The booming wellness industry is turning its attention to bald spots.
The movement includes everything from supplements to oat milk, but it begins with attempts to reframe the experience of losing one’s hair by ditching the old terminology. These days, it’s not “hair loss.” It’s “hair wellness.”
Hair loss was negative; hair wellness is positive. Hair loss was considered an embarrassment; hair wellness is considered empowering. Hair loss was treated with clinical-sounding Rogaine; hair wellness has a treatment called Thick Head.
“It’s been a fear-based industry,” said Andrew Dudum, founder and chief executive of Hims, one of several newish brands promoting the idea of hair wellness. “This new wave of energy around being the best version of yourself is what we’re trying to capitalize on.”
Dudum said hair wellness is all-encompassing, a way to introduce men to the conversations around hair health that female consumers have been having for years, whether that be about excess oil, split ends, thinning hair or “volumizing.”
“In the men’s category, none of those things were talked about,” Dudum said. “Either you have hair or you don’t have hair. And if you don’t, here’s this archaic brand with a man on the beach with linen pants and he’s going to help you,” a reference to the old Hair Club for Men TV ads.
Hims and its competitors, like Keeps and Lemonade, have also taken a modern approach to marketing and distribution. Hims provides access to generic versions of FDA-approved prescription drugs like finasteride and minoxidil through a direct-to-consumer platform, offering virtual consultations with a doctor.
This process is meant to offer convenience and discretion to millennial men accustomed to ordering everything online. No doctor’s visit, no trip to the pharmacy, no hiding the bottle from romantic partners (the packaging looks attractive in an anonymous way).
But easier access to hair drugs with potentially serious side effects, including impotency and dizziness, is “a double-edged sword,” said Spencer Kobren, founder of the American Hair Loss Association, a nonprofit consumer advocate group. (Finasteride also comes with a warning that there may be increased risk of an aggressive type of prostate cancer for men 55 and over.)
“I think it’s great that younger people are able to get their hand on real medication and are willing to start treating,” said Kobren, who has taken finasteride for 25 years. “People were going all gray label, dark opps underground over the last decade. Who knew what they were putting on their heads?”
Still, it’s important to consider the risks before going on prescription medicine and to be properly counseled, he said.
Dr. Robert M. Bernstein, a dermatologist and Columbia University clinical professor, agreed: “People have side effects with this stuff. Sexual side effects.”
When he prescribes Propecia, the market name for finasteride, he spends a half-hour counseling patients in person.
Dudum said Hims customers complete a comprehensive health evaluation and are then routed to a qualified health care provider in their state who is responsible for determining the appropriate diagnosis and treatment. They can speak to a licensed physician in their state through SMS, e-mail or another form of telemedicine.
There have long been a variety of natural remedies, which can be as dubious as they are creative, from hippopotamus fat in ancient Roman times to castor oil rubbed onto the scalp. Now, in the age of hair wellness, such treatments are pitched as one more tool for optimum health and performance, a kombucha shot for your follicles.
Perhaps the most buzzed-about new brand in this category is Nutrafol, which sells hair-growth solutions made of 22 natural botanic ingredients, including forms of saw palmetto, ashwagandha and curcumin. Giorgos Tsetis, the company’s co-founder and chief executive, is an industrial engineer from the Netherlands who began losing his hair when he was 22. Now 34, Tsetis tried finasteride for a time, but, he said, he suffered decreased libido and stopped taking the drug.
Along with a business partner, he began testing natural solutions that would promote what the company calls “hair wellness from within.”
Because it is a supplement rather than a drug, Nutrafol is not legally permitted to make certain health claims. Instead, Tsetis talks about “adaptogens” and “targeting underlying causes” and “bringing your body back to your homeostasis.”
“I’m not saying we’re better” than drugs like finasteride, Tsetis said. “I’m saying we have an alternative.”
Kobren believes hair wellness is simply marketing and semantics, a new way to describe an age-old concern. He called hair loss “the last bastion of PC.”
“I speak to a lot of young guys,” Kobren said. “They have the exact same stigma. Exact same shame.”
The difference, Kobren said, referring to the developments of the internet and e-commerce, is “now we have access.”