Joel McHale did it. Bobby Berk did it. AJ of the Backstreet Boys did it. Rapper Tyga did it and so did Safaree. Go through a list of male celebrities, and you'll find a bunch of receding hairlines which magically sprouted back into luscious coiffs. You probably know someone who got it IRL and just never told you. In fact, millions of men are getting hair transplants — but no one's talking about it.
Hair transplants are the most common cosmetic procedure for men and male-identifying people in the world. Procedures for male pattern baldness, also known androgenetic alopecia, have advanced wildly in the last decade. But because no one wants to discuss the issue, there's a huge learning deficit, explains Chicago-based hair transplant surgeon William Yates, MD, FACS. Yates actually had hair restoration himself before becoming a preeminent transplant surgeon. "Even smart men, even doctors, don't really have a clue how it works, why it works, and what are the benefits of the new procedures," Yates told R29. "As I tell patients, the only hair transplant you're going to see is a bad one."
The industry is a bit of a mess: 'miracle cures' promising Chia Pet-worthy results obscure the more legitimate, effective options. But men are starting to talk, and soon, the casual, "Oh yeah, I got hair restoration, NBD", may become the new, "Oh yeah, I got Botox, why do you ask?"
What is 'hair restoration'?
The wide world of hair procedures is vast, but don't let the fear mongers scare you. It's not that you over-wore a hat and cut off blood circulation to your scalp. Genetics play a huge factor here, and some hair loss can be progressive, meaning it won't get better if you wait.
There is a long list of options, but the three big hair restoration players are: Propecia (otherwise known as Finasteride, a medication that stops hair loss), follicular unit extraction (FUE) hair transplant, which involves individual hair follicles transplanted from the back of the scalp, and follicular unit transplantation (FUT) hair transplant, which is one of the most invasive. In this case, hair and tissue are removed from the scalp in a strip, then transplanted. This can leave behind scarring.
Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to go to a doctor who is the same race or ethnicity as you. It is true, though, that if you have Afro hair, you'll want to consult with doctors who specialise in that texture. If you're going in without knowing much, talk to a trichologist with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the scalp and hair loss. "There are a plethora of variables," says William Gaunitz, FWTS, certified trichologist and founder of Advanced Trichology, including "genetics, nutritional factors, and inflammatory factors." Your chosen professional may also suggest alternatives like laser therapy, stem cells, or PRP (platelet-rich plasma injections) before surgery.
It's a good idea to consult with multiple doctors, and if possible, their patients who've had procedures. Often, the burden of proof will be on you, and it’s a lonely, isolating process — which is part of the underlying issue.
Why don't men talk about getting hair transplants?
The 'guy's guy' isn't supposed to be high-maintenance: "If you care about your appearance, you're either feminine or non-masculine or whatever adjective people are nastily applying," says Zach Kornfeld, content creator and member of the Try Guys, who made three viral videos about his hair restoration. Justin Rindt, business manager and stylist who had two surgeries adds that if you do have a procedure, "Don't talk about it at all. Act like nothing ever happened."
When it comes to their looks, or any of their vulnerabilities, men aren't supposed to feel at all. But they really, really do. "Confidence and self-image can concurrently drop when core aspects of the self and identity are based on external attributes," shares Dr. Romanoff. "Hair loss tends to come with deep-rooted questions about identity, perception in the eyes of others, and concern that something is wrong with them."
Masculinity and how men age is a factor in why men are secretive about hair transplants, especially as hair is often linked to virility. "Your virility is just expected, and it's supposed to be natural and unaltered," Yates says of male beauty standards. "Some guys are born with a better six pack than others and they brag, 'Hey, I don't go to the gym.' So I think deep inside, every man carries this along with them that they're naturally supposed to be handsome and witty without any help."
But it's important to give men the space to speak about these issues freely. It's also imperative to move past the countless societal and cultural barriers, which reinforce the strange concept that men shouldn’t be — and never are concerned with — vanity, superficial appearances or insecurities about their looks.
There's an obvious cultural aspect at play here. People are quick to laugh when a procedure has gone wrong (see the popularity of Botched). And Hollywood's not helping. We all know a TV or movie character who is nebbish, whiny and who also just happens to be balding or wearing an obvious toupee. Kevin on The Office even thought a toupee would make him into Ashton Kutcher.
Kornfeld says that he felt ashamed that he wasn't happy with who he was. "That any cosmetic procedure was somehow a dirty thing. I am a big fan of Larry David, he's a proud, bald man. I thought, am I displacing his legacy by changing this bit about me?" In videos, Kornfeld talks about loving yourself and body positivity. "So to change yourself cosmetically, does that fly in the face of self-love and all of the things that I believe is good for the world?," he asks.
Instead of speaking openly about the problem, men turn to professionals in a desperate state, says Romanoff. "In an unregulated, money-driven industry, this can mean fake before and after photos, false claims about expertise, and — in extreme cases — medical tourism," where people head abroad for treatments. This is booming in countries like Turkey and means men may be putting their lives at risk at a "hair mill", says Romanoff.
It's almost more acceptable to be bald than to admit to having had a hair transplant. There's a "Bald Is Beautiful" Day, for instance, but not a "Get Hair Transplants if You Want" Day. Some transplant recipients cite The Rock, Vin Diesel, and Jason Statham as bald on-screen 'hotties', but reflect with amused self-honesty that they don't have the movie star looks, nor the time to develop 300 pounds of muscle. All of these bald men also fit a certain trope: big, buff, action stars. They don't need hair to be A Man. Being bald is as much a part of their action star persona as the blockbuster mega-franchises and the massive explosions are.
How does hair restoration work?
For men with the time, money, and access to a terrific surgeon (a challenging trifecta), the results can be transformative. Yates had consigned himself to being a typical "bald doctor" and pretended it didn't bother him. "I would say, 'I'm just balding gracefully'," he remembers. "Everybody wants hair — there's no such thing as balding gracefully."
He had several FUT strip procedures, which are estimated to cost between $4,000 to $15,000 in the US. Even with the accompanying scars, Yates felt better immediately: "I started to develop another part of my personality that was neglected. I got more self-assured. You almost feel like Popeye eating spinach." His FUT experience made him determined to become an expert to enable men like him to have scar-free hair transplants.
Christopher Brown, music executive and founder of music company further. Music, actually had his first FUT surgery in 2017 after experiencing low sex drive from years of taking Finasteride. The second preventative FUE surgery in July 2022 was five times more expensive. Brown explains, "I think a lot of people get sticker shock. I certainly did, but it's permanent, and it's your body, and I only have one of those. How many bar tabs have added up to this amount over months and years?" The average cost of FUE in the US is anywhere between $4,000 to $10,000 (approximately £3,500 to £7,500 in the UK).
Brown, Kornfeld, and Rindt all started losing their hair in their early 20s. Rindt only realised the true extent of his hair loss in his engagement photos: "It was all forehead," he remembers. Kornfeld edits videos as part of his work and noticed his efforts to hide his bald spots weren't working. "There's this thing with hair loss, where you subconsciously feel that if you don't address it, it won't get worse," he explained. "And so I just tried to ignore it. It's like when you're a kid, and there's a monster under your bed. You close your eyes real tight and maybe it'll go away."
Each had a support system, which was key. Kornfeld started working with hairstylist David Dang, who walked him through the process, and ended up going to a "medical speakeasy": whiskey on tap, stylists with magnificent beards, an easy transition from hair cutting to procedures. Rindt went to the nearest big city (Chicago) and started looking for experts; in the early 2010s, FUT was the only major option, but eventually he found Yates and was reassured that Yates had also had hair restoration. Brown wanted the best his second time around and chose Los Angeles-based hair transplant surgeon Craig Ziering, DO, FAOCD, FISHRS, FAAD, who's been practicing for 32 years and performed over 25,000 surgeries — including Tyga's.
Rindt and Brown knew that they wanted a better hairline specifically for their wedding day, and timed their procedures carefully — with their partners' full support. Rindt in particular didn't want to be bald for his wedding. The treatment was individualised for all three. Kornfeld did micropigmentation (using a tattoo gun to make the scalp a darker colour), FUE surgery, and now Finasteride. Rindt did two procedures to get the fullest head of hair possible before going on Finasteride. Brown is still recovering from his second procedure but already loves it: "You get what you pay for."
"When people have their hair back, they're able to personify [positive] attributes and feel more confident in who they are," explains Romanoff. "Sometimes it's not so much about what's added, but what's taken away. So much mental energy is cleared up once this concern is managed, which makes people feel unencumbered and free to live their lives."
For Rindt and Brown, no one notices their hair unless they point it out. "Someone might say, 'Something changed, I can't put my finger on it. Did you lose weight?'" says Rindt. All three tout the procedure to friends, colleagues, and total strangers. "I proactively have the uncomfortable conversation for people," says Brown. "I'm the unofficial spokesman."
Not only are they met with incredulity and assumptions, but some friends quietly admit they, too, had either researched or had a procedure done. Being honest inspires others to seek treatment; all three interviewees said their biggest regret was not going sooner, and they extoll the virtues of hair transplants to others, too.
The real future of hair restoration
Yates and Ziering see more young patients now, either curious from social media marketing or internet-smart and interested in early prevention. It might be a few more years before younger millennials and Gen Z start publicly touting the benefits of hair restoration, though.
Celebrities, even the younger ones, usually pretend their hair just grew back on its own, or they might attribute it to something else because they don't want to say it. Andrew Garfield has "joked" about using Finasteride in interviews but Billy Eichner shouts out the medication for restoring his hairline in the past, for example.
"There is value in someone with influence talking about their hair," says Ziering, adding that there is a common school of thought: "If someone with resources chooses to spend their money on this, I should too." The trouble is, he continues, people go in with a picture wanting to look just like someone else. "If you never had hair like George Clooney, you're not going to have hair like George Clooney today," he adds. "I can give you a more youthful version of you."
TikTokers including KEGS, Sean Conley, and Tyler Williams speak openly about their hair procedures, but commenters can get nasty. Kornfeld, who’s a public figure, has had a ton of positive feedback, but a few fans and even other content creators comment about his "botched" or "bad" surgery. He insists he wasn't trying to get his teenage hair back: "There are other people who would want a more robust head of hair. I decided I wanted one that looks natural."
Kornfeld is very aware of the deeper meaning behind his videos on hair restoration. "This was a video that I made with the impact in mind. I wanted to pay this gift forward. First, I didn't think I could hide it, and it felt insincere to hide it. It was very clear that my hair changed. So it felt like something I had to do." It goes deeper than what the viewers happened to see with their eyes, though. "It also felt like an opportunity to share my vulnerability so that others could grow from it, so that they could build off of my experience and maybe not go through the years of turmoil that I went through."
Even Gaunitz — who started balding when he was 17— sees criticism. "On social media we'll get people posting on our ads. They're often men who are bald, and they'll say, 'Be a man. Accept it'. Maybe I can still be a man, but I think I look better with hair."
Brown concludes with an analogy: a mattress salesman once explained that we spend thousands on our education, job, car (two-thirds of our waking life) but very little on our mattress, which makes up the other third. "You spend 100 percent of your time with yourself," he says. "You have to look at yourself in the mirror every day. If you want the hair of your dreams, just do it. It'll change your life."