Laurie was nervous when she had her first transplant in 1997 but was pleasantly surprised to find the procedure quite painless. "I was given a local anesthetic. It was no worse than the dentist's office. I hardly felt a thing," she says.
Next, her surgeon removed a tiny strip of skin (1 x 1.5 x 12 centimeters) from the back of her scalp, an area of relatively dense hair for even the baldest people called the "donor site." In one session, she was able to have about 400 grafts of skin -- containing two to four hairs each -- redistributed from the back of her head to the front and top. "It took awhile for regrowth, " Laurie says. (Typically, transplanted hair sheds within the first weeks or months and has to grow back). "But within four to six months, I saw a huge difference."
Losing Hair Differently
The best candidates for hair transplants are those who have common male-pattern or female-pattern baldness, a genetic condition. Hair loss also can be caused by variety of factors, including thyroid abnormalities, iron deficiencies, and autoimmune diseases. Childbirth can cause hair loss as well. But the most common reason people lose their hair is heredity. And, contrary to common myth, the trait is not passed from your maternal grandfather. Nor does it skip a generation. The propensity is passed down from all your relatives.
"The more bald people in your family, the greater your chances of going bald. If you look at a family of ten siblings -- there will be variations in amount of hair and its distribution," says James Arnold, MD, a dermatologist and hair transplant specialist in San Jose, California.
Women lose hair differently than men. Where men have bald spots in the front or back of their heads, women tend more toward diffuse thinning. They lose hair gradually, and after awhile, they get that "see-through" scalp of which Laurie complained.
Arnold, who limits his practice exclusively to hair transplants, also treats women. But he has not seen such dramatic increases. Partly, he says, because he hasn't advertised to women. "Women are more challenging to treat than men. Their expectations are higher. You treat a man, he sees he has a little more on top -- maybe he looks a few years younger -- and he's satisfied. Women want thick hair."
Laurie agrees that women may be tougher clients. After all, she's had three transplants. But she says hair transplants may be actually simpler for women because they're better able to hide them. "A woman can easily wear a scarf, and because women's hair is generally longer, it's harder to see the incision." Plus, when new hair comes in, the effect on a woman's scalp is more subtle. "People notice your hair looks better but they're not quite sure why."