It seems that a man's greatest fear is losing his hair, and once it's gone, it's gone for good. Which is why a bald character is bound to try using some kind of product that promises to grow back their hair. This product never works. Or rather, it usually works too well, with way more hair sprouting than necessary, and often in places that it wasn't wanted. Other side effects may occur as well, including, but not limited to, the hair turning an unnatural color or what little hair was left falling out completely.
Truth in Television: most over the counter baldness remedies don't work or don't work well, especially when used once the condition is sufficiently advanced. Prescription systemic treatments are somewhat more likely to work (though they also come with bad side effects for men - namely, they work by reducing testosterone and/or its effects on the body in most cases). The gold standard of baldness treatment is hair transplant with ongoing maintenance, as it is the most likely to actually be worth the money spent on it with the least systemic side effects.
For similar forms of hair-related hilarity, see My Hair Came Out Green and occassionally Kaleidoscope Hair. See also All-Natural Snake Oil for the same principle applied to more serious ailments, not usually played for laughs.
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Anime and Manga
On Ranma ½ Genma is quite embarrassed about his baldness and has tried all kinds of cures. This doesn't stop him from trying new remedies. There was the one that only works when he's angry, the one that comes from a one-of-a-kind dragon's whisker, and so forth.
Mahou Sensei Negima! has a female variation, when short-haired Ako thinks she should grow her hair out to be more attractive. A (not so) helpful denizen of the magic world promptly gives her a magic hair-growth potion, which works perfectly for all of a minute before the hair begins to engulf her.
An early InuYasha story has two demon brothers kidnap Kagome. She thinks they simply want to eat her, but it turns out one of them is severely balding and embarrassed about it, and he has heard you can get a hair growth potion by boiling down a human maiden. At hearing this, Kagome angrily insists they eat her instead. (Not 100% really this trope, since we never learn whether the potion works - but the kidnapping does lead to the demon losing his last few hairs - before he is killed.)
A Donald Duck comics story "Black Wednesday", written by Carl Barks, features Uncle Scrooge selling hair tonic to the "Chillyboot Indians", which actually causes baldness. Donald later returns with a hair tonic made by Gyro Gearloose; that one works too well.
In an Archie comic, Professor Flutesnoot invents a hair tonic which apparently does a great job growing one's hair back. Though he stresses that he's still testing it, Mr. Weatherby insists on secretly using it on himself. By the end of the comic, it's revealed that the tonic makes one grow a freakish amount of hair, with pouring water on it being the only way to stop the process.
In another comic, Jughead has created a hair tonic and tested it on a cue ball. Weatherbee gets it of course, and pretty soon has a headful of hair again. Flutesnoot then reveals that he analyzed Jughead's formula, and that a key ingredient is swamp muck; Weatherbee has a headful of moss.
In The Smurfs story "The Great Smurfette", Gargamel was reported to have given a bald person a potion for growing a full head of hair, but the side effect is that it has given the person a chronic case of incurable hiccups.
In an Achille Talon comic strip, Achille tries multiple ways to cure his baldness, all of which turn out to be ineffective. His last attempt is a hair tonic that is revealed to work very well - too bad he accidentally falls into it, covering him of hair everywhere except on his scalp.
In Pete's Dragon, when Dr. Terminus comes to town, the townspeople confront him about his various medicines that didn't work the last time he was there, including one man whose hair turned from gray to pink, thanks to the doctor.
In the Canadian family film The Peanut Butter Solution, a boy loses his hair after seeing ghosts, then grows it back with the titular solution. It doesn't know when to stop, of course.
To be fair, it would have if the kid hadn't included so much peanut butter. And let's not get into his friend, who put it on a certain other place...Yeah...
In The Naked Gun 33 1/3, there's a flashback with the detectives in what's supposed to be the 1970s. Drebin has long hair, and when Nordberg appears, he has an Afro so huge he can't fit through the door. After the movie returns to the present, Ed says to Nordberg, "I do remember! You were one of the first cases for minoxidil." note Minoxidil is probably best known to the general public under the name Rogaine.
Crocodile tears in the book Hubert's Hair Raising Adventure by Bill Peet.
The title character in The Witch's Son by Vivian Van Velde goes through several variations on regrowing a girl's golden hair, none of which work.
In The City Of Silent Revolvers, the main character is blackmailed into switching identities with a conman, and ends up getting in trouble for all of his earlier scams. A faulty hair tonic called Probatbicol is one these scams.
In the Discworld short story "The Sea and Little Fishes", when Granny Weatherwax is experimenting with being nice to people, she gives one bald farmer a bottle of hair tonic. He decides to test it on the dog; unfortunately he's too worried to read the instructions and gives it a overdose. When a group of peasants petition Nanny Ogg to tell Granny that We Want Our Jerk Back, they report that the entire family is currently spending all their time shearing the dog.
In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, one of the works-in-progress in the Inventing Room is Hair Toffee, which gives its eater a full head of hair plus a mustache and beard, a half hour after it's consumed. It's still a work in progress because currently it's too powerful — when an Oompa-Loompa tested it, "In the end we had to use a lawn mower to keep it [the hair] in check!" according to Willy Wonka. Also, it apparently has the same effect on men and women, and even works on children — which is his intention, in order that "there'll be no excuse any more for little boys and girls going about with bald heads!"
In Anne of Green Gables Anne is vexed by her red hair. One day she buys a Tonic/Dye from the Tinker to turn her hair raven black. Instead it turns her hair green, and she has to shave her head.
Live Action TV
An episode of Doctor Who called "Planet of the Ood" has a similar situation. Ood Sigma constantly hands his boss, the villain of the episode, a drink which he claims is hair tonic. It turns out to be ood-graft which eventually transforms him into an Ood.
The Two Ronnies did a skit at an inventors' conferrence, one of the inventors had created a hair tonic with two problems. First it makes the hair grow pink and second is that it falls out if the drinker has a shock.
In the Better Off Ted episode "Father Can You Hair Me?", Ted tests an experimental hair tonic (packaged as an aerosol) on his arm, causing massive amounts of hair to grow not only on Ted's arm, but also on his desk.
In (what turned out to be) the final episode of The Brady Bunch Bobby gets some mail-order hair tonic to sell, which turns Greg's hair orange. In the memo attributed to Robert Reed about how weak the show's internal logic had become, he complains about this in particular:
Why any boy of Bobby’s age, or any age, would be investing in something as outmoded and unidentifiable as “hair tonic” remains to be explained. As any kid on the show could tell the writer, the old hair-tonic routine is right out of Our Gang. Let’s face it, we’re long since past the “little dab’ll do ya” era.
A Good Eats episode on celery has a sketch of a celery drink just made regrowing hair, then shows Alton paying the man whose hair supposedly grew back in private.
Seinfeld: George Costanza's Chinese baldness cure. Whether it actually works is moot, because it smells horrible and he never manages to keep it on his head long enough.
One early episode of Married... with Children had Al and Steve freak out about their baldness and try an experimental "tonic" to reverse it. Not only did it not work, but Al's dog Buck took to the stuff better than their hair did (they were actually using some kind of dog food in their hair, and the doctor who sold it to them was a quack).
Another episode features an accidental hair tonic made by the daughter experimenting with paint. It works wonders, but has the nasty* by Al Bundy & Co's standards, obviously side-effect of making the users horny for their wives.
In a Dream Sequence on The Dick Van Dyke Show Rob's hair turned into lettuce, because he was given a baldness preventativenote as opposed to cure - he had hair, he was just worried about losing it that was basically oil and vinegar - aka salad dressing.
Two and a Half Men feature 'Captain Terry's Spray On Hair' as well as pills, both of which Alan try before going on dates. The first ends up running down his face when warm and the pills cause bizarre follicle growth.
One Bloom County arc featured a compound made from cat sweat, originally intended as an underarm deodorant, which caused massive hair growth wherever it was applied. Its creator immediately turned it into a hair tonic instead. Sales were ridiculously, dangerously good for a while... and then customers' hair started falling out. As in, all at once, poof-gone-you're-a-bowling-ball.
And it makes you start saying "ACK!", presumably because it was made from Bill the Cat's sweat.
It's happened a few time in Curtis, often thanks to the titular character's misuse of a Flyspeck Island substance.
Doc Rat featured Mr Pigg complaining to the chemist that the tonic he'd purchased which promised to "add body to your hair" had caused him to sprout hair everywhere. Turned out he'd read the label upside down; it actually said "adds hair to your body".
Gaia Online has an item called Gro-gain: "New and improved, all natural formula guarantees DRAMATIC new hair growth, or your money back!" It can give you a huge mustache on your crotch, "Coiling Pit Hair", "Unforgivable Leg Hair", "Evil Hair" on your head, and more. It can even turn you into a "Fearsome Hairy Beast". It even caused a child character to develop a Casanova Wannabe alter ego and experience Rapid Aging.
Hazmat of the Whateley Universe is cueball-bald due to his failed hair tonic. Aquerna arranges for Phase to look at it and plans are put into place to sell it as a hair-removal application for women.
The SCP Foundation had a hair tonic◊ which caused its users to be "completely torn apart from the inside by torrential amounts of internal hair growth"
Used for squick factor when Disco Bear from Happy Tree Friends dunks his head in hair tonic after burning his afro. His hair grows back... but in his eyes. Cue Eye Scream when he cuts his eyes off with a razor as he tries to remove the hair from his eyes. He slips on a bottle of hair tonic and falls to the tub of hair tonic and grows more hair.
And not just Disco Bear, Cuddles coughs out his hairy organs before choking to death after mistakenly drinking a bottle of the formula that fell into his soda cooler and a bottle bursts open on Flaky while driving, causing her spines to impale her passenger, Handy.
In the Looney Tunes short Rabbit of Seville Bugs Bunny rubs and sprinkles a number of tonics (including fertilizer) on Elmer Fudd's scalp, only for flowers to sprout from his head instead of hair. On the other hand, the hair tonic he used earlier in the same short to grow him a beard worked perfectly.
In The Simpsons episode "Simpson and Delilah", "dimoxonil" actually does grow hair on Homer's head, but the Snap Back to baldness comes because Bart spills Homer's bottlenote splashing it on his face in hopes of growing a beard and he can't afford any more. Hasn't minoxodil (of which dimoxonil was obviously a parody) become a lot cheaper than it was in 1990? Homer could probably afford it now!
The Simpsons used this trope twice. At the end of the episode "Barting Over" Homer acts in a commercial for Viagra-gaine, a drug that "gives you hair and what you need down there" and has side effects including loss of scalp and penis.
The Mother Goose and Grimm cartoon had a hair tonic which could grow hair on billiard balls, as advertised...but it couldn't grow hair on anything else.
Billy in The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy tried some hair tonic and ended up growing hair all over his body looking like a Bigfoot. It turns out that all he has to do was wash it off.
Of course, the stuff was useless until he asked Grim to power it up.
In Dexter's Laboratory, Dexter makes a hair tonic for Dee-Dee after she accidently cuts off one of her pigtails. Despite repeated warnings to use only one drop, Dee-Dee uses the entire bottle. Three guesses what happens next.
In one episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog, "Hothead", Eustace applies for an experimental hair tonic, with the warning that the recipient not be angry when in use. Little does Eustace know, is that every time he uses the tonic, it amplifies his anger to the point that he can cause explosions (and to add insult to injury, he doesn't grow any hair other than one long strand at the end of the episode, which makes him so angry he destroys the entire house.
Gargamel and Brainy learned this lesson the hard way in The Smurfs episode "Symbols Of Wisdom" when they both try to grow their own beards, since it caused their beards to grow so long. Also, Papa Smurf had Hogatha's hair spell in "Smurfette's Golden Tresses" purposely altered by giving her bear fur dyed in the color of Smurfette's hair, which caused the hair to grow so long on Hogatha's head that it covered her face and immobilized her.
Phineas and Ferb has a female example in "Bad Hair Day", when Candace uses a machine her brothers built for her in order to fix her hair after a botched attempt to cut it herself. Of course, she can't wait the designated time and decides to turn 30 mins into 10 seconds by cranking up the power level. Cue Candace getting covered in hair and being mistaken for a tangerine orangutan.
A Freaky Stories story involves a boy inventing a hair tonic that, while capable of growing hair on any surface, doesn't seem to work on him. After dousing himself with it in a panic, he realize all to late that it takes longer for the tonic to grow hair on a human, and it turns him into a werewolf.
Gasp: In "Hair of the Fish", Gasp buys a Peruvian hair tonic online in an attempt to cure the bald patch he accidentally created on Catflap. After he is doused in the tonic, Gasp ends up growing hair all over his body. Gasp, it should be pointed out, is a fish.
Johnny Test has this happen due to a couple of Susan and Mary's inventions. The Zoomer Groomer could create mustaches and worked as advertised, but Bling Bling Boy overused it, became very itchy, and grew thick hair all over his body. Another episode had Susan and Mary use a hair tonic which worked too well, eventually leading to them looking like a woolly mammoth.