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History of Surgical Hair Restoration

The roots of modern day surgical hair restoration were cultivated in Japan in the late 1930s. In 1939, Japanese dermatologist Dr. Okuda detailed his groundbreaking work in surgical hair restoration for burn victims. He described using a punch technique to extract round sections of hair-bearing skin, which were then implanted into slightly smaller round holes made in the scarred or burned areas of the scalps of his patients. After the skin grafts healed, they continued to produce hair in the previously bald areas of scalp.

In 1943 another Japanese dermatologist refined Okuda's technique by using significantly smaller grafts of one to three hairs to replace lost pubic hair in his female patients. Dr. Tamura used an elliptical incision to extract the donor tissue from the patient's scalp and then dissected each individual graft. Interestingly, Tamura's technique was very similar to the techniques being used today.

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The groundbreaking work of both these Japanese innovators was lost for more than a decade and remained completely unknown to Western medicine until after the World War II, when documentation of these procedures were found and shared.

In 1952, Dr. Norman Orentreich, a New York dermatologist, performed the first known hair transplant in the U.S. on a man suffering from male pattern baldness. Orentreich essentially reinvented modern-day hair transplantation.

Seven years later, after much criticism, Orentreich published his findings and set forth his theory of "donor dominance" in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. His work demonstrated that the hair from the back and the sides of a man's scalp was for the most part resistant to the balding process. But his technique mirrored the less aesthetically "punch graft" process of Okuda instead of the more natural, smaller grafting technique of Tamura.

It wasn't until the mid 1990s that surgical hair restoration produced natural-looking results. Newer techniques, such as follicular unit micro grafting, follicular unit transplantation, and follicular unit extraction, have made hair transplantation a virtually undetectable, viable option for many hair loss sufferers.

Published on March 1, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from the American Hair Loss Association

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