Hair Loss: The Nitty-Gritty On Hair Transplant Surgery

Hair Loss: The Nitty-Gritty On Hair Transplant Surgery
Man examining a receding hairline

We blow it out, we wax it off, we style and we color, we laser it gone, some of us (well, three of us to be exact) wrote a musical about it—yes, it’s hair, and if you add up all the time, angst and money we throw at it, it’s pretty clear that… well… it’s kind of a big deal. So what happens when your own luscious mane starts to disappear and no amount of products, medications, lasers, vitamins or voodoo seems to help? Are you doomed to suffer a lifetime of crafty styling, wigs or just giving up and shaving it all off?

Those protein filaments growing from the hair follicles on your head aren’t immune to the effects of aging. Add to that the fact that alopecia (hair loss) can be caused by things other than the passage of time. Stress, disease, genetics—even some medical treatments can all cause your hair to fall out leading to self-consciousness, a lack of confidence and a new-found reliance on hat wear and head scarves. A good thing when they’re optional, not so much when they’re a necessity. You just don’t need that in your life. #nope

Fortunately, the realm of hair transplant surgery has advanced to include multiple types of procedures that can help restore thinning hair, bald spots and receding hairlines in both men and women. By moving hair follicles from one part of the body to another, your surgeon can cater to the unique area or look that the patient desires without damaging the scalp. Here’s how.

Your surgeon will choose an area called a “donor site” (typically on the head) where hair growth is healthy, strong and considered “permanent”. It seems that certain drivers of pattern baldness, like something unpronounceably called dihydrotestosterone (now say that 10 times fast), only effect certain areas of the head and don’t typically effect the back and/or sides. By surgically removing a healthy area of scalp from the donor site, and then dividing the removed area into lots and lots and lots of parts, your surgeon can transplant said ‘parts’ onto the hair deficient areas of the scalp. The aforementioned ‘parts’ are typically transplanted using one or two follicles at a time to encourage the most natural result, and that result—if the correct donor site is used—will be permanent. The hair will then grow… gloriously… just like a chia pet. (Actually, it's not like a chia pet. Not at all.)

Choosing a board certified plastic surgeon with experience in hair transplantation surgery is the key to a successful result and will ensure that they’re able to determine your individual hair loss pattern, whether or not you’re a good candidate for this type of procedure and that the integrity of the scalp is not damaged during the surgery—this is necessary for the new areas of hair to thrive.

Risks:

As with all surgical procedures there are risks involved. In addition to the usual surgical risks of scarring, allergic reactions, infection and bleeding, there’s also the risk that the hair follicles themselves can become inflamed or infected. Some patients may notice a change in the sensation of the scalp, and others may experience the transplanted hair falling out all at once. What?! This little gem is called “shock loss” and while, yes, it would be shocking, it’s unlikely that the new hair won’t grow back in it’s place. Whew.

Pros:

  • Hair!
  • Hair!
  • Hair!

Cons:

  • This procedure, if done well, can be quite tedious, oftentimes taking between 2 to 8 hours. *yawn. This is to minimize trauma and maintain the integrity of the scalp—something vital to a successful result.
  • There’s no guarantee that your “new” hair will be the same as the “old” hair you’re pining for. Different growth patterns can provide a different result than what you’re used to and it might take a few months for the hair to completely grow into the desired area.
  • It may also take multiple sessions over the span of a year or two to get the most successful result.

Let’s face it, if a glorious head of thick hair gives off the appearance of youth and vitality, then what exactly is alopecia (or hair loss) saying? (Hint: It’s the opposite of youth and vitality.) So if your hair loss is permanent, and isn’t due to stress, medication or some other precipitating event that may reverse itself through time or an alternative treatment, a hair transplant procedure may be the answer. A consult with your board-certified plastic surgeon will help you decide what might be right for you.