If you’re wondering why men typically go bald in the familiar U-shaped pattern, or you’re wondering what the name for this hairstyle is, you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s everything you need to know about why men tend to go bald in this pattern, what it’s called, and what your options are if it happens to you.
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 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 baldness on top with hair around the sides, and could also be referred to as slightly horseshoe-shaped. But generally, people think of a Norwood 7 when referring to a full-blown horseshoe.
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!
What causes men to be left with a horseshoe hairstyle?
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 affects men in different ways depending on how sensitive they are to DHT:
1. 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.
There is some argument about whether a mature hairline actually exists. Some suggest it’s a myth to reassure men that they won’t go bald.
However, doctors are able to look at the hairline using a microscopic evaluation. They use this to check whether the hairline has simply receded, or whether there is thinning going on as well. If it’s the latter, baldness of some scale is expected.
A mature hairline affects the vast majority of men, around 96% according to The National Library of Medicine. It doesn’t necessarily mean the start of Male Pattern Baldness, or that they’ll eventually end up with nothing left but the horseshoe!
2. 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.
There are famous examples of this in Hollywood. From Henry Cavill’s newly receding hairline to Jude Law’s more advanced balding. Even Heath Ledger was balding when he starred as The Joker in The Dark Knight.
None of these actors ever reached the stage where they were completely bald on top, with hair at the sides, however. If you’re experiencing some level of MPB, it may be that you eventually get to a Norwood 7, but it’s by no means guaranteed.
3. 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 the top of my head 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 go completely bald on top is lower than this.
4. Alopecia Universalis (note: not caused by DHT)
The most extreme example of baldness is Alopecia Universalis. People suffering from this condition lose all the hair on their heads (including at the back and on the sides) and even on their bodies.
Rather than being caused by DHT though, this is thought to be a result of the immune system attacking hair follicles (again, nobody knows why this happens).
It’s highly unlikely that someone who is bald on top with hair at the back and sides will progress to this stage, as they’re caused by two different conditions.
Horseshoe hair – examples of men who are bald on top with hair at the sides
One example of someone in the public eye with horseshoe hair was internet personality Tim Pool.
Pool was discovered to be bald when a fellow YouTuber whipped off his trademark beanie in public and the whole incident was captured on film.
The outspoken political commentator has since been photographed without the beanie, showing that he is bald on top but keeps the hair on the back and sides longer.
Pool claimed on the video that he wears the beanie to avoid being recognized when out on the street without it. He may be sensitive about his baldness, but it’s only fair to take him at his word.
Most famous bald men shave their hair down at the sides, but there’s one more well-known exception.
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 being bald on top:
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.
Options for men with horseshoe hair
Anyone who ends up bald on top has a few options:
1. Rock the horseshoe
Just like Jason Alexander, the easiest thing to do is simply own it.
It might not be the most fashionable choice, but there are plenty of men out there who just let the back and sides grow to a normal length.
It’s 100% fine not to shave your head. Just don’t be tempted by the combover!
2. Buzz it down
The most popular choice for men who are bald on top is to shave down the remaining hair around the back and sides.
Using a decent set of clippers is essential here. Top of the pile is Pitbull’s Skull Shaver series, specifically designed for bald heads:
Skull Shaver Pitbull Gold PRO Head Shaver for Men
- Rechargeable, compact, water-resistant
- Ultra-flexible pivoting blades for extra reach
- 4D rotary shaver automatically adapts to the contours of the head
- Shave anytime, anywhere
- 90 minutes battery power
This is the easiest way to make baldness slightly less obvious, especially if you have dark hair and light skin. Not everyone is confident enough to just embrace their horseshoe, and not everyone has the patience for the maintenance involved in regularly clean shaving.
This brings us to the next option…
3. Shave your head
This is my preferred option. 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.
Also, wet-shaving your head for the first time is a surprisingly big decision. 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.
I’ve added some tips further down this article for anyone who’s considering a wet shave.
Wigs have come a long way since the unconvincing rugs your grandad had in the 80s.
Advanced hair systems and semi-permanent hairpieces are fairly common but still carry a certain stigma. They are sometimes associated with men who can’t accept their baldness and lack the confidence to embrace their hair loss.
This is an unfair assumption, especially as there is always a period of worry and even denial at times when men start to lose their hair. Some come to terms with it and shave their head, while others decide to take matters into their own hands and go for a more artificial solution.
We shouldn’t be demonizing anyone’s choices, and anyone who is bald on top has the freedom to choose to pair a hairpiece with the remaining hair on the back and sides.
A similar example from the world of music is Poison singer Bret Michaels, who is balding but wears what he calls ‘the finest hair extensions money can buy’. If your hair is a key part of your look, who am I to judge anyone who refuses to let nature take its course?
If you’re completely bald on top with any real length of hair around the back and sides, scalp micro-pigmentation probably isn’t the best option.
You’d need to buzz your hair down to a much shorter length for the SMP to blend in. This is because there is no length to what ends up on top of your scalp.
It’s essentially a tattoo (although regular tattooists are not able to perform SMP, as the process uses different ink, equipment, and a different process).
It’s something I’ve considered in the past, as I keep my hair very short around the back and sides. However, as it’s a permanent solution, it’s not something I’ve decided to try in case I don’t like the look.
However, if you’re happy to keep your horseshoe short, it could be something to look into.
Having a hair transplant is the most expensive option, and unfortunately not always the best solution for someone who is completely bald.
It takes between 4,000 and 6,000 grafts to cover a full scalp, which are taken from healthy follicles on a donor site. This is the area of the body from which hair is taken in order to transplant into the scalp (usually the back of the head).
This raises issues in most cases, as the majority of people don’t have enough healthy hair follicles to cover the full scalp. The procedure certainly can’t be done in a single sitting, whether the FUE or FUT technique is used.
FUE (follicular unit extraction) involves removing individual hair follicles and grafting them into the scalp. Because the hair follicles can’t grow back, there is rarely enough donor hair to cover the whole head.
With FUT (follicular unit transplantation), a strip of skin is removed from the back of the head and the follicles are removed and transplanted. With treatment, hair regrowth can be encouraged, but it’s dangerous to attempt this on a large scale.
The potential damage to the donor area can mean that future surgeries become impossible, so surgeons often decline full scalp transplants.
On rare occasions, it is possible to perform a full scalp transplant on someone who is bald on top, but consult your surgeon to see if it’s advisable for you.
The procedure is becoming more fashionable as the techniques improve. While they have never admitted it, celebrities like Steve Carell and David Beckham are rumored to have had hair transplants.
Read more: does a hair transplant hurt?
The argument for shaving your head
If you decide that a hairpiece isn’t for you and you don’t like the risks associated with a full scalp hair transplant, the next best option in my opinion is to shave your head.
Embracing the bald look can be very freeing. Lots of people (myself included) find a new confidence once they brave the shave.
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.
Tips for shaving your head
There are four things I always advise people to do when they start shaving their heads:
Exfoliating your bald head is vital to keep your scalp healthy, and helps you get a closer and safer shave.
Exfoliating removes dead skin and built-up dirt, oil, and sweat. If your scalp isn’t properly maintained, this layer of grime gives an unhealthy, dull appearance and causes friction while shaving. It can also get quite smelly in some cases.
This is because the scalp contains glands called sebaceous glands, which secrete a compound of natural oils called sebum. This is designed to lubricate and protect the skin, especially when dry.
Cleaning these oils and dead skin away regularly is essential. Just be sure not to overdo it, as exfoliating too hard and too often can damage the sensitive skin underneath the dead cells you’ve scrubbed away.
If you’re already fully bald on top, use a cloth in the shower to clean your head as you would any other part of your body.
If you’re looking for something more specialist, I recommend Bee Bald’s exfoliating pre-shave scrub:
Bee Bald Scrub Exfoliating Pre-Shave
- Deep cleansing, exfoliating pre-shave scrub.
- Conditions skin and lifts hair for a consistently superior shave.
- Leaves skin “smoother than a baby’s behind”!
- Use only a small amount . . . a little goes a long way!
2. Don’t forget the shampoo
It’s easy to assume that when you go bald, you don’t need shampoo.
Some forget to wash their scalp altogether, while others just use soap or face wash, but this can lead to a dry scalp and flaking skin due to the dehydrating properties of soap.
In fact, everyone should be washing their scalp daily and bald men need shampoo to keep it clean and healthy.
It’s important to remove excess oil and dead skin to keep the scalp in good condition, but shampoo also helps maintain the oil in the scalp. Plus, if you’re bald on top but still have hair at the back and sides, you still need to keep that hair clean.
It’s always best to use the right tools for the job, so consider using a specialist bald head shampoo or head and scalp wash:
C3 Head Wash
- Designed precisely for face and scalp
- Hydrates and restores balance to skin
- Prevents dry, flaky and/or oily skin
- Certified Leaping Bunny cruelty-free, never tested on animals, vegan, and made in USA
3. Invest in a decent moisturizer
If you’re bald, you’ll be familiar with that awful dry feeling in your scalp after a shower or a swim.
This is where moisturizer becomes your best friend. Always apply a good moisturizer or bald head lotion to reduce dry skin and keep your scalp healthy.
Moisturizers increase the moisture content of the stratum corneum of the skin, which acts as a barrier to trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). This is the process of water vapor evaporating from the skin.
Using moisturizer on a bald head adds additional moisture to the scalp. This helps the stratum corneum to reduce the horrible feeling of dryness after shaving.
This is a good reason to shave off the hair at the back and sides of your head if you’re bald on top. Moisturizer is crucial but will make that remaining hair greasy as it soaks in.
My personal favorite is Bee Bald’s Smooth Plus Daily Moisturizer With SPF30. In my opinion, this is the best lotion for bald heads:
Bee Bald Smooth Plus Daily Moisturizer
- Tones, hydrates and moisturizes skin
- Protects from harmful UVA/UVB rays
- Smooths fine lines, wrinkles & dry patches
- Helps reduce shine and control oily secretions
4. Sunscreen is essential
Whether or not you shave the hair on the back and sides, bear in mind that if you’re bald on top your scalp is exposed to the sun.
Sunburn is a major cause of a dry, flaky scalp, as well as the obvious health risks. Use a high-factor sunscreen to protect your bald head whenever you leave the house.
Tanning your bald head is a minefield – you want a nice deep brown for your head to look its best, but a sunburnt scalp is a terrible look.
The sunscreen I recommend is Sun Bum, because of how much protection it offers. If you’re concerned about sun damage, this is the sunscreen to get:
Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Spray
- Dermatologist and Sonny approved
- UVA/UVB protection
- Packed with Vitamin E
- Oxybenzone, octinoxate, gluten, cruelty and paraben-free
While the horseshoe hairstyle isn’t for everyone, there are a proud few who wear it proudly, and more power to you!
For most, the buzz-cut 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 this is you, you’ll need the best tool for the job. I recommend the Skull Shaver:
Skull Shaver Pitbull Platinum PRO
- Wet & dry shaving
- 90 seconds and done
- Flexible shaving heads
- Cordless use up to 90 mins
The Skull Shaver series are amazing products, specifically designed for bald heads. The Platinum model won my award for best electric shaver for head shaving but if you can live with a shorter battery life, save some money and go for the Pitbull Silver instead.
They offer the closest shave available other than a razor. If you’d rather avoid the shaving cuts that inevitably come when reaching a blade around the back of your own head, this piece of kit is well worth the investment.
On the other hand, if an electric shaver isn’t for you, you may be interested in my recommendation for the best razor for shaving your head bald.