Like good health and youth, most of us take our locks for granted – that is, until they’re gone. For many people, a hair transplant can help bring back what looks like a full – or at least a fuller – head of hair.
If thinning up top or going bald really bothers you, the procedure can be one way to feel more confident about your looks. But first talk with your doctor about what you can expect during and after the surgery.
What Is a Hair Transplant?
It’s a type of surgery that moves hair you already have to fill an area with thin or no hair. Doctors have been doing these transplants in the U.S. since the 1950s, but techniques have changed a lot in recent years.
You usually have the procedure in the doctor’s office. First, the surgeon cleans your scalp and injects medicine to numb the back of your head. Your doctor will choose one of two methods for the transplant: follicular unit strip surgery (FUSS) or follicular unit extraction (FUE).
With FUSS, the surgeon removes a 6- to 10-inch strip of skin from the back of your head. They set it aside and sews the scalp closed. This area is immediately hidden by the hair around it.
Next, the surgeon’s team divides the strip of removed scalp into 500 to 2,000 tiny grafts, each with an individual hair or just a few hairs. The number and type of graft you get depends on your hair type, quality, color, and the size of the area where you’re getting the transplant.
If you’re getting the FUE procedure, the surgeon’s team will shave the back of your scalp. Then, the doctor will remove hair follicles one by one from there. The area heals with small dots, which your existing hair will cover.
Who Might Benefit From a Hair Transplant?
Receiving a hair transplant can improve your appearance and self-confidence. Good candidates for a hair transplant include:
- men with male pattern baldness
- women with thinning hair
- anyone who has lost some hair from a burn or scalp injury
Hair replacement isn’t a good option for:
- women with a widespread pattern of hair loss throughout the scalp
- people who don’t have enough “donor” hair sites from which to remove hair for transplant
- people who form keloid scars (thick, fibrous scars) after injury or surgery
- people whose hair loss is due to medication such as chemotherapy
What Happens During a Hair Transplant?
After thoroughly cleaning your scalp, a surgeon uses a small needle to numb an area of your head with local anesthesia.
Two main techniques are used to obtain follicles for transplantation: FUT and FUE.
In follicular unit transplantation (FUT):
- The surgeon will use a scalpel to cut out a strip of scalp skin from the back of the head. The incision is typically several inches long.
- This is then closed with stitches.
- The surgeon next separates the removed portion of scalp into small sections using a magnifying lens and sharp surgical knife. When implanted, these sections will help achieve natural-looking hair growth.
A technique used in the treatment of baldness is called tissue expansion. Plastic surgeons are the leaders in tissue expansion, a procedure commonly used in reconstructive surgery to repair burn wounds and injuries with significant skin loss. Its application in hair transplant surgery has yielded dramatic results-significant coverage in a relatively short amount of time.
In this technique, a balloon-like device called a tissue expander is inserted beneath hair-bearing scalp that lies next to a bald area. The device is gradually inflated with salt water over a period of weeks, causing the skin to expand and grow new skin cells. This causes a bulge beneath the hair-bearing scalp, especially after several weeks.
When the skin beneath the hair has stretched enough-usually about two months after the first operation-another procedure is performed to bring the expanded skin over to cover the adjacent bald area.
Do hair transplants last?
In most cases, a person will have thicker-looking hair after a successful hair transplant. However, they may continue to experience hair thinning and loss after the procedure, which can give the hair an unnatural or patchy appearance. For longer lasting results, people may require follow-up transplants.
According to the ASPS, there is a chance that some of the transplanted hair follicles will not “take.” These follicles die, and no new hair grows in their place.
The ASPS also warn people to expect that they may need a “touch-up” procedure. This procedure can help by filling in any areas that are not thick enough or blending the follicles for the most natural look.
For the best results, a person should follow their surgeon’s postprocedure instructions. Doing this will increase their chances of a successful hair transplant. A person may need to avoid strenuous activity and exercise for several weeks. They may also need to wait a few days before washing their hair.
The ASPS say that hair transplants are generally safe when a qualified, experienced surgeon performs them. However, even with successful hair transplants, some side effects can happen.
Infection or bleeding
Hair transplants involve making cuts or incisions in the skin. A surgeon makes an incision to remove the donor follicles, and they make tiny incisions on the scalp in which to place the follicles. With any incision, there is a risk of infection or excessive bleeding.
There is also a risk of scarring on both the donor area and the area of the transplant. A person should speak with their surgeon about these risks before they decide to have the procedure.
The FUSS method usually leaves a long, linear scar where the surgeon removed a strip of the scalp. This scar may become camouflaged as new hair grows in around it. It may, however, be visible if it becomes widened during healing, the surrounding hair is thin, or the person wears it short in style.
The FUE method may also leave some scars in the area where the surgeon removed the follicles with the punch tool. However, these scars may not be as large as the scar from FUSS.
In some cases, a person may have raised bumps around the transplanted hair. As the hair grows back, it may hide these bumps.
Pain and swelling
Some people may experience pain as their skin heals after the procedure. Their surgeon may provide them with pain relievers to help with this. They may also have some swelling in the head and face as the skin heals.