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.
What Is a Hair Transplant?
Used in the U.S. since the 1950s, hair transplantation is surgery that involves removing a narrow strip of hair-bearing scalp from the back of the head and using it to fill an area with thin or no hair.
Most hair transplants are performed in the doctor's office under local anesthesia.
To transplant hair, the surgeon first cleans the scalp, then injects an anesthetic to numb the area where a 3- to 4-inch strip of scalp will be removed. After removing the strip of scalp with a scalpel, the surgeon sets it aside and sews the scalp closed. This area is immediately hidden by the hair around it.
Next, the surgeon divides the strip of removed scalp into approximately 500 to 2,000 tiny grafts containing an individual hair or just a few hairs each. The number and type of graft used depends on the hair type, quality, and color as well as the size of the area where it will be transplanted.
After the grafts are prepared, the surgeon cleans and numbs the area where the hair will be placed, creates holes or slits with a scalpel or needle, and delicately places each graft in one of the holes.
Depending on the extent of the procedure, the transplant will take approximately four to eight hours. Sometimes additional sessions are needed if you continue to lose hair or decide you want thicker hair.
Expectations and Recovery
After hair transplant surgery, your scalp may be very tender. You may need to take pain medications for several days. Your surgeon will have you wear a surgical dressing over the scalp for at least a day or two. Your surgeon may also prescribe an antibiotic and/or anti-inflammatory drug to be taken for several days following surgery. Most people are able to return to work two to five days after surgery.
Within two to three weeks after surgery, the transplanted hair will fall out, but you should start to notice new growth within a few months. Most people will have attained 60% of new hair growth after six to nine months. Some surgeons prescribe the hair-growing drug minoxidil (Rogaine) to improve hair growth following transplantation, but it is not known how effective this is.
Risks and Costs of Treatment
The cost of hair transplantation will depend largely on the amount of hair to be transplanted, but it generally ranges from $4,000 to $15,000. The procedure is rarely covered by insurance.
As with any surgical procedure, hair transplantation carries risks, including bleeding and infection. Other risks that can occur with hair transplants include scarring and unnatural-looking new hair growth.
Around the time new hair growth starts, some people experience inflammation or infection of the hair follicles, called folliculitis. This can be relieved with antibiotics and compresses. Another potential risk is the sudden loss of transplanted hair, called shock loss. Fortunately, this hair loss is rarely permanent.
If you are bothered by thinning hair or balding, hair transplantation can significantly improve your appearance and self-confidence. However, it is important to understand that hair transplantation is just that -- transplantation of hair you already have to a place where it is more visible. It does not create new hair.
To minimize the risks and improve the success of surgery, it is important to undergo hair transplantation only if you are healthy. You should always discuss the potential risks and benefits of any surgery with your doctor.