to prevent auto immune reactions and follicle shrinkage.  People who are successful know what they want and keep heading in that direction without letting up, maintaining some faith that their steadfast vision will get them there.  

It takes most of us decades to lose all the hair we're going to lose, with a few very unlucky sods losing it all in less than 5 years.  Similarly, it takes most of us decades to get where we want to go, with a few very lucky dogs arriving in less than 5 years.   For the bulk of us, doing something very little but doing it every day is what makes all the difference.    


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