Did you know that hair transplantation dates as far back as the 19th century? Thankfully, the procedure has come a long way in the last 100 years or so. But hair transplant surgery is still greatly misunderstood by the general public. Many believe, for example, that the new hair is fake, or that it falls out after a few years. This isn’t true, of course, but a hair transplant is not a miracle cure. In this article, we’ll look at how hair transplants work and what sort of results you can expect.
What is a hair transplant?
A hair transplant is when hair follicles are moved from one area of a person’s body to another.
Think of it as hair relocation surgery. Follicles are moved from an area with hair – called the donor area – to an area without hair – the recipient area. Usually the donor area is the back and sides of the head (areas which aren’t affected by androgenetic alopecia) and the recipient area is the top of the head – the area that typically goes bald.
The new hair isn’t ‘new’ at all, it’s just old hair in a new place. It’s real, natural, and grows like normal hair does.
And because the hair follicles are taken from areas which are genetically resistant to hair loss, the newly implanted hair should last forever.
How are the hair follicles extracted? FUE vs FUT
Currently, there are two methods hair transplant surgeons use to extract hair follicles: Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) and Strip Harvesting (sometimes referred to as FUT).
With strip harvesting, an area (strip) of scalp is taken from the donor area. The extracted strip is then divided into separate hair follicles which are transplanted into the recipient area.
The donor area is stitched back together, but this can leave a distinctive scar:
With the FUE method, individual hair follicles are extracted one at a time.
When performed by a skilled surgeon, scarring from an FUE hair transplant is virtually undetectable. However, it tends to be more expensive than FUT and takes significantly more time.
Hair transplant results
Back in the early days of hair transplantation, grafts were often referred to as ‘plugs’.
This name conjures up images of doll-like hair – thick clumps of hair separated by even bigger bald areas.
Thankfully, the procedure is a lot more sophisticated nowadays. Unfortunately, though, the name has stuck.
But using today’s techniques a skilled surgeon can achieve results that are indistinguishable from natural hair. The FUE method in particular allows the surgeon to extract grafts that are most suited to the area they’re going. After all, hair density isn’t uniform across the entire scalp.
And as hair transplantation techniques have improved, so too have results. Today, top-class surgeons can consistently achieve a graft success rate of over 95% – meaning nearly all transplanted hair goes on to grow normally.
But results vary from surgeon to surgeon. And there are plenty of sub-standard hair transplant surgeons out there. So it’s vitally important to thoroughly do your research before booking a procedure. Make sure you see plenty of results photos, check out what people are saying online, and if it sounds too good to be true, be very wary!
A good place to find a trusted surgeon is the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons. Membership requires high standards of patient care and, of course, consistent high quality results.
You can also check out hair transplant results by surgeon here.
Hair transplant limitations
A hair transplant won’t stop your existing hair from continuing to fall out.
So even though the newly implanted hair should last a lifetime, this doesn’t mean that the hair surrounding it will.
Let’s say, for example, you’ve lost your hair at the front and have reached a Norwood stage 3. You could get a hair transplant to regain your Norwood 1 hairline. But if you have Norwood 5 genetics, you could be left with a bald patch behind the transplanted hair.
This is why it’s still important to maintain your existing hair – using established hair loss treatments – even after a hair transplant.
What’s more, your donor area capacity will limit how many hair follicles can actually be used in hair transplant surgery. A large donor area with plenty of hair means you’ll have more grafts to use for a hair transplant. But if your donor area is sparse, you may need to adjust your expectations for density or coverage.
You only have a finite number of donor grafts available. So if your hair loss has progressed to Norwood stage 7, it’s going to be difficult to cover such a large area whilst maintaining a reasonable level of density.
That said, recent developments may allow more donor hair to be harvested. Some surgeons are experimenting with body hair transplantation, but that’s a topic for another day.
Do hair transplants really work?
When performed by a skilled surgeon, absolutely.
A good hair transplant will look completely natural and grow as hair normally does. It will also last a lifetime.
But it’s by no means a miracle cure. It’s likely you’ll need another hair transplant in future if you hair loss continues beyond the areas transplanted into.
At present, it’s the best option available to actually regain your hair though. The current best hair loss treatments are effective at maintaining hair but not so much at actually regrowing it.
So, yes, hair transplants do work. And if you want to regain a significant amount of lost hair, it’s the best treatment currently available.