Oh man. This is so stupid. I look like a flaming idiot. No one can see me wear this. Ever.
Those were the very first thoughts that ran through my head the first time I put on the iGrow helmet. I mean, look at it. Samuel L Jackson himself couldn't make this abomination look cool.
As for why I’ve been wearing it for 25 minutes a day, every other day, for the past two months? Well, I'm hoping it'll grow my hair back.
Running from the inevitable
I've happily ignored my inescapable follicular fate for quite some time, locking the thought of it away in a shady corner of my mind and pretending that everything will be fine.
At 27 though, there's no running from genetics. Despite having unnaturally thick sides (or so my barber tells me), I'm noticeably thin on top, and, well, it’s starting to affect me.
As with most men going through male pattern baldness, my confidence has taken a hit. I'm now acutely aware and uncomfortable when sitting under bright lights. I stress out about it far too regularly, and often find myself analysing my head from every angle in the mirror, trying to accept the fact that my hairs are abandoning ship like uncharacteristically determined lemmings.
People tell me not to worry, of course, but it's impossible not to. I mean, it's my hair. I've been (quite literally) attached to it all my life. It's a part of who I am.
I keep telling myself that I'll bite the bullet soon and shave it all off, but I can't bring myself to do it. I just don't think it’ll suit me. Sure, you've got the likes of Jason Statham and The Rock, but they're... well, they're Jason Statham and The Rock.
I'm adamant that I'll get the clippers out before it’s too late, but who knows? Maybe I'm already in denial. Will I end up coveting a few surviving strands like Homer Simpson, before finally accepting my fate? I’d like to think it won’t go that far.
If this helmet does it’s job however, it might never have to.
So about that helmet…
Before I get to the wacky helmet (an explanation is coming, I promise), here's a quick recap on how male pattern baldness works.
If genetics is the villain, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) - which is derived from testosterone - is the henchman that gets the dirty work done.
If you’ve got an unfortunate mix of genes, DHT causes your hair follicles to shrink and deteriorate, resulting in thinner hair, with less volume. Eventually the follicle just gives up its pathetic attempts and boom - goodbye hair.
And lasers help how?
The precise mechanisms of low level laser therapy (LLLT) aren’t fully outlined as of yet, but there are a few proposed mechanisms at play.
The first one involves the mitochondria inside cells. Without getting too deep into A Level Biology, the mitochondria are essentially the energy factories of your cells. The energy in this case, is ATP, and it’s believed that LLLT causes an increase in its production.
It’s also thought to increase cell proliferation and tissue oxygenation, modulate growth factors, and, perhaps most importantly, control 5α-reductase - an enzyme responsible for converting testosterone to that pesky DTH.
Experiments have also shown that LLLT can also alter the genetic expression of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), which play an important role in hair growth.
But enough acronyms. All we need to know is that there is evidence out there that something as crazy as this could have some effect. There’s also quite a lot of anecdotal evidence out there that says that laser products like the iGrow helmet don’t have any effect whatsoever. Which is it? That’s what I’m hoping to find out.
Get to the helmet already
Right. Here we are. The iGrow helmet. First things first - it isn't exactly the most stylish tech accessory I’ve ever worn. If I’m being honest, it looks like a portable device for executioners who want to dish out capital punishment while they’re on-the-go.
Pick up its plastic body, and it definitely doesn't feel as weighty or as premium as its US$695 price tag would suggest. Then again, it’s hardly meant to fill the role of a designer watch or flagship smartphone.
And yes - those are built-in headphones. You can plug any audio source you like into the helmet itself, so you can game or listen to music while it does its thing. At first I wondered why they bothered - you’re probably going to own far better headphones after all, but then I realised that the headphones secured the helmet to my head.
The underside of the iGrow is littered with red LEDs and laser modules, tuned to the exact frequency that supposedly provides all the benefits listed earlier. The rubber feet are designed to ensure the optimum distance between the modules and the scalp, which is an advantage over those wacky laser wands you might have seen, which require you to manually move your hands around your entire head at a set distance.
Its in-line controller is as simple as it can get, with three power settings for men (depending on the severity of hair loss), and two for women. Naturally I choose to use the highest one, because… well, why not?
The whole thing is mains powered too, so you won’t be able to top up your follicles on your daily commute. Though why on Earth you’d ever want to do so is beyond me.
I’m told that the iGrow should be worn for 25 minutes a day, every other day, as religiously as possible. Due to going away and breaking up my routine, I’m counting my official start from 20 June, which means that at the time of writing, I’ve used it for nearly two months exactly.
The iGrow, of course, offers the advantage of keeping your hands free, so those 25 minutes normally fly by. In my case that tends to be writing up a story, playing Destiny or zoning out in front of Netflix. Occasionally I don it just before bed, fire up some trance and sit there in the dark, contemplating what I’m doing with my life as my scalp turns into a flashing red EDM festival.
So have I sprouted gloriously thick, shiny locks? Not yet. But I remain optimistic, because I’m told that I won’t notice anything for at least the first six months. After nine months, most people see the best results possible, and they’ll just need a weekly top up.
This isn’t a review as such, as I’m only two months into the process. It’s far too early to tell if the iGrow is having any effect, but it’s easy enough to use with minimal hassle, and selfies taken with it have provided many a laugh, so there’s that too, I guess.
At US$695, it’s definitely not cheap though, and it certainly doesn’t feel like it should cost that much when you’re cradling its plastic build in your hands. Still, if it works, then it’s cheaper than the alternative surgeries and on-going supplements that you have to rub into your head on a daily basis. But a hell of a lot more expensive than throwing in the towel and embracing your inner Stone Cold Steve Austin.
I’ll be updating my progress in a month or two, where hopefully I’ll see the first trickles of improvement. Until then, it’s back to the rave hat for me.