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We laughed at my baldness, but inside I was crying

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 09/07/2021 Nick Harding
Stephanie Davies holding a pair of people posing for the camera: Nick Harding with his wife Stephanie - HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY FOR THE TELEGRAPH © HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY FOR THE TELEGRAPH Nick Harding with his wife Stephanie - HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY FOR THE TELEGRAPH

Baldness is no laughing matter unless you have a full head of hair and enjoy teasing people who don’t, in which case someone like me will give you endless mirth. As a slap-head, I can attest that hair loss is distressing. The level of distress will depend on ego, age and the pattern the loss takes. 

A gentle widow’s peak at 45, for example, is more desirable than a comical shiny monk’s pate at 35, which was my affliction thanks to genetics. Those who thin from the crown and are eventually left with a sad semicircle of fuzz, clinging on like a wispy hair-spectre, are arguably the most tormented.

No wonder a recent study concluded that balding men should be offered counselling to help them cope with the trauma of hair loss. Study leader professor Ching-Chi Chi, from Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taiwan, describes androgenetic alopecia (AGA), or male pattern baldness, as a disease. “Patients may need psychological and psychosocial support,” he says. Dr Kerry Montgomery, from Alopecia UK, agrees.

a close up of a person using a cell phone: Nick Harding - Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph © Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph Nick Harding - Andrew Crowley for The Telegraph

AGA affects about 53 per cent of men aged 40 to 49 and up to 90 per cent in their lifetime, which equates to a lot of misery. 

Meanwhile, August is Hair Loss Awareness Month, in which makers of all sorts of potions and rubs will be hawking their wares and cashing in on baldie low self-esteem, evident in the men’s haircare section of Boots, which used to comprise Head & Shoulders and Brylcreem and now presents insecure shoppers with a baffling array of products including caffeine shampoos, thickening powder, scalp tonics and Regaine foam. 

For the more desperate there are even pills from backstreet clinics and dark corners of the internet. One man recently died in the quest to reverse baldness after an allergic reaction to a £5,400 transplant procedure in India, while others have been left scarred for life after botched procedures in Turkey, which was the go-to destination for cheap follicle surgery before the pandemic.

Social media is arguably a villain here, presenting beautifully coiffed unattainable ideals of male perfection. Back in the 1970s, when I grew up, football role models like Bobby Charlton and Ralph Coates combed over and got on with life. Today Jack Grealish’s magnificent mane is a national obsession and thinning footballers like Wayne Rooney seek surgical intervention.  

My thinning journey began in my 30s and within a decade my scalp had become a barren naked disc – Crown Zero, as I call it. It provided friends with plenty of amusement and my children with a target to slap when I carried them on my shoulders. We all laughed, except inside I was crying.

I used potions and rubs to no avail. Now, aged 51, my widow’s peak is retreating at an alarming rate and will soon connect with my gleaming tonsure, carving a cruel hairless strip across the top of my head. From above I am a satellite photo of the Amazon after the loggers have moved in. My future? The BBC’s arts editor, Will Gompertz.

The hard truth is that if you are genetically predisposed, hair loss is as inevitable as death and taxes. You can disguise it with micro-pigmentation, slow it down with chemicals and reverse it temporarily with surgery, but eventually, you will go bald just like your father, and his father.

Will Gompertz wearing glasses: Will Gompertz - Clara Molden for The Telegraph © Provided by The Telegraph Will Gompertz - Clara Molden for The Telegraph

Sara Alkazraji runs Ilkley Moor Trichology Clinic and is manager of education at The Institute of Trichologists. She says younger men are more aware of measures they can take to stave off baldness.

“I see men as young as 18 who know they are genetically susceptible. If they come to us early enough there are a lot of things we can do. I can’t regrow hair once it’s lost but there is a treatment called micro-pigmentation, which has given clients emotional benefits such as increased confidence,” she explains.

She also offers a DNA test that can identify the most effective treatment for holding back the tide for future baldies.

“Hair loss does have a psychological impact on some men,” she says. “Some won’t go out without a hat. Some feel like they should put up with it and are embarrassed about coming for treatment. I tell them it’s OK to like your hair and to want to keep it.”

And for those of us who come to the party too late, counselling could help, as chartered psychologist Dr Gary Wood, himself as a bald man, believes.

“You have a problem, you talk it through. What's so very wrong with that?,” he says. “It’s for the client to decide the worthiness of the problem. Counselling for hair loss is no different from counselling for any other type of loss.”

Hair, Wood explains, can be intrinsic to identity. “It’s tied to self-image,” he continues. “A full head of hair connotes youth and vitality. It is a sign of power, if we believe the Biblical myth of Samson, whereas thinner coverage suggests old age and ill-health. We all have a vision of our ideal self and for some, hair is a key component.”

a man standing on a baseball field: A Phil Foden-style bleach can apparently help to disguise thinning hair - Premium Sport © Provided by The Telegraph A Phil Foden-style bleach can apparently help to disguise thinning hair - Premium Sport

After years of struggling against the inevitability of baldness, I accepted my fate and mitigated the psychological trauma with some skilful barbering, because there are still ways to make the best of a bad lot according to Guray Kesman, who runs Kesman Grooming in London.

“These days instead of covering the thinning parts with a combover, it’s all about making it look more natural,” he says.

He advises men balding from the front to consider a modern French crop and those balding from the top to consider longer top growth with a choppy style. He advises against wet-look hair products and slick styles.

“Messy natural styling can help cover receding hair,” he explains, “Sea salt spray is good and for finishing, matt clay is the best. Nothing shiny or wet.”

For the more adventurous he also suggests a surprising trick, a Phil Foden bleach.

“It dyes all those thin fluffy hairs that you can’t usually see and makes it look like you have more hair,” he says.

Clever cosmetics and a good barber can certainly help, but for some, the psychological impact of hair loss can't be brushed over. And perhaps for these men, baldness counselling would provide an invaluable service. Therapeutic help was not an option when I starting to thin. Had it been it may well have helped me accept what was coming my way, and saved me a small fortune in dubious treatments.

Do you have any tips for dealing with hair loss? Tell us in the comments section below.

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