Male pattern baldness has long been a touchy topic, with the use of spray-on hair or toupees mocked.
But social media may be changing the stigma around baldness, and giving a lift to businesses that help men cover it up.
Zackery Leighton, for example, never imagined creating a TikTok account would give a massive boost to his business – but it did.
Leighton, 29, a barber who specializes in hair replacement pieces for men, runs Motley Crew Barber Company. The business, based in Massachusetts, has been open only a year, but has blown up on the popular app.
Leighton's account, zackthebarber, has 200,000 followers and videos with millions of views, a presence that he says has led to more hair replacement clients.
"I literally had three to five clients only before TikTok," Leighton said. Now, he is doing 10 to 15 hair replacements each week.
At Motley Crew, a new replacement costs $750, and every maintenance appointment runs $150 to $200. Before his TikTok account, he was bringing in $1,000 to $2,000 a week, but with so many new clients, Leighton is making up to $6,000 from both new and maintenance appointments.
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Because TikTok has led to such success, when a client comes in for a consultation, Leighton offers $100 off their service if they let him take a video of the process, with the option of hiding their face.
"One video might turn into one new client or a couple," he said. "I don't even have to offer the discount anymore, but I still do, because if you're going to help me, then I'm going to help you."
Hair replacements have become the next big thing for those who have male pattern baldness. Leighton said some men have spent thousands on pills, Rogaine or hair plugs that have failed. Hair plugs can range from $4,000 to $15,000.
A hairpiece can go without a touch-up for four to six months and is usually thicker and easier to maintain than their original hair, said Leighton, who wears a hairpiece himself.
He often refers clients to other barbershops around the world.
Popularity continues to grow
Leighton's TikTok has brought in more business for other barbers, too.
Sales at Prism Elites in Los Angeles, for example, increased 30% since Leighton’s TikTok account began. Most clients want hair replacements at this point, said Josh Williams, the salon coordinator. Each week, they are doing upwards of 10 to16 replacements or maintenance appointments, a big increase from the five to six before.
At Prism Elites, a new replacement costs $950, a maintenance visit $180.
"My business has been impacted dramatically," said Raul Garcia, owner of the salon. "I'm no longer accepting clients for traditional salon services like dyes or haircuts because of the influx of hair replacement clients."
Garcia said few restoration services produce the instant results of hair replacements, and that Leighton’s TikTok shows a need and a want for replacement services. Both shops have a wait-list for new clients and are booked weeks, if not months, out.
"It really makes a difference in somebody's self-confidence," Williams said.
The confidence men gain after a hair replacement led Leighton to give leads to people all the way from England. Hair replacement specialist Thomas Walker has seen an influx of clients at The Hair Repair Club in Derby, England.
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Walker said hair replacements aren't as big over there as they are in the states, but the demand has grown exponentially.
He and two other hair specialists are booked, and the wait-list has reached more than 750 people and is growing. The shop as a whole is doing between 25 to 35 new and maintenance hair replacement appointments each week.
"I feel that the more people have it done, the more accessible it will become," said Walker, who wears a hairpiece. "A lot of guys who are having it done are open about it. So more people are thinking it's acceptable to do."
Confidence can break the stigma
Each stylist who spoke to USA TODAY said that ending the stigma a hair replacements is important for continuing to build men’s confidence, as well as their businesses.
Yet the stigma lingers. Hateful comments flood videos on Leighton’s TikTok, with some saying men should "suck it up and deal with it." Or, "I would be too embarrassed to ever get one." This is why some men choose to hide their faces in the videos.
"I've been in situations where people made fun of my hair for thinning, and it's the worst feeling in the world," Leighton said. "But I remember the feeling when I first got my hair system and I remember being like, 'holy moly, who is this person?' It was me."
Walker has had a hairpiece for a while, too, and can relate to the low confidence and low self-esteem in men because he's been there himself, saying that hair loss does "sort of get to guys."
"I've had a couple of people, in fact, bring themselves to tears just seeing that change," Walker said. "You get a guy that's really timid and quiet, and then weeks or months go by and his confidence is through the roof."
The stylists said that not many men realize you can swim, work out, sweat and do most other activities with a hair replacement. Williams thinks men are fearful of that, but many clients who rock a hairpiece are bodybuilders, athletes and swimmers.
Rising confidence is a common theme among both clients and the stylists themselves. Williams admitted rocking the bald head for a while even though deep down he felt insecure, but, "there's nothing wrong with trying to find a solution for that."
"My clients' lives have changed drastically," Garcia said. "I can say every client has improved their social and love life 100%. Guys are coming in telling me all sorts of amazing stories about stuff happening with them. They're going out more often and no one ever recognizes that they have a hair system."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bald men: TikTok increases business for hair replacement specialists