The Truth About Vladimir Putin's Hair

Russian President Vladimir Putin's brash decision to invade Ukraine in February 2022 helped him solidify his spot as one of the "most hated world figures in recent U.S. history," per The Washington Post. As observers across the globe watched the devastating attack, so many had the same question: Why? Back in 2019, The Sun consulted with a cosmetic surgeon who believed Putin had been using Botox and other cosmetic procedures to alter his appearance dramatically. (Stay with us on this.) If this is the case, some have claimed that the former KGB agent is seemingly clinging to his youth and may be getting nostalgic in the worst of ways in his older age, simply because he wants to be remembered for "reestablish[ing] the former Soviet Union," as President Joe Biden put it (via Business Insider).

Author Stephen King knows a real-life horror story when he sees it, and he theorized on Twitter that Putin has also become haunted by the specter of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's lush, dark hair. Zelensky grew a beard while spending time with brave Ukrainians who continued to fight; meanwhile, Putin remained far from the fray and made sure that his own face remained free of any stubble. "The Z-man is everything Putin is not: Younger, more charismatic, heroic in the eyes of the world," King tweeted. Ouch.

The top of Vladimir Putin's head doesn't get as much attention as the inner workings of the mind that it covers, but while it might be sparse, his salt-and-pepper hair is full of secrets.

Did Barack Obama diss Vladimir Putin for dyeing his hair?

If Vladimir Putin is as vain as some experts believe him to be, knowing that world leaders are making catty comments about his appearance could put him at risk of forming a few new frown lines in need of filling, per W magazine. In 2015, the Daily Mail speculated that President Barack Obama had Putin in mind when he cracked a joke about going gray gracefully. "When I came into office I had no gray hair and now I have a lot," Obama said while speaking to a group of students. "I don't dye my hair and a lot of my fellow leaders do. I won't say who. But their barbers know, their hairdressers."

These days, Putin's gray hair is on full display, but in 2012, the hue of his pate was potentially up for debate. Per The Washington Post, an alleged memo from the Kremlin about the Russian president needing a makeover was leaked, and it had one political analyst suggesting that a little Just for Men was the solution to sagging poll numbers. "No wrinkles, absolutely not. No gray hair," said Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies, while describing the Putin he believed Russians wanted to see.

But as noted by the National Post, Putin started going gray prematurely, so everyone was already used to the salt-and-pepper look. Perhaps Putin should have taken Obama's advice for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, per The Hill: "Start dyeing it early."

Vladimir Putin's side part morphed into a comb-over

There's a belief that parting your hair on the left side — like Vladimir Putin does — makes you look more masculine. However, an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Winnipeg, Canada, tested this theory and found that the position of a part has no bearing on how others perceive us, per the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Still, Putin's part didn't appear to move, even as his hairline crept higher and more of his scalp was exposed on the top of his head. Eventually, he found himself with a hairstyle that politicians can't seem to get enough of: the comb-over. In 2015, one Twitter user noted that Putin's underwater trip in a bathyscaphe provided a rare look at the top of his comb-over. Per Mel magazine, leaders have been stubbornly refusing to just use a razor for centuries, with adopters of comb-over variations including Julius Caesar, Constantine, and Napoleon. And how can we forget Donald Trump's over-inflated take on the look?

One hairstylist told HuffPost that men who embrace the style are likely struggling with getting older, saying, "Wearing a comb-over is like sweeping your baldness under the rug. It's still there." And by holding on to the hair he has left, Putin may be preventing himself from looking as tough as he could. Per USA Today, a University of Pennsylvania study "found bald men were seen as more dominant over their coiffed peers and were viewed as taller and stronger."

Russia's bald-hairy rule

It sounds like a witch's decree from a Russian folktale: If one of Russia's rulers is bald, he or she must be succeeded in power by a hairy leader, and vice versa. But according to Russia Beyond, this hirsute-baldness pattern is a real thing that has existed since the reign of comb-over fan Nicholas I. The Russian emperor's son, Alexander II, was far shaggier than his father, and thus began the follicular flip-flopping. It survived throughout the Soviet era and continued on after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The man who preceded Vladimir Putin in power was the immaculately coiffed Boris Yeltsin. When Putin's first presidency ended, and the world was waiting to see who would take over command of the country in 2008, Reuters even mentioned how keratin comes into play, but noted, "The theory is not very helpful because nearly all serious would-be successors have a full head of hair." Putin's successor was Dmitry Medvedev, whose headful of dark hair kept the bald-hairy rule intact — as did Putin's return to the presidency.

But one influential leader wants to make Russia hairy again. Metropolitan Kornily, Primate of the Russian Orthodox Old Believer Church, told Russia's National News Service (via a translation by The Moscow Times) that men should grow beards to "protect themselves from homosexuality." He said this just one month after meeting with the beardless Putin, who is most certainly not keeping his face smooth in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

His hair became too much of a hassle for a wax museum

As many horror movie aficionados have learned, wax figures can be the stuff of nightmares, but visitors at a Paris museum flipped the script by terrorizing one of its waxworks. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the director of the Grevin museum, Yves Delhommeau, complained that its wax sculpture of Vladimir Putin was getting vandalized so regularly that the museum had decided to remove it. The figure's silver crowning glory was seemingly a popular target. "We and our staff do not want to have to fix his hair and appearance every day," Delhommeau told France Bleu radio, per Reuters. The Telegraph observed that the waxwork was significantly fuzzier than Putin himself, writing, "Angular, visible hair, gnome-like, able to move his forehead: he hasn't looked like that since he was in the KGB."

Per AFP, the Grevin museum uses real human hair for its figures, including former U.S. President Donald Trump's, which used to be positioned next to Putin's. The Trump waxwork was also damaged often before its removal, according to Euronews. However, rather than mess up his famous hair, visitors shoved fingers in his nose while posing for photos.

It's been years since Putin was featured at Madame Tussauds in London, where Trump's intricately sculpted coif is made of yak hair. We imagine that if Putin had a choice, he'd like his wig to be formed from the fur of a tiger he (supposedly) tranquilized himself.

Why a magazine gave Vladimir Putin Donald Trump's hair

Vladimir Putin's not-so-secret admirer, Donald Trump, has expressed his approval of the Russian leader on the reg, and when the former American president got the chance to meet his autocratic idol in 2018, we got to see what Putin would look like with Trump's yellow-tinged comb-over tower.

After they met in Helsinki, Finland, a Time magazine cover featured a portrait that blended Putin and Trump's faces together. The political Frankenstein's monster had Trump's hair and bushy brows, but the U.S. president's flamboyant follicular features didn't completely overpower Putin's countenance — the face had his steely blue eyes and wrinkle-free complexion. Time also shared an animated cover that showed Trump morphing into Putin. In its piece about the men's summit, the magazine criticized Trump for failing to hold Putin to account for Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

The artist who created the composite portrait, Nancy Burson, told Time that she wanted her artwork to make people ponder how alike Trump and Putin are, saying, "The combining of faces is a different way for people to see what they couldn't see before." A year earlier, the German magazine Der Spiegel featured a similar image of Putin with Trump's hair on its cover. Trump continued praising Putin, even after Russia's highly criticized attack on Ukraine began, and the Russian president's actions inspired one artist to imagine Putin on the cover of Time with Hitler's moustache. Per Snopes, the fake image spread like wildfire on the internet.

Vladimir Putin's hairless chest was a big hit in Japan

Vladimir Putin has a very Barenaked Ladies habit, and it's not wearing his mind on his sleeve. Shirtless photos of the Russian president, whose chest appears to be totally hairless, have become viral sensations. One altered image imagines a bare-chested Putin riding a bear, and some of the photos appear on a parody Instagram account that pairs them with inspirational quotes. A picture of Putin fishing shirtless, for example, includes the text: "Don't give up. It's what they want."

Putin's chest pics are peppered throughout annual calendars that also feature photos of the Russian president adventuring while fully clothed. According to a 2018 Forbes article, the calendars have earned Putin a devoted legion of female Japanese fans who consider him a bona fide beefcake.

We're not certain whether Putin shaves or waxes his chest or if he simply doesn't grow hair there, but it's thought that he has it photographed regularly to portray himself as virile and strong, per Vox, and the memes that poke fun at his penchant for doffing his top probably aren't going to make him stop. "When I am on vacation I see no need to hide behind the bushes, and there is nothing wrong with that," Putin told Austrian TV (via RT). But here's something that might make him press pause on the pics: In March 2022, Fast Company reported that activists were combating Russian disinformation by concealing messages in the metadata of his shirtless photos.

He's inspired some hairy artwork

Vladimir Putin has inspired some artists to create pieces that require a lot more hair than he possesses. In 2019, Mario Hvala, a Serbian barber, shaved Putin's likeness into the back of a client's head. He deemed the creation a "hair tattoo" on Instagram. The barber has created similar works featuring the faces of high-profile figures, including LeBron James and Mark Zuckerberg, and Putin isn't the only controversial and oft-criticized world leader who has served as Hvala's artistic inspiration; he's also trimmed hair into the shape of a smiling Kim Jong-un and scowling Adolf Hitler.

When another hairdresser, Svetlana Zulamoska Grozdanovska of Macedonia, created her own portrait of Putin, she used hair waste, shaping brunette clippings into his face on the floor of her salon and sharing the result on YouTube. She then quickly destroyed his head by blowing the hair away with a blow dryer.

Those who work in hair aren't the only artists who have used Putin as a subject. In 2013, Russian artist Konstantin Altunin imagined Putin as a scantily clad hairdresser. He painted the Russian president wearing a negligee and styling the hair of then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who was clad in lingerie. The painting was on display at the Museum of Authority in St. Petersburg when it was seized by authorities, per The Wall Street Journal. Altunin then fled to France, telling Bloomberg (via the GlobalPost), "I don't want to return to Russia. I want to live and work in an atmosphere of freedom."

Who cut Vladimir Putin's hair when he was prime minister?

Vladimir Putin's net worth is likely much higher than the $70 billion that Celebrity Net Worth estimates it to be, with Fortune suggesting that hidden assets could make him the richest man in the world. But he didn't come from wealth — according to "The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin," before he was an autocrat with thinning hair, he apparently found himself regularly fighting the thugs that hung out outside his family's apartment dwelling by targeting his tormentors' hair. "Volodya would immediately jump on the guy, scratch him, bite him, rip his hair out by the clump," alleged one of Putin's childhood pals.

Putin would go on to become a KGB agent and later prime minister, during which time a family member divulged a rare secret about his hair, per the book "First Person: An Astonishingly Frank Self-Portrait by Russia's President." "There are various barbers, either at the FSO or the FSB. He's never paid much attention to his haircut. I like it when his hair is cut very short," said Lyudmila Shkrebneva, Putin's then-wife, when asked where her husband got his hair cut. The two places she mentioned were government organizations similar to the Secret Service and CIA, so Putin seemingly wasn't spending big bucks on maintaining his mane at the time.

His clean-shaven look inspired an animal comparison

We're not sure who does Vladimir Putin's hair these days, but Dr. Glynis Ablon, a dermatologist who also specializes in men's hair, claimed to InsideHook, "Those follicles have shut down. Some of it could be due to stress. ... I'd say he's doing as well as he can with what he's got. [His hair] looks like it has a nice quality to it. He's clearly using a nice moisturizing shampoo. So he's got that going for him."

Putin's lack of hair inspired a BuzzFeed-style listicle in 2013. The news publication Foreign Policy had a little fun at his expense by publishing an article titled "14 hairless cats that look like Vladimir Putin," and the resemblances between the kitties and the Kremlin leader were pretty uncanny: There was even a Sphynx cat striking the same pose as shirtless Putin riding a horse.

But while he and the felines might be similarly follically challenged, Putin has far fewer wrinkles than the animals with adorable skin folds. In a piece published by The Times, writers David Owen and Ian Robertson speculated that the Russian president's rounder, smoother face could allegedly be the result of using steroids rather than getting Botox, as others have suggested. Per the Chicago Hair Institute, hair loss can be a symptom of using certain steroids.

It doesn't take long to recreate Vladimir Putin's hair for SNL

When comedian Beck Bennett was handed the task of making Vladimir Putin funny on "Saturday Night Live," nailing a Russian accent wasn't the only challenge the role presented. Bennett has significantly more hair than Putin, so the show's makeup team had to do some extra work to help him get into character.

In a behind-the-scenes video for The Hollywood Reporter, "SNL" makeup artist Louis Zakarian demonstrated how he uses a bald cap, makeup, and wig to give Bennett Putin's hairline. Zakarian said that it usually takes up to 45 minutes to complete such a transformation, but boasted, "My record is six minutes. I think we do it on the show in like 10 to 15 minutes." Bennett was always shirtless when playing Putin, but unlike the Russian ruler, he sported a smattering of dark hair on his chest.

Putin's hair might seem like a frivolous thing to be focusing on amid the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, as well as harrowing events in his own country around this same time, but thinning hair is a sign of the march of time, which some experts, as previously mentioned, have argued may be inexorably linked to Putin's actions and thought processes as he seemingly clings to power. "This is exactly when men struggle the most," clinical psychologist Stephen Blumenthal told Mr. Porter while discussing hair loss. "At that point where you aren't as strong physically and perhaps mentally and when younger rivals start to challenge your position."