table of contents
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
The first bestselling book about men’s style —1977’s Looking Good—had it right. “Balding is not a dread disease,” wrote author Charles Hix next to an early Bruce Weber photograph of a proud chrome-dome. “In fact, it’s not a disease at all.”
History could’ve fooled us. Looking back through decades of back issues of men’s magazines to research this piece, we saw all kinds of crazy contraptions and “hair systems” and fraudulent lotions and potions men applied—and in the case of some hairpieces, literally snapped onto their scalps—to hide the very natural development that their hair was thinning. And nobody was fooled: This was the era that birthed a million comb-over jokes. The message was, if you’re bald, we’ll make fun of you; if you try to cover it up, we’ll make fun of you then too.
The problem was, hair loss is a very natural—and very common—process in men. It’s caused by genetically determined sensitivity to the androgen DHT, which causes follicles on the scalp to miniaturize (shrink), producing progressively thinner hair, and eventually none at all.
Today, thankfully, men have more choices. If you’re happy with the smooth look, there’s a large contingent of stylish guys who are right there with you. (And some of the most fashionable men in the world, like Idris Elba, seem to have a full head of hair but wear it so close to the scalp you’d never know.) If thinning hair bothers you, there are several things you can do to slow or stop hair loss and possibly see regrowth, including taking finasteride or using minoxidil.
And no matter where you are in the process, you don’t have to look anything less than your best, whether you have a receding hairline, are seeing a spare spot on your crown, or are thinning overall.
“The No. 1 key to coping with thinning hair is, to be honest with yourself about it,” says Dave Bowden of Irreverent Gent. “Don’t try to maintain the same hairstyle that you had when you were younger if you no longer have the hair to support it—your hair will only end up looking thinner and less stylish for it. Instead, choose hairstyles that allow you to downplay your weaknesses while still looking stylish and put together.”
These are some haircuts you can request, along with styling tips that will keep you looking great.
Best haircuts for men with thinning hair
When you have thin hair, you can maximize what nature gave you by adding the appearance of volume. You can do that by keeping things short and layered or close to the scalp; longer hair tends to lie flat and emphasize spareness.
High and tight
“The best option for guys with thinning hair is to do a variation of the high-and-tight,” says Bowden. That’s when you keep the sides short—all the way to the top of the head—as opposed to a more tapered look, in which hair on the sides and back is kept thick and only gets short near the bottom.
“The high-and-tight works well for guys with thinning hair, because keeping the sides and back extremely short makes the hair on the top of the head look longer and fuller by comparison,” says Bowden.
You often see this style on mature celebrities who have mature hairlines, like Justin Theroux and Ryan Reynolds. It’s the same principle as the high-and-tight—very short on the sides, with more length on the top—while brushing the hair on the top back, into a modified pompadour. Don’t slick it back with gel, pomade or anything oily. To increase the appearance of thickness, you can use a thickening spray, then a styling paste for hold and texture.
This variation on the high-and-tight keeps things close on the back and sides, while leaving the top slightly longer, with a choppy, textured finish, but styled down instead of back. This provides a good amount of coverage on all areas of the head. If your hairline is thinning, keep any element of bangs relatively short, so you don’t look like you’re attempting a comb-over.
Short and layered
A short, textured and choppy cut—which can be done with scissors or a razor—is a versatile style that can give a guy with thinning hair maximum coverage and many styling options. This version is sleek, but the multiple layers provide the appearance of thickness. You also have the option of styling it into the version below.
Short and messy
You can tousle up a short textured cut to look more relaxed, with the added benefit of creating more volume and coverage.
If there’s an overarching message here, it’s that oftentimes less is more. Going ’50s style—a closer version of the high-and-tight—can draw emphasis away from a thinning hairline or crown and toward your face.
Iron deficiency and hair loss: what’s the connection?
Going for a military hair look—in which your hair is cropped super-short all over but is not totally shaven—has a number of advantages. You look in control of your own destiny. It really complements strong facial features. And you can save a bunch of cash by doing it yourself: Just buy some pro-grade clippers—which are marked with numbered grades that specify the closeness of a cut—and experiment with whether you prefer yourself as a “No. 1” or “No. 2.”
Shave it off
Sometimes, it’s best just to let it go—literally cut your losses and move on, man. “When the day comes that you just don’t have enough hair to do anything stylish with it, don’t be afraid to crop it right down and go bald,” says Bowden. “Men who lean into their baldness end up looking much stronger and more stylish than guys who desperately try to style the few strands of hair they have left.
Other options for thinning hair or a receding hairline
Use thickening products
You can try a number of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products that will make the most of the hair you have. Some shampoos and conditioners promise they can make you look more substantial, even after you rinse them out; generally, thickening hairsprays (like those by Bumble & Bumble, Oribe, and other brands that use sea salt to give the illusion of “surfer hair” or “beach hair”) are more effective, especially when used in combination with a blow dryer.
Try Toppik, Caboki, Febron or similar products
These “hair building fibers” are a form of makeup for your scalp that can help make thinning hair less noticeable. they come in the form of a powder that’s shaken onto thin spots; the powder bonds to the hair that’s there, camouflaging spare areas. It is, of course, temporary, and won’t help your hair regrow.
Prevent future hair loss with medications
Finasteride (brand name Propecia; see Important Safety Information) is an oral medication known as a 5-alpha-reductase inhibitor. 5-alpha-reductase is the baldness enabler: It converts testosterone into DHT. But when 5-alpha-reductase is inhibited, so is the production of DHT, and hair loss can stop or reverse.
The American Hair Loss Association says finasteride stopped hair-loss progression in 86% of men who took the drug in clinical trials, and 65% of them experienced increased hair growth. Side effects are minimal, but they have been reported (AHLA, n.d.).
Minoxidil (brand name Rogaine) is an over-the-counter liquid or foam that is applied to the scalp twice a day. Minoxidil doesn’t have a direct effect on DHT. It’s known as a peripheral vasodilator, which helps widen and loosen blood vessels to increase blood flow. Experts believe that action may help minoxidil regrow hair.
Does Rogaine (minoxidil) work?
Minoxidil hasn’t been shown to be effective on a receding hairline, just at the crown (top) of the head. It also tends to work best on younger men who’ve been experiencing hair loss for less than five years. Side effects are minimal.
Studies show that using minoxidil and finasteride together is more effective than using either one alone for certain kinds of hair loss (Chandrashekar, 2015). (Minoxidil will be effective whether it’s the pricey brand preparation, Rogaine, or the inexpensive version sold online for a few dollars a bottle as long as it’s legitimate.) Keep in mind that it’s necessary to use minoxidil continuously—if you discontinue it, any new hair growth may reverse, and your male pattern hair loss will march on.
- American Hair Loss Association. (n.d.). Men’s Hair Loss: Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.americanhairloss.org/men_hair_loss/treatment.html
- Chandrashekar, B. S., Nandhini, T., Vasanth, V., Sriram, R., & Navale, S. (2015). Topical minoxidil fortified with finasteride: An account of maintenance of hair density after replacing oral finasteride. Indian Dermatology Online Journal, 6(1), 17–20. doi: 10.4103/2229-5178.148925. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25657911
- Irreverent Gent. (n.d.). Irreverent Gent. Retrieved from https://www.irreverentgent.com/
- Roman. (n.d.). Finasteride: Generic Propecia. Retrieved from https://ro.co/medications/finasteride/
- Roman. (n.d.). Minoxidil: Generic Rogaine. Retrieved from https://ro.co/medications/minoxidil/
Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and the Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.