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I’m Going Bald at 16

I looked down at my towel after I got out of the shower and all of this hair was strung across it

Two-thirds of American men will experience some degree of noticeable hair loss by the time they turn 35. But for many others, male pattern baldness begins far earlier. In fact, 16 percent of men between the ages of 15 and 17 are affected by some degree of hair loss, a condition referred to as adolescent androgenetic alopecia. Unfortunately, there are currently no FDA-approved treatments for teens with adolescent androgenetic alopecia, even though they may experience an increased risk of negative psychosocial effects. Seventeen-year-old Jalil is one such teen. Here’s his story of what it’s like to go bald as a high school student.

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Three months after my 16th birthday, I was standing in the shower, staring at my hand. Ten hairs laid across my palm. All of them were long and black and clearly from the top of my head. I quickly turned off the water. Then I stepped out of the shower — my legs and arms dripping wet — grabbed the towel from the hook on the door and pulled it over my head. 

I started to dry the top of my head more carefully than usual. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t what I saw: More long, thin black hair strung across my white towel

Standing in front of the bathroom mirror, I ran my fingers through my hair. It still felt good, still thick. Even when I pushed all my hair back with my fingers and squinted, peering deep into my hairline, I remember thinking, “Nothing out of the ordinary there.” I checked the hair around my temples next. It seemed fine, too. 

The next day, though, was the same thing: More hair on my palm in the shower. More hair on my towel. I started to panic, like, “What the fuck is going on? Am I losing my hair? Where is the hair coming from? And how long has this been happening?” 

I couldn’t say for certain, but a week later I got a haircut. That’s when I saw some noticeable thinning on my scalp. Nothing major, but enough that the fluorescent bathroom lights revealed patchy, hairless pockets of skin on the crown of my head. It was official: I wasn’t imagining things. So I buried myself in internet research — hair loss forums, Reddit, medical journals. You name it, I read it. The more I read, the more stressed out I became. There just isn’t much information out there on hair loss that’s specific to teens. 

I’m a Muslim, and discussing male appearance isn’t something that’s encouraged or talked about in my culture. So eventually, I posted a question on Reddit to try to find out if being bald was going to hurt my dating life. A Pakistani guy my age suggested that I shave my head. He also said that as long as I had confidence and adopted a strong mindset, I’d be fine. But he already had a girlfriend when he started going bald. 

That’s when I had this sinking feeling. My whole life, I’d been complimented on my hair. It was my best physical feature. It wasn’t even gone yet, and I could feel whatever confidence I had slipping away. I’ve had social anxiety for as long as I can remember, but ever since I started losing my hair, social events give me actual headaches. I come away from them feeling exhausted and wanting to go to sleep. 

I started college in September, and I went out of my way to talk to someone during orientation. But the whole time, I was thinking about my hair: “Could they see the bald spots? How am I going to find a girlfriend now? Who’s going to want to marry me?”

By that point, I’d already started researching natural ways to reverse hair loss — coconut oil, rosemary oil, castor oil, olive oil. Sometimes I’d put all of them in my hair at once. In the morning, my pillow would be covered in grease. I’d wash the pillowcase myself because I was too embarrassed that someone might find out. 

Then I started convincing myself of other reasons for why this could be happening to me. “Maybe it’s stress-related,” I thought. Or based on other information I’d found online, “Maybe it’s a thyroid problem.”

I went to the doctor just before I started school. Not for my hair, but for a cold. He was the first person I confided in about my hair loss, but his answer only made it worse. He said that it was normal since my dad is also bald, and there was nothing I could do about it except use Rogaine. Even then, he said, it would only help so much.

Nonetheless, I’ve still been applying one milligram of Rogaine twice a day to my scalp. I dribble a few drops on it and wait for the liquid to dry after I rub it in. I recently started noticing that I’ve been getting white flakes underneath my nails when I scratch my head. I’m not sure if that’s from the Rogaine, but I’d never had dandruff before. So I started using Nizoral, an anti-fungal shampoo. It’s helped with dandruff, but I’m still losing hair.

I’ve also noticed some rashes on my hands that look like burn marks. I’ve read online it could be because of the Rogaine. But more likely, it’s just stress: I’m a college freshman going bald.

I now spend 20 minutes or so every night using a derma roller I bought off Amazon. I stand in front of my bathroom mirror and slowly roll the microneedles against the parts of my crown that are thinning. It doesn’t hurt so much, just feels like tiny mosquitos pricking my scalp. I’ve read online that it can rejuvenate my hair follicles; the data, however, is mixed, so I can’t be sure if it’s doing anything. 

I don’t plan on getting a hair transplant — it’s too expensive. I also think it might seem desperate at this point. I can imagine hundreds of other ways I could use that money to benefit me more in the long run. If by the time I’m 25 I still can’t imagine living without my hair, then I may consider Propecia. But right now, I’m too young anyway; you have to be at least 18 to get a prescription.

The other day, I went on Reddit and asked if it was hard for bald men to get married. That’s really important to me. Another guy on Reddit, who also started going bald at my age, reassured me that it’s not. Still, I decided to grow out my beard. It’s not exactly where I want hair, but it’s something.