Like good health and youth, most of us take a thick head of hair for granted -- that is, until it is gone. For many people, hair transplant procedures can help bring back the appearance of a full -- or, at least, fuller -- head of hair.
Treatments have shifted from unnatural-looking transplants to
sophisticated new drugs and improvements in hair transplant surgery, and
cloning individual hair cells. David Orentreich, MD, a professor of dermatology
at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, and others who specialize
in the field of hair restoration say that the future looks even brighter than
the present. Orentreich's father Norman first pioneered hair transplantation
"I started practicing in 1984 and hair transplant surgery
has changed completely since then too -- from large to small grafts," says
Orentreich. "The large-graft technique was state-of-the-art back then,"
According to estimates form the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration (FDA), 40 million men and 20 million women experience hair loss.
In 2003, 31,737 people, 88% of them men, underwent hair transplants; up 9% from
2002, according to statistics from the American Society of Plastic
"The history of hair transplantation is not much different
than that of cardiac surgery," he says. "First there was the coronary
bypass surgery and hundreds then thousands of doctors started doing them and
pretty soon the operation evolves and moves forward," he says.
To perform a hair transplant, surgeons such as Orentriech
obtain skin grafts with hair follicles from places on the scalp that are still
growing hair (typically the back or side of the head) and transplant them into
the balding areas where it will continue to grow. Today, surgeons use smaller
grafts which contain anywhere from one to five hair follicles per graft; this
helps give the scalp a more natural appearance. By contrast the larger grafts
had 15-20 hair follicles; they looked artificial with the appearance of rows of
hairs. These are known as hair plugs.
Small or micrografts are also called follicular grafts and
"look better, heal faster, and involve much less discomfort,"
Orentreich tells WebMD.
In the case of hair transplantation, going from large grafts of
hair to small grafts "was the watershed that made this procedure so much
more natural and because of this, more people doing better transplants
today," he says.