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Restoring Hair continued...

Of course, to get the hair for the transplant, you have to remove it from your head (or, less commonly, another part of the body), a process called follicular unit grafting (FUG). New techniques for this process make it much easier, and the results are virtually unnoticeable.

"Today, we can use a technique called follicular unit extraction, which means we don’t have to make an incision at the donor site," Epstein says. "The grafts are harvested one at a time with tiny 0.8 [millimeter] punches, which then heal as essentially undetectable dots in the scalp. This leaves patients with no detectable donor site scar. They can cut their hair even shorter than before, or even shave their head." Not everyone has the expertise to use this newer approach, and it takes a lot longer than FUG -- around eight hours.

On the Horizon

What might be the future of hair restoration and replacement? There are a number of approaches in the works, but none has been shown to work yet in scientific studies, says Epstein. "The holy grail would be cloning, or hair multiplication. If you could take parts of the hair follicle ... and multiply them, and implant them back in the scalp to get new hairs growing, that would be the ideal. There’s a lot of research going on into that."

But it’s nowhere near ready for prime time, nor is the use of platelet rich plasma (PRP). With this approach, doctors take blood from individual patients, isolate the growth factors, and inject them into the scalp. "This may stimulate the regrowth of hair, and may also help with healing of a donor site," says Epstein. "But it’s still unproven."

One new advance that Epstein says does appear to be effective, based on general experience, is laser light treatment. "In men who are actively shedding large amounts of hair, getting laser light therapy twice a week for about six months does seem to stop the shedding in about 75% of them, and stimulate regrowth in a smaller group. It’s still a little controversial; there hasn’t been a lot in the literature yet."