When I was 24, I was a happy young dude. I was living in Washington D.C., I had a job that paid the rent, and I had a full head of hair.

This head of hair was beautiful. Thick. Soft. Curly. Auburn. People used to ask to touch it. Women said they would kill for hair that color. I was like a ginger-maned Casey Affleck. Life was good.

Then I moved to Los Angeles and my hair started to fall out. Like most guys in this situation, but a lot more so because I was a perfectionist and a worrier and I have some Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder tendencies in my family history, I TOTALLY FREAKED THE FUCK OUT.

At first I thought it was my scalp adjusting to the drier desert air or something. Then more and more strands of thick, beautiful auburn hair started showing up in my hands while I was taking a shower, and the hair that remained was getting noticeably thinner and… pube-ier.

Finally one day I had to face facts: I was losing my hair.

Looking back now, I realize that virtually every move I made was the wrong one. And I don’t want any other guy to make the same mistakes I did. Because it actually got pretty damn serious for a while.

These facts were extra-devastating to face because I thought I was in the clear, baldness-wise. First of all, my hair was so thick growing up. Whenever I got a haircut, I always asked the barber to “thin it out on top.” Secondly, although my dad was pretty much bald, my mother’s father had a really nice salad, even into his 50s and 60s. And like many misguided fools, I thought hair-loss heredity was all about the mother’s father.

One afternoon I called my dad to get his take. He said it could be a couple of things. One, stress. Or two, and I can still hear him saying this: “You’re getting old, man.”

“Getting old”? I was 24! “How can this be happening to me?!” I asked my father—who, mind you, was almost COMPLETELY BALD.

Thus began my long, weird, stupidly traumatic and nearly life-threatening experience with hair loss.

NOW, LET ME BE CLEAR HERE: All my hair didn’t fall out of my head right away, like water draining out of a bathtub. It was a very gradual thing. (And I still have SOME hair.) At first I hoped it was just a hairline readjustment. Like I was losing my baby hair or something. But it bothered me a lot. I had dreams of becoming a writer/director/actor in Hollywood, like Ed Burns or someone, and I thought this couldn’t happen if I were bald or even balding.

I also enjoyed getting laid occasionally, and I thought if I were bald that no woman would want to sleep with me, or at the very least my options would be severely limited. So I was very motivated to keep my hair, and over the next 10 years or so, I did almost everything in my power to stop the balding process.

But looking back now, at 38 and a half, I realize that virtually every move I made was the wrong one. And I don’t want any other guy to make the same mistakes I did. Because it actually got pretty damn serious for a while. I went to such a crazy, horrible place, and my OCD leanings ran wild, with the help of some chemicals from the devil that I’ll talk more about in a second.

So consider the following a guide to how NOT to handle your hair loss. If you’re starting to find that your ’do is bailing on you, here are three dodgy ‘solutions’ and one great one…

shawn donnelly igrowMistake #1: Spend Thousands on Over-the-Counter Hair Products (and Try Wacky Gadgets)

Starting at age 24, my trip to the hair salon went like so: I’d receive a $15 haircut. Then on the way to the cash register, I would grab a couple of products that promised to regrow hair: a shampoo to remove something called DHT (which allegedly causes baldness) and a mysterious ointment that you apply on your thinning patches. So I’d walk out of there having spent about $80, and I’d do this every month or two.

But that was just one of many over-the-counter routes I went down. You name it, I bought it. Hair-thickening shampoos from multiple companies (American Crew, Paul Mitchell, L’Oréal Fucking Paris, Dove Men Plus Whatever Their Name Is). Biotin pills for stronger hair and nails (which do a great job of making you have to clip your fingernails every other day and growing your ear and eyebrow hair a lot faster). One hair stylist told me I should try the “Women’s Formula” pills at Trader Joe’s, so I did that a few times. Each time a checkout person would ask me if I meant to buy the “Men’s Formula.” I would lie and tell them it was for my girlfriend.

None of those products are cheap, of course.

Then when I was 30, I started using Rogaine. Now, a lot of people—mostly guys with great hair and women—don’t realize this, but Rogaine only works on the top of your head, aka the crown. It doesn’t work at all on the front of your head—you know, where, if you don’t have hair, it looks like you’re bald. So while their commercials act like they’re doing you this big favor and curing your baldness, they’re really not. Best-case scenario, they’re just filling in your little bald spot in the back, which is not a big deal to have anyway.

But be this as it may, every month I was dropping $25 on Rogaine. Over eight or nine years, that’s around $2,700. Add that to the biotin, the shampoos, the magic ointments and the styling products designed for thinning hair, and I bet in the past 15 years I’ve spent more than $10,000 on my non-prescription “hair system.” Most of which probably didn’t do a goddamn thing.

At one point, I even used an iGrow laser light therapy hair-growing helmet (see photo above—yes, I actually wore this thing in public). I was able to sample it for free for an article, but normally it would’ve cost me $600. I’m still not sure whether it regrew any hair.

Of course, every time I bought and/or used one of these products, my brain focused on the fact that I was losing my hair. Which only added to my growing obsession about hair loss. Maybe it was the competitor in me, but gradually over the years the first thing I would notice about another guy—on the street, the subway, in an office, on TV—was how much hair he had on his head. Not a good habit to pick up. At one point I thought about my hair loss or other guys’ hair pretty much every minute of the day. I just couldn’t stop my brain from making circles about this subject. Like I said, I got to a really bad place. Which leads me to…

finasteride pillsMistake #2: Take Prescription Medication

When I was 33, I started taking a generic form of Propecia called Finasteride. “You’ll grow some hair,” my doctor told me. He was right. I grew back a little hair. And more importantly, it locked in the hair I did have. It stopped the bleeding, so to speak.

It was kind of a miracle, and for the first year or two, it was great. I had more hair than I’d had in years. In terms of my hairstyle, I went from a buzz cut to a normal haircut to a “grow that shit out as big as you can” cut. I got back some of my lost confidence. I felt more attractive to women. I could swear I started to get more looks from women and a better response. Sure, the drugs had a few nagging side effects, like a slight loss in sex drive and a little sensation known as “brain fog,” but the positives outweighed the negatives. I was quite pleased with the people who had invented and prescribed this drug for me.

By the third year on Finasteride, though, I was in HELL. The side effects had gotten super shitty. They weren’t on the SIDE anymore. They were the MAIN effects. My sex drive was at an all-time low. I had trouble getting and keeping an erection. I didn’t want to have sex with the girl I was dating, which damaged the relationship. We ultimately broke up.

But it wasn’t just sex drive. My overall “drive for life”—my enthusiasm for being on this earth—plummeted. I had trouble getting out of bed every morning. I really had to psyche myself up to leave my apartment and see other people. I had little motivation. I was sad. I was angry. I was anxious. I was fearful. I was low on confidence. I would skip taking the pill for a day and feel much better. But I would always go back to taking them because of the fear and self-consciousness I felt while on the drugs.

It was a vicious cycle. Best way I can describe it is: The drugs were robbing me of the confidence I needed to stop taking the drugs. So every night I would continue to take what I called my “depressant” pill. It was awful. And I’m not alone. There’s a whole community of guys out there who have experienced terrible side effects with this drug. In many ways I got off easy, before things REALLY got bad. Some men’s lives have been absolutely ruined by Finasteride. How this drug is still available in the U.S., I’m not sure. It should be banned like it is in other countries. It’s soul-crushing. If you’re thinking of taking it, let me give you a piece of advice: DO NOT TAKE IT! SERIOUSLY, RUN THE OTHER WAY. It’s a nasty, nasty drug.

By the fourth year on Finasteride, I was taking Cialis and generic Lexapro to deal with the shitty feelings. Finally, about nine months ago, I dumped the last of my Finasteride pills in the garbage and haven’t looked back. I feel like I escaped from prison. I feel much better and like I’m finally back headed in the right direction. So hooray for that.

brian urlacher ron howardMistake #3: Become Bitter, Camera-Shy, People-Shy and Prone to Hats

I’ll cover this stuff more quickly because I know this article is getting super long, but: Don’t avoid taking pictures because of your hair loss. Don’t avoid going out or meeting up with friends. Don’t be that guy who wears a hat everywhere. Don’t be Ron Howard. I mean, do make a bunch of not-terrible films like Ron Howard. Just don’t wear a hat at all times like Ron Howard. (It’s funny: He’s like a character from his own show, Arrested Development. A never nude-head.) Don’t wear a doo rag at all times like LL Cool J either. Don’t hate guys who have great hair—or wish them ill will for showing it off… you know you’d do the same thing.

And as tempting as it is—and I’m speaking to myself here too—try not to hate on guys who get hair transplants or wear hairpieces. Bitterness is not healthy. It’s not good energy and it’s not a fun vibe to be around. If a guy wants to wear a toupee or get the hair from the back of his head surgically moved to the front of his head in an expensive, painful procedure, that’s his choice. Live and let live. To each his own hairpiece.

I personally think a lot of those transplants look bad and I would be embarrassed and self-conscious to be walking around with them (see: Brian Urlacher), which is the main reason I ultimately decided not to get one myself—though I once got very, very close, even going so far as to submit a hefty down payment that I didn’t get back. But if other guys want to do this, more power to them. It’s no different than a woman getting breast implants. But in a way it’s also no different than women in Imperial China binding their feet to keep them tiny. You’re changing what nature gave you in order to alter your appearance for decorative reasons.

I like the way Urlacher and Wes Welker handled it, for what it’s worth: They were very open about having gotten the procedure, and they say they’re happier. Good for them. Way to not hide it or deny having it done, like so many other men out there.

But I will say: If they’re taking Finasteride or Propecia in order to maintain their hair-transplant look, then they’re probably going to end up regretting their decision. Because like I detailed above, those drugs are deceptively evil and they could ruin your life. They’re like selling your soul to the devil. You’ll keep your hair in order to look more attractive to women, but you won’t have any desire to sleep with those women—or be able to satisfy them in bed. So it’s a real Catch 22. And it’ll give you severe brain fog and could gradually turn you insane. Again, you’ve been warned.

great bald menSo What SHOULD You Do? Go Bald Gracefully

I think the biggest thing that guys who are struggling with losing their hair need to do is change their belief system. Don’t think of baldness as death or something for losers or old guys. Think of it as a badge of honor. It means you’ve got a lot of testosterone. You’re a real man. You’re tough. You’ve got character. Look at all the cool guys in the world who are bald or balding. Bruce Willis and Jason Statham, obviously. But also dudes like Louis CK, Larry David, Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, Michael Fucking Chiklis, Tony Kornheiser, Zinedine Zidane, Ed Harris, Jude Law, Dustin Pedroia, Matt Lauer, Pablo Zabaleta, Corey Stoll, Michael Stipe and on and on.

You know the guy who actually made me realize I could just shave my head and look fine? Houston Texans coach Bill O’Brien. I was watching Hard Knocks one night, after having booked my expensive hair transplant procedure, when it just hit me between the eyes: I don’t need to do this.

There are a lot of advantages to losing your hair, actually. You probably don’t have to spend time or money on haircuts or hair products anymore. You’re also more likable. Bald men appear to have a flaw, so everyone intuitively likes them because everyone has flaws. It makes people feel more comfortable. It’s one of the reasons we liked James Gandolfini so much. Think about it. If Tony Soprano was whacking people and cheating on his wife and throwing steaks at his mistress and abusing his daughter’s African-American boyfriend with a full head of hair, he would’ve been a lot bigger asshole. Because he’s balding, we’re like, he’s so complex and lovable!

Hair loss is humanizing. So stop trying to be perfect and own your humanity. (I’m talking to you, LeBron James!) So you don’t look like a Ken doll or a movie star anymore. So what? Who says you have to look like a Ken doll or a movie star? Now you don’t have to act like the good-looking guy, the boring lead who says all the right things, just another pretty boy. You don’t want to look like everyone else, do you? Now you can be the weird guy who speaks his mind. You can say whatever you want. Those weird guys have a lot more fun and are a lot happier. They know the world isn’t fair and they move on.

You don’t have to shave your head down to the skin, either. (Especially if you’re a pale white dude.) Look at Louis CK. He looks cool. Just Louis CK that shit. Ed Harris that shit. Rich Eisen that shit. Jack Nicholson that shit. Michael McKean that shit. John Malkovich that shit.

And whatever you do, don’t buy the lie that says your hair loss makes you undateable or unfuckable. Thankfully, women are a lot less superficial than men. They don’t care about hair as much as you think. Well, some of them do, but screw those women. Most women care a lot more about how you treat them and that you keep showing up. And how funny you are and how stable you are. So focus on being a good person, making some scratch and helping the world, and you’ll do just fine with women. In fact, you’ll do just fine, period.

The best part? Every year it gets easier. If you’re bald at 22, you might look like a 30-year-old now, but you’re still going to look like a 30-year-old when you’re 50. And isn’t that some nice consistency?

So come on over, balding dudes. Ditch your Rogaine and your hair-thickening shampoos and your styling gels and your Bosley pamphlets and your perma-hats and join us. Trim your head, grow a beard and grab a cold one. The DHT crowd is a lot more interesting group, in my biased opinion. We have a better sense of humor and we’re a lot more carefree. Come on in. The water’s fine.

before and afterThe writer of this article, circa 2007 and now.

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