Image Credit: Antonio Gravante / Getty Images
I spend a lot of time on the Internet. It’s pretty much in my job description, but I’d wager that even if my career wasn’t in online media, I’d still be transfixed to my iPhone, trying to stave off the existential dread that typically accompanies taking a break from the web. I’ve been on vacations where, due to the lack of 4G signal, I’ve found myself unable to figure out something to do with my hands that doesn’t involve a smartphone. The rise in popularity of coffee houses such as Starbucks was probably due to people running out of battery, and therefore having to replace their phone with a takeaway coffee cup, or else risk launching into a public meltdown due to being forced to confront their own consciousness as a result of not being able to mindlessly check Twitter.
But while the Internet has done us a lot of good, there are ramifications that come with being constantly connected to the rest of the world. One such ramification is our heightened awareness of how we appear to the outside to the world, and the necessity of being self-conscious when it comes to putting our personalities out there for the world to see on social media. For men approaching their thirties, and even young men in their early twenties or late teens, one major cause of anxiety that is rarely discussed out of equal parts worry and embarrassment is hair loss.
Hair loss is a superficial but still downright panic-inducing issue faced by both women and men, but the latter gender get hit the hardest by it with only 20% managing to wade through the entirety of their life with a full head of hair, compared to the 50% of women. Suddenly finding yourself with less hair than you had just a year prior brings with it a sense of your own mortality, with it being one of the first signs of aging that men can go through. I personally experienced my first “hair loss scare” around 2 years ago, when my girlfriend handily pointed out that I was “going a bit thin on top.” Cue a sprint upstairs and to our bedroom, with me essentially transforming it into a carnival fun house, placing mirrors along every edge of the room in order to inspect the damage. It wasn’t too bad, but noticeable enough that my girlfriend felt the need to inform me of it, so there began my descent into online forums in order to deduce how to best approach the situation.
You wouldn’t expect many constructive answers if you were to show strangers on the street photos of your forehead, so what makes Internet dwellers’ opinions any different? (Image Credit: Imgur)
You’re told to never visit WebMD if you have a medical issue, but there’s no such protocol for hair loss, so I didn’t think twice about hastily Googling which products I should be lathering into my scalp in order to quell the onset of male pattern baldness. Unsurprisingly, the sensible opinions that can be found online are limited, and are mostly spouted by one of three categories of individuals: 1) companies that provide hair loss treatment, and are therefore very encouraging of your viewpoint that this is truly the end of the world; 2) anxious twenty-something-year-olds distraught about what is happening to their hair, and desperately hoping that someone, somewhere will provide them with an escape from their follicle problems, and 3) grizzled, embittered veterans of MPB, insisting that everyone with even the slightest bit of scalp showing should immediately get on the “big three” of Nizoral, Minoxidil and Finasteride.
Of course, the latter group are the most prevalent and outspoken, and as I scoured the ‘net and found multiple threads of terrified young men posting photographs of their scalps online, I’d see several anonymous users piping up in order to inform them how long they had left until they’d wind up looking like Larry David. I’ve seen teenagers posting photos of their perfect hairlines, only for grown adults to sternly inform them that, while they look fine now, they should probably get on Finasteride anyway “just in case.” This is despite Finasteride having a number of potential side effects, including decreased sexual libido, erectile dysfunction and, most unpleasantly, causing a persistent pain in the user’s left nut. I’m not sure why the left nut is specified, but Finasteride apparently singles that poor bastard out.
A typical online post of some poor worried soul’s scalp. (Image Credit: Imgur)
Finasteride, sold under the brand names Proscar and Propecia, is essentially a pill that inhibits dihydrotestesterone (DHT), which shortens the growth phase of your hair cycle and leads to the miniaturization of hairs on your hairline and crown. You can find horror stories of people who have got reportedly got themselves into a sorry state by taking the drug, though side-effects are rare, and many users talk up the claim that the vast majority of those who are reportedly suffering from them are instead experiencing a placebo effect. However, with there being a limited number of clinical trials carried out on the drug, it’s difficult to ascertain just how safe/dangerous it. I’ve thus far stayed away from it, mainly because I’ve managed to maintain my hair, but also because I’m averse to nut pain.
I’ve managed to keep my hair by way of Rogaine (the brand name for Minoxidil), which you can lather onto your head in a foam and, not only has it proven to be pretty effective in my case, it also magically helps to style your hair, too. There’s a liquid Rogaine, which could possibly be more efficient at reaching the scalp, but the last time I applied it it combined with the styling product I was using and essentially made it look as though a discus had lodged its way into my skull. After using Rogaine foam for a while, I’m pretty certain my hair loss isn’t noticeable at all now. Combined with Nizoral (the third component of the aforementioned “big three”), and I also don’t experience much of the scalp itching that is sometimes known to occur when applying the solution.
Those three pieces of information are all you’ll ever need (until there is a magical cure for baldness, at least) when you begin to consider combating your hair loss, if that is the route you wish to take. If you don’t give a shit about your hair, or at least don’t mind going bald at this point in your life, then even better, but some of us aren’t cool enough to have the amount of self-esteem necessary to not care about it. This is what inevitably drives people to look up solutions online, and attempt to find solace in the madness that is the hair loss forums of the Internet.
But why do so many do it to themselves? Why are places like Reddit’s hair loss subreddit, titled ‘Tressless,’ home to thousands of men dragging each other into pits of worry? The reality is that the Internet has become a haven for amateur support groups, only without professionals actually helping the people in these support groups come to reasonable conclusions. As such, you’ll see someone on Tressless post a photo of their pillow with a smattering of hairs on it, captioned “IS THIS NORMAL?!” and then watch as six guys pile in to inform him that, holy shit, he’s definitely going bald if he’s lost 15 hairs in one evening (the average person loses between 50 and 100 per day) and that from here on out he should take a pill every day for the rest of his life.
The Internet is partially to blame for everyone being far more image-conscious than they were prior to its existence. We’re constantly bombarded with idealistic images of good-looking people living their phenomenal lives, juxtaposed with ruthless takedowns of those possessing physical imperfections, i.e. everyone on the planet. It’s no wonder, then, that so many are so concerned about hair loss, considering that it’s an image problem that’s unpredictable, has no surefire solution, and many fear can drastically alter their physical appearance. These people’s anxieties are then eagerly confirmed by others experiencing the same issues, with the end result being everyone feeling significantly worse despite there only being one reasonable piece of advice: either take the available treatments and hope they work for you/don’t give you side effects, or live with it.
So this is a public service announcement for those currently suffering from hair loss: treat your follicle dilemma as you would an illness, and consider that seeking advice from some strangers on an online message board isn’t the best course of action. We’re all getting older, and there are both perks and downsides to that. Don’t go posting pictures of your scalp to Reddit and expect that you’ll wind up feeling better about your very common problem afterwards.