Hair loss is unpredictable. Some people will see their hairline recede in their early 20s, only for it to remain stable until age 80. Others may have a full head of hair until age 30, only to be completely bald five years later. Because of this unpredictability, some doctors advise against getting hair transplant surgery until hair loss has stabilised. So are they right? Can you be too young to get a hair transplant? In this article, we’ll look at the potential dangers of getting a hair transplant too early and how to minimise them.
What is a hair transplant?
Hair transplant surgery involves extracting hair follicles from areas that are genetically resistant to androgenetic alopecia and moving them to bald areas of the scalp.
Essentially, you’re moving hair from the back and sides of the scalp to the top.
The area from which healthy hair is extracted is called the donor area. The area where the hair is implanted is called the recipient area. Because hair taken from the donor area is genetically resistant to going bald, it should be permanent.
Contrary to popular myths, the ‘new’ hair is entirely real – it’s just been moved from one area of the body to another.
Hair transplantation surgery is also used to restore eyelashes, eyebrows, and even give people beards. Here, though, we’ll be focusing on hair transplants which restore the hair of those suffering from androgenetic alopecia (male pattern baldness).
FUE vs FUT
Currently, there are two different hair transplant techniques: Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) and Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). The essential difference between both methods lies in how the follicles are extracted.
But the differences between the two are important – especially for those getting a hair transplant at a young age.
In FUT – commonly known as the ‘strip’ technique – the surgeon extracts an area of scalp from the back of the head. This strip is then divided up into separate follicular units, otherwise known as ‘grafts’, which are then implanted into the balding areas.
In a typical FUT procedure, the area of scalp removed will be around 1–1.5 x 15–30 cm. This leaves a distinctive scar which will be visible with short hair.
With the FUE method, hair follicles are extracted individually. This makes scarring less noticeable, but it may still be noticeable with short hair.
The dangers of getting hair transplant surgery too early
While hair transplant surgery is perhaps the most effective way to restore lost hair, it doesn’t stop hair loss from progressing further.
That’s not to say your hair transplant will fall out. Transplanted hair will be there forever, as it is taken from areas which are genetically resistant from hair loss. But the existing hair – hair which was there before the transplant – may continue to fall out.
For example, let’s say you get a hair transplant when you reach level 3V on the Norwood scale (below):
After the procedure and once your hair transplant has grown in, you may be a Norwood 1 or 2.
But if your genetics determine that your hair will continue to fall out until you reach Norwood 6, you’ll be left with a low hairline and thick hair at the front of your head, with no hair behind the hairline. You will also have a circular patch of hair at the crown with no hair surrounding it! This is not a natural look and may leave you feeling more self conscious than if you’d never had the procedure in the first place.
How early is too early?
And it’s not uncommon for many men to experience this much earlier.
If you have very aggressive hair loss at a young age, a hair transplant may not be the best option – yet. If you’ve reached Norwood 3V by age 19, say, it’s highly likely you’ll experience further hair loss.
Currently, though, there’s no minimum age limit for hair transplant surgery. It’s not rare for men in their early 20s to undergo the procedure. Some doctors advise against it, some won’t even perform the procedure. But it’s becoming increasingly common for young men to get hair transplant surgery.
Of course, there is the risk of further hair loss progression after a hair transplant. However, there are plenty of options available if this happens:
Hair loss treatments
It goes without saying that hair transplant patients need to maintain their existing hair.
And there are plenty of solutions available to maintain hair. These include:
Taking care of your existing hair will reduce the risks associated with getting a hair transplant too early. It is far easier to maintain your existing hair than it is to grow new hair! So do your research on hair loss treatments and take efforts to maintain your existing hair post-surgery.
Get another hair transplant
A second or third hair transplant is always an option if hair loss progresses further.
Of course, it’s not practical – or necessarily affordable – to get hair transplants every year. But if your hair loss continues to progress, you can always get another procedure to fill in any gaps in hair coverage that might appear.
Chasing hair loss like this is not an ideal situation – but neither is going bald for many men.
Hair loss can have a devastating effect on many men, and hair transplant surgery can restore lost confidence. If you do decide to have a hair transplant, it’s important to be well prepared for the possibility of another procedure in the future.
Part of this preparation means proper management of your donor area. Your supply of donor hair is limited (a typical male will have a donor capacity of 8000 grafts) so don’t go using it all up if you’re likely to lose more hair later!
This may mean making sacrifices in the density and coverage of your hair transplant. But if you’re conservative with your donor hair at a young age, it will leave you with more options if your hair loss progresses.
So, if you do get a hair transplant at a young age, be prepared for future procedures – both financially and from a perspective of donor management.
Scalp micropigmentation (SMP)
For those who have depleted their donor area, or don’t have enough to provide full coverage, scalp micropigmentation (SMP) is always an option.
SMP involves despositing tiny amounts of pigment into the dermal layer of the skin. It’s kind of like getting a tattoo of hair, but a lot more sophisticated.
And it can be combined with an FUE hair transplant to achieve a 3D effect, which SMP alone won’t create. The SMP adds the appearance of density which may be lacking from a hair transplant.
FUE and SMP combination treatment is a good option for those with advanced hair loss, or for those with a limited donor supply.
It’s an option to bear in mind if your hair loss progresses after getting a hair transplant.
Shave your head!
But if you do get a hair transplant and none of these options appeal to you, you can always shave your hair off!
For many hair loss sufferers, this is the go-to option – and many people can pull this look off well.
Getting a hair transplant doesn’t exclude you from this option if hair loss progresses down the line. Of course, if you opt for the FUT technique (see above), your scar will be visible when you shave your head. This may be an important consideration for those looking into getting a hair transplant before their hair loss has fully progressed.
But shaving your head will disguise an unnatural hair appearance. If you do get a hair transplant and your hair loss progresses, the shaved look will disguise it.
Am I too young to get a hair transplant?
So, while there are risks associated with getting a hair transplant too early, there are steps you can take to minimise them.
For many, hair loss is a huge blow to self confidence – especially if you’re young.
And hair transplant surgery is an option to restore this lost confidence. For men in their 20s, though, the likelihood of further hair loss progression after a hair transplant is high. It is therefore important that hair transplant candidates understand and prepare for this before making the decision to get a hair transplant. My advice to any young person considering a hair transplant is:
- Be prepared for a second or even third hair transplant in the next few years
- Conserve your donor hair supply
- Take medications to maintain your existing hair and prevent further hair loss
- Opt for the FUE technique to reduce scarring