Hair transplants are a popular method of treating baldness and restoring density to the hairline. While hair restoration has been practiced for years, many patients still have questions about the procedure. Here are some of the things patients considering a hair transplant need to know.
What is a Hair Transplant?
A hair transplant treats the balding area of the scalp by moving hair follicles from one area of the body to the balding areas of the scalp. Hair follicles are harvested from donor areas on the body where the hair is not prone to baldness. While the donor area is typically located on the back or sides of the head, the donor hair can actually be taken from any part of the body where the hair is resistant to balding. The follicular units used for the hair grafts should be harvested and transplanted in naturally occurring follicular units of 1-4 hairs. These hair groupings are typically held together with a collagen band and they also have their own nerves, oil glands and small vessels. They are placed in this grouping in the balding area so the final results look natural in appearance.
Initial Hair Transplant Methods
Hair transplants were first performed by removing pieces of hair bearing skin and then implanting them into balding areas on the scalp. This procedure resulted in a “pluggy” appearance that was easily detectable from a natural head of hair. Thankfully, hair transplants have improved thanks to transplanting smaller groups of hair known as minigrafts or micrografts.
Options for Harvesting Hair
Hair grafts are normally harvested through two main methods. Deciding between the two types of harvesting comes down to the preference of the patient and how he plans to wear the hair in the donor area. Plus, the procedure choice impacts the number of grafts that can be harvested in the session and the overall cost of the transplant:
- Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) – A technique where the doctor individually harvests hair grafts using microscopic techniques. In this method, there is no need to make a linear incision on the scalp so there is no linear scar. The follicular grafts are removed without any cuts, suture or staples on the scalp. FUE patients can wear a short hairstyle in the back since there is not a linear scar in the area where the hair was donated. However, FUE only allows for a smaller number of grafts to be harvested in a session so it costs more than a traditional strip method.
- Strip (FUT) – The hair units are transplanted in their natural grouping via a strip method. The doctor removes a strip of skin from the donor area. Stereoscopic magnification is used to harvest the hair grafts in their natural direction.
The harvested hair is processed and counted before they are placed in the balding areas. Hair grafts are usually kept in a holding solution at a specific temperature in order to preserve them for transplanting.
Before placing the grafts, the surgeon will make tiny incisions in the balding area where the hair grafts will be transplanted. The follicular units are placed in the incisions and then distributed in order to create a natural looking appearance. The transplanted hair creates the appearance of a hairline that looks natural to the naked eye. The graft implanting process is meticulous work that should be performed by an experienced surgical team, using a microscope, to prevent damaging the reproductive part of the grafts where the hair stem cells reside. The transplanted follicles become part of the new skin a few days after the implantation procedure.
Do Hair Transplants Treat More Than the Scalp?
While many people think a hair transplant only treats the scalp, hair can actually be transplanted on any part of the skin. Some examples of parts of the body, besides the scalp, include:
- Pubic area
- Hairline lowering
After the Procedure
After the grafts have been implanted, there will be some stubble and scabbing that will heal rapidly. While the transplanted hair will start to fall out after a few weeks due to the hair entering a resting phase, there is no need to panic. The hair follicles will enter another growth phase, in a few months, and start to grow again. This hair growth will become longer and thicker as it becomes normal mature hair.
In addition, the transplanted hair is not subject to the same biological triggers that caused baldness in the original hair. The transplanted hair will grow just as it did in the donor area.
Post-Hair Transplant Steps
After the hair transplant is completed, there are still steps to follow on the part of the patient. Some of the general steps include:
- Post-Transplant Hair Wash – Patients should visit their doctor to wash their hair for the first time after surgery. The first few days are critical in maintaining the grafts and patients need to be shown the proper way to wash their hair while protecting the grafts.
- Recovery Period – The overall recovery period after a hair transplants is 6 to 8 months. Besides properly caring for their transplanted hair, patients must also protect the scalp from the sun. FUE patients normally have minimal to no pain and no linear scar.
In order to gain results that will last a lifetime, patients need to follow their post-op instructions. Early results are seen after 3 to 4 months but most patients see their full results in 6 to 12 months.
Male pattern baldness is, quite often, a progressive condition that continues throughout a lifetime. Patients may experience additional hair loss as well as a need for another procedure in the future. Patient prone to advanced hair loss can slow down the loss by taking finasteride or minoxidil to help maintain the native hair of the patient.
Since a hair transplant is a skin level procedure, patients don’t often see major complications after their surgery. However, there are some complications patients should be aware of:
- Post-operative hiccups
- Swelling of the scalp and forehead
- Folliculitis which are pimple-like skin lesions in the transplanted area
- “Shock Loss” is a common side effect where patients lose their native hair after the transplant surgery due to the stress of the procedure
- FUE can cause small and scattered scars that are not detectable by other
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