If you’re wondering how to style your hair if you’re bald on top with hair on the sides, there are a few options that I’ll outline in this article.
I’ll also explain why men typically go bald in the familiar U-shaped pattern, what it’s called, and what your options are if it happens to you.
When I started balding around the temples in my early 20s, I initially thought I could hide it with some clever hairstyling. But as my thinning spread to my crown, I quickly decided to shave it all off and haven’t looked back since.
But this isn’t the right move for everyone, and having a completely shaved head might not be something you want. It also might not be appropriate, for example, if it might affect your job.
Here are a few more options to choose from once the hair on your crown leaves you:
Hairstyle options for men who are bald on top
For men who are bald on top with hair around the back and sides, there are really only four hairstyles to choose from. It’s fair to say some are more popular than others, and realistically you’re choosing from just two.
Yes, you can try to hide it with different haircuts but things are only going to get worse over time. Haircuts like a quiff or fade will only look decent for so long.
Let’s start with the most sensible option:
1. The shaved head
The most popular choice for men with hairless crowns is to shave down the remaining hair around the back and sides.
You can either grab your favorite head shaver or wet shave with a razor.
The second option is favorite. As you can see, I like to keep my hair as short as possible, simply because I don’t like the visible contrast where my hair stops and my bald scalp takes over.
Yes, there’s maintenance involved, and yes bald people feel the cold. There are disadvantages to shaving your head.
People still seem to think bald jokes are OK. I’m pretty thick-skinned and genuinely don’t mind laughing at myself, but if you’re more sensitive, you might want to think twice about going bald and look into other options.
Also, wet-shaving your head for the first time is a surprisingly big decision. I did it for the novelty factor and once I got over how weird it felt at first, I decided to keep it.
There are plenty of shaving cuts to endure, but with a little trial and error, you soon get used to shaving your own head. That’s without mentioning all the benefits of shaving your head.
2. Rock the horseshoe
Most bald men shave their hair down at the sides, but there are some well-known exceptions.
Jason Alexander, who plays George Louis Costanza in Seinfeld, rocked the horseshoe throughout his run on the sitcom between 1989 and 1998.
Unlike other actors, Alexander resisted the temptation to shave, keeping the sides at a respectable mid-length. In 2011 he experimented with a semi-permanent hairpiece, but has since gone back to a smooth dome:
no, I haven’t betrayed the bald. I love being bald, hence not a transplant, graft or weave. It goes on and off, when I like. Enjoy it or..— jason alexander (@IJasonAlexander) August 9, 2013
There’s also Ron Howard, star of Happy Days who won Best Picture and Best Director Oscars for A Beautiful Mind in 2002:
Although bald on top, he doesn’t seem desperate to shave the back and sides. Instead, Howard pairs an exposed scalp with a ginger horseshoe and occasionally throws on a baseball cap if there’s a breeze in the air.
3. The combover
There’s not much to say here. A combover just isn’t a good idea.
You’re not fooling anyone into thinking you still have a full head of hair, and one rogue gust of wind will quite literally ‘blow’ your cover.
4. The Skullet
Finally, there’s the ‘skullet’. This is where the hair not only remains unshaven around the back and sides but is also grown long.
Professional wrestling icon Hulk Hogan is possibly the most famous proponent of this hairstyle, but I’m not sure many people could carry it off with his level of confidence!
Other options for men who are balding on top
Of course, in this day and age, there are plenty of alternative solutions. You don’t simply have to accept being bald:
- Hair transplant: This is the most expensive option but it generally gives the best results. Not everyone is a good candidate, but those who are can expect significant and permanent regrowth and a natural-looking hairline.
- Hair system: A quick, non-surgical solution for hair loss. Customizable and less invasive than transplants, they require upkeep but offer immediate cosmetic results.
- Medications: Over-the-counter topical treatments like Minoxidil (Rogaine) and prescription medications such as Finasteride (Propecia) are FDA-approved to slow hair loss and promote regrowth.
- Laser therapy: Low-level laser therapy devices, including laser combs and helmets, may stimulate hair growth by enhancing blood flow to the scalp.
- Hair Concealers: Products like hair fibers, powder cakes, or spray-on color can camouflage thinning areas and provide a fuller hair appearance.
- SMP: Scalp Micropigmentation is a cosmetic tattooing technique that gives the illusion of a fuller head of hair. It’s a less invasive, long-lasting option with minimal maintenance, suitable for various types of hair loss:
What is it called when men are bald on top with hair around the back and sides?
Men who go bald on top with hair around the back and sides are said to have a ‘horseshoe’ of hair. It’s also sometimes called a U-shaped hairstyle and is the most common appearance of advanced Male Pattern Baldness (MPB).
Most people start with an uneven or receding hairline and/or hair loss at the crown. Sometimes it’s just a cowlick at the crown, or a widow’s peak at the front, and not actually a sign of balding. But if it develops further, the person concerned is on the MPB journey.
When the balding progresses to the point where the receding hairline meets the bald patch at the back, the person is left with the famous horseshoe.
Not every man who goes bald will reach this level of hair loss. On the Hamilton-Norwood scale, the horseshoe is stage 7, the final level of hair loss. However, there are several steps before this where your hair can settle without ever reaching a Norwood 7:
As you can see above, the first stage of hair loss is a Norwood 2, and you can see examples of Norwood 2 hairlines here.
Arguably, Norwood 6 also shows a bald crown with side growth, and could also be referred to as vaguely horseshoe-shaped. But generally, people think of a Norwood 7 when referring to a full-blown horseshoe.
Why do men only go bald on top?
Male pattern baldness is caused by dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that is created in men when the testes process testosterone. In most men, DHT affects the top of the head much more than the back and sides, but science doesn’t yet understand why this is the case.
Genetics dictates whether your hair follicles are predisposed to be sensitive to DHT. Everyone inherits their genes from their parents, and either parent can pass on genes that make you more likely to go bald. Oh, and baldness doesn’t always skip a generation, either – that’s a myth!
DHT causes miniaturization (shrinkage) of the hair follicles, leaving them unable to produce healthy hair. Over time, the hair falls out and this spreads across the scalp.
There are a number of DHT blockers on the market, including vitamins and shampoos. Before you try them, consult your doctor and make sure you’re aware of all potential DHT blocking side effects.
The scientific name for MPB is Androgenetic Alopecia (alopecia meaning hair loss, and androgenetic referring to the androgen testosterone). The process can affect men in different ways depending on how sensitive they are to DHT:
- The mature hairline: Shortly after puberty, most men experience some elevation of the hairline and the corners may even thin and start to recede slightly towards the temples.
- Male Pattern Baldness: Others are affected in a more significant way. As shown above, there are many stages to the Norwood scale and it’s impossible to tell where any one man’s hairline will stop receding.
- Complete hair loss on top of the head: The horseshoe is where I’d be if I let my hair grow out. I’ve lost all the hair on my crown and I’m currently sitting around a Norwood 6-7.
Here’s how the back of my head normally looks:
As you can see, I shave my head clean to keep the hair as short as possible. If I didn’t, I’d be rocking the complete horseshoe.
It’s not that unusual, either. A combination of genetics, poor diet, and the stress of modern life means there’s an 85% chance of “significantly thinning hair” by the time we hit 50, according to the American Hair Loss Association.
‘Significantly thinning’ is open to interpretation, and of course, the number who will end up with completely hairless crowns is lower than this.
Is it worth keeping the hair on top of your head if you’re going bald?
It’s rarely worth keeping the hair on top of your head once it starts to thin. Bald always looks better than balding, and once you feel ready it’s best to shave it off before it starts to look too obvious.
This comes from being free of the stigma that comes with losing your hair. There can be a lot of insecurity when your hair starts to fall out, wondering whether people have noticed.
When people do notice, there can be judgment and even ridicule. Some people can shake off ‘friendly banter’, but others take it to heart and it can be a mentally tough experience.
By shaving your head, you take back control of how you look and how people perceive you. It’s a great way of showing you’ve accepted being bald, rather than looking like you’re trying to hide it.
Maintenance & grooming tips
Once you have a shaved crown, you’re going to want to keep it in tip-top condition.
It took me years to develop a good routine, but since I took grooming seriously my head has looked better than ever.
Here are the essentials you’ll need to know:
- Keep it clean: Regular shampoo won’t cut it. Invest in a sulfate-free shampoo that won’t dry out your scalp, or a specialist bald head wash.
- Start exfoliating: Getting rid of a layer of dead skin, oil, and sweat before shaving will not only help your shaver/razor, but it will keep your scalp healthy, too. Use a specialist bald head exfoliating scrub for this job.
- Choose your weapon: Decide whether you’re a head shaver or a razor-shave guy. There are pros and cons to each.
- Invest in a quality head shaver: Even if you want to wet shave most of the time, it’s good to have a head shaver handy when you need speed and convenience.
- Learn the technique: Most bald men prefer to shave with a razor. If you’re going to join us, you’ll need to master the art of shaving your head with a razor.
- Create a post-shave routine: Shaving strips away the scalp’s natural moisture, so you’ll need to look after your dome. Bald head moisturizers aren’t optional, they’re your new best friend.
- Sun safety: Your bald head is going to be at increased risk of sun damage, and will look terrible if you don’t use sunscreen. Here’s your full guide to sun safety and tanning for bald heads.
Being bald on top is known as ‘crown balding’ and is the most common forms of Male Pattern Baldness. When bald men keep the hair on the back and sides of their head, the hairstyle is called a ‘horseshoe’ because of the shape the hair makes.
Balding men keep hair on the sides because the hormone that causes baldness (DHT) doesn’t affect the sides of the head in the same way. Some balding men keep hair on the sides longer because they either don’t want to shave it off, or they like the look.
To hide baldness on top of your head you can shave your head head so it matches and looks like it’s a deliberate choice. You could also use hair fibers, look into a hair transplant, or consider SMP (a hair tattoo) if you’re happy to keep it shaved down.
Choosing a fade or an undercut can draw attention away from the thinning areas. Strategic styling, such as a swept-over part or textured volume, can disguise the horseshoe pattern to a point, but it will still be noticeable, and shaving your head is usually the best option.
The frequency of head shaving can vary. Some bald guys prefer a fresh shave every couple of days, while others may wait a week. It depends on personal hair growth speed and how smooth you prefer your scalp to feel.
A well-groomed full beard or a carefully shaped goatee can balance the facial proportions with a bald top. You don’t need a full, thick beard either – stubble can add texture and character and suits certain face shapes better.
While genetics primarily determine hair loss, lifestyle factors such as diet, stress management, and scalp care can influence hair health. A balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals supports healthier hair, but won’t necessarily reverse balding.
While the horseshoe hairstyle isn’t for everyone, there are a brave few who wear it with pride.
For most, the buzz-cut or full head shave is the way to go. Keeping the hair nice and short reduces the contrast between the baldness on top and the hair around the sides and back.
If you’re still unsure, use this free guide to help you decide whether to shave your head or go for another option:
Once you’re bald on top, I highly recommend pairing your shaved head with a beard to create contrast. The bald-and-bearded look is a timeless style that simply works.
What are your thoughts on the ‘horseshoe’ look? Let me know in the comments below!
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