Men Share The Costly Lengths They've Taken To Prevent Balding

Men pursued hair transplants with a gusto during COVID-19 lockdown. But even before the pandemic, the demand for hair restoration treatment was high.
|

As he was approaching 25 about a decade ago, David DiMuzio looked in the mirror and generally liked what he saw. But then there was his hairline: thinning and creeping backward, it looked like it belonged to a completely different guy ― one that was at least a few decades older than DiMuzio.

“My hair felt like it was the only thing in my life that was working against me,” said DiMuzio, a 36-year-old singer songwriter. “I’d look in the mirror and my hairline didn’t feel like it should be my hairline. This should be the hairline of a guy who’s like 60 years old.”

DiMuzio was hitting his stride as a musician in the Philippines; his songs often ranked high on MTV music video countdowns in the country. Still, looking in the mirror, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his hairline was holding him back professionally and personally.

Musician David DiMuzio before and after hair transplants. These photos were taken over 10 years apart. “Even the scar is covered up by hair, and the hair looks great now,” he told HuffPost.
David DiMuzio
Musician David DiMuzio before and after hair transplants. These photos were taken over 10 years apart. “Even the scar is covered up by hair, and the hair looks great now,” he told HuffPost.

With some research and consultations, DiMuzio found out he was a “Norwood 5” on the Hamilton-Norwood scale, a classification system that uses a 1 to 7 scale to gauge hair loss.

A Norwood 5, he learned, is considered an advanced stage of baldness in men.

Demoralized by that number, he sought out a hair transplant. In search of more fullness, he decided to get another transplant, this time with a different surgeon. (It’s not uncommon for hair transplant patients to undergo multiple surgeries.)

The second was problematic. The surgeon lost his license in Tennessee not long after performing DiMuzio’s surgery, and he went overboard with the musician’s hairline.

“He went well outside what is considered the ‘safe zone’ in taking tissue from the back of my head and transplanting it to the front,” DiMuzio told HuffPost. “Because of that, I have a larger scar than I should, and it was not as successful of surgery as it should have been.”

Since then, DiMuzio has gone on to correct the shoddy work. A few weeks ago, he had his fifth transplant. He also takes Finasteride (the generic name for Propecia) and minoxidil (the generic name for Rogaine) and uses an iRestore laser cap for hair growth. He’s happy with this hair today.

“Even the scar is covered up by hair, and the hair looks great now,” he said.

Of course, it came at a steep cost. The singer has spent $35,000 of his own money; two of his five surgeries were offered to him free by doctors hoping to make an appearance on his popular YouTube channel “Hair Loss Hope,” where he doles out advice to the young and follicly challenged.

There are more young guys concerned with their hairline than you’d expect. Like many other procedures including nose jobs and Brazilian butt lifts, there was an uptick in patients requesting hair transplants during COVID. The lockdown meant you didn’t have to worry about a coworker or friend seeing your bandaged-up head.

Dr. Marc Dauer, a hair restoration surgeon who practices in Los Angeles and New York City, told the New York Times that at the peak of the pandemic, his offices saw a 30% surge in hair transplant procedures and a 50% increase in transplant consultations.

But even before the pandemic, the demand for hair transplants was high. The hair restoration industry is projected to reach over $12 billion in 2026. The increase in stress-induced hair loss that came with the pandemic will probably only add to those numbers.

The patients coming in are getting younger and younger, too. These are guys concerned about looking Instagram perfect and not wanting to have to hatfish on Bumble or Tinder. (A clever play on catfishing, a guy who hatfishes looks great on screen, but strangely, he’s wearing a hat in all of his photos.)

“A bald person will listen to anyone who gives tips about hair growth.”

- Amir ur Rehman, a 29-year-old engineer from Dubai who has had three hair transplants

On Facebook groups about hair loss and Reddit forums like r/tressless, young people commiserate over premature hair loss (aka “the Norwood Reaper”) and relay their experiences with different hair-restoration clinics around the world. (When it comes to hair tourism, Turkey is a hot spot.) They debate what procedures they suspect celebrities like Matthew McConaughey, LeBron James and Chris Evans have undergone through the years and analyze each other’s post-op pictures.

These robust online conversations have led people as young as 17 into plastic surgeon Monica Kieu’s office, looking for a consultation. It’s worth noting here: Male pattern baldness can start showing as early as your late teens, but typically, hair specialists don’t recommend a hair transplant for people under the age of 25 since your hairline likely hasn’t settled yet and you don’t quite know what you’re working with.

“As many aesthetic procedures are becoming more common and accepted, I have noticed younger patients seeking out hair restoration therapy,” Kieu, whose office is in Newport Beach, California, told HuffPost. “Although women are also seeking out hair transplants, the majority of my patients are still men between the ages of 20-60.”

Jan Oliva, a 22-year-old from Southwest Florida, got his hair transplant under the cover of lockdown last year. Oliva went to the Dominican Republic ― another hair transplant hotspot ― for his work.

“I first started noticing my receding hairline when I was around 16 and ever since then it was definitely a factor that affected my self esteem,” he told HuffPost. “It wasn’t until last year that I decided to do some research on hair loss treatments.”

Oliva had FUE ― follicular unit extraction. It’s a procedure where the hair follicles are transplanted from the back of your head to your hairline without leaving any noticeable scarring. Over the years, FUE has become more popular than the follicular unit transplantation (FUT) ― the older procedure where the surgeon and technicians take a strip of skin from the back or the side of the scalp and then extract the hair follicles.

In the U.S., the FUE hair transplant could run you anywhere from $4,000 and $15,000 per session. Oliva said his surgery in the Dominican Republic came out to $2,800.

He found out about the surgeon on TikTok, another place where young men ― and some women ― regale others with their experiences with hair transplants, replete with images of the slightly unnerving looking immediate aftermath. (Almost every patient deals with some facial swelling and swelling of the scalp after a hair transplant.)

Now he makes hair restoration TikToks himself.

“I’m very happy with the results,” he said. “I might actually have to do it again because I only did my hairline.”

Jan Oliva, 22, got the FUE hair transplant (follicular unit extraction), a procedure where the hair follicles are transplanted from the back of your head to your hairline.
Courtesy of Jan Oliva
Jan Oliva, 22, got the FUE hair transplant (follicular unit extraction), a procedure where the hair follicles are transplanted from the back of your head to your hairline.

Amir ur Rehman, a 29-year-old engineer from Dubai, also got his hair transplant when he was on the younger side.

At 23 years old, he felt way too young to be bald and he was sick of his phone resurfacing photos of him on “this day in 2013” when he still had a healthy, enviable crop of hair.

His wife was fine with him balding in his early 20s, but it didn’t sit right with him. “Some people suggested I should wear a wig, but you’ll never get satisfaction wearing a wig,” he said.

He tried shampoo after shampoo and took advice from anyone who’d offer some, but nothing seemed to work.

“I got scammed in Dubai by some random guy who offered me some herbal medicine ― the hair scam is very famous in Dubai,” he said. “A bald person will listen to anyone who gives tips about hair growth.”

Eventually, fearing the dreaded comb-over, he caved and got his first hair transplant in 2019 in Pakistan, where you can get the procedure for a fraction of what it costs in the West.

The results weren’t great, though, and the engineer ended up pursuing two more surgeries.

Now, no one would suspect he was an almost-balding guy once. He’s happy with his hair but wants people considering hair transplants to temper their expectations. Transplanted hair look will never be the same as your natural hair, he said, no matter where you do the transplant and how many you do.

“With a hair transplant, you will think about the back side ― the donor area ― and the empty spaces there,” he said. “If you cut too much, it will be visible. You have to adopt a hairstyle that caters to where the density looks good.”

Amir ur Rehman's wife was fine with him balding in his early 20s, but it didn't sit right with him. "Some people suggested I should wear a wig but you’ll never get satisfaction wearing a wig," he said.
Courtesy of Amir ur Rehman
Amir ur Rehman's wife was fine with him balding in his early 20s, but it didn't sit right with him. "Some people suggested I should wear a wig but you’ll never get satisfaction wearing a wig," he said.

Hair transplants aren’t the only option to explore

For most young men, the first action they take is typically topical treatments like minoxidil (Rogaine) and oral medications like finasteride (Propecia), which you take once a day.

“These therapies can be effective in preserving hair and preventing further loss, but the only treatment to actually regrow hair where it is already balding is a hair transplant,” Kieu said, pointing out to some new advancements in hair transplantation technology, like robotic hair restoration, where surgeons use AI to assist in the procedure.

“This increases our efficiency while also minimizing scarring that we see in older techniques,” she said.

For non-surgical hair restoration, Kieu said exosomes hair therapy has been an exciting newer development.

“Exosomes are derived from stem cells, and they help with cell-to-cell signaling, which has powerful effects on cell function,” she said. “They contain growth factors, which stimulate your hair follicles to grow. It’s a relatively quick procedure that we can do in-office in about 30 minutes with minimal downtime.”

“Hair restoration and preservation is definitely an investment in time and money. This is not the time to bargain shop.”

- Monica Kieu, a plastic surgeon and hair restoration specialist in Newport Beach, California

Those procedures didn’t exist when Spencer Stevenson, 47, got his first hair transplant about 20 years ago.

At the time, there was a dearth of information about hair transplants on the web. In fact, he found out about the clinic he ended up going to through a Super Bowl ad.

“Before that, I looked in the Yellow Pages. I tried every single treatment that was available ― powders, paints, pills, lotions, all sorts of stuff which none of them worked, sadly,” the Brit told HuffPost.

“That led me to get an unfavorable hair transplant in the U.S.,” he said. “I flew over from the U.K. to the U.S. and that resulted in really, really poor unnatural work.”

Stevenson ― who goes by “Spex Hair” online and is something of a hair loss godfather, with quotes on BBC News, The Guardian and a radio advice show ― was left with scarring and dull hair on the top of his head.

After that first surgery, Stevenson had a few more unsuccessful surgeries. He lived under his hat; when he’d take it off, his friends would make jabs about how the formerly follicularly blessed Stevenson was now prematurely balding.

Badgering is bad enough, but what makes it worse is that men are considered vain if they pursue cosmetic surgeries. People assume hair loss is just something you have to accept as part of the aging process. But as countless men and women on online forums like r/tressless will assure you, it’s not easy to watch globs of your hair collect in your shower drain when you’re only 25.

“The loss of my hair had a profound effect on me, on my self-esteem,” Stevenson said. “Hair loss is a cancer of the spirit, it traumatizes individuals and it really is a hidden epidemic.”

Spencer, also known as "Spex Hair," is an advocate for hair loss sufferers. Here, he's pictured before any treatment age 21 (left), during his last surgery at the Harley Street Hair Clinic in London, and today at 47.
Courtesy of Spencer Stevenson
Spencer, also known as "Spex Hair," is an advocate for hair loss sufferers. Here, he's pictured before any treatment age 21 (left), during his last surgery at the Harley Street Hair Clinic in London, and today at 47.

Today, Stevenson has spent in the region of 40,000 pounds, which is close to 60,000 U.S. dollars, to try and restore and maintain his hair.

“I would do it all over again. It’s completely transformed my life now,” he said. “My motivation was purely to try and live a normal life and not an isolated one. I was consumed by my hair. It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up and the last thing I thought of when I went to bed.”

Stevenson was so mentally scarred by his earlier work, he now co-hosts a radio show, “The Bald Truth,” to help people know what to look for in a hair specialist.

“I’m an advocate in this space because I want to protect consumers from making the same mistakes I made at first,” he said. “This industry is a ruthless space governed by money and taking advantage of the hapless hair loss sufferer.”

"I would do it all over again. It’s completely transformed my life now,” Spencer Stevenson said.
Courtesy of Spencer Stevenson
"I would do it all over again. It’s completely transformed my life now,” Spencer Stevenson said.

How to do your research and avoid a long, drawn-out loss journey

So how do you have as seamless of a hair transplant surgery as possible?

When researching a hair transplant clinic, Kieu advises to look long and hard at before-and-after photos, and always check online reviews.

“A board-certified physician should always be performing the procedure, and if possible, go to the clinic in-person for your consultation, so you can feel out the vibe,” she said.

Turkey is probably the most common location outside the U.S. where patients go to have their hair transplants, but Kieu would caution people that prior research is important if they are going out of the country for a procedure.

“I have heard of many horror stories of botched jobs, with no ability for any follow-up or recourse since the clinics are so far away and difficult to contact,” she said, noting that as a specialist in hair restoration, about 20% of her practice is covering up scars from previous hair transplants or making obvious transplants look more natural.

Stevenson recommended looking for a reputable surgeon by looking through the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons.

“Doctors on there have been screened, have been monitored and have an ethical moral duty to make sure people get the right work for them or even turn people away if not an eligible candidate,” he said.

There are far more options in the hair restoration world than there were 20 years ago, when Stevenson was at his most desperate. Don’t jump at the first option or try to financially cut corners with your head of hair.

As Kieu said ― and what all these guys’ stories attest to ― “hair restoration and preservation is definitely an investment in time and money. This is not the time to bargain shop.”

Before You Go

Popular in the Community

MORE IN LIFE