Hair transplants have come a long way from their early days in the 1970s. Nowadays the procedure is a lot more precise and can leave you with real growing hair that even your barber won’t be able to tell came from surgery. So if you are experiencing hair loss that products like Rogaine and Propecia are not helping, you may want to consider hair transplantation. Here are the things you need to know before deciding.
What Makes a Good Candidate
In order to be considered for hair transplant surgery, you will need to meet two criteria. The first is that you still have enough healthy hair to use for the transplant. So, sooner is better than later to have the surgery if you think you might want to. However, your doctor will probably want to wait until the loss has been occurring consistently over a few years before choosing surgery over less invasive techniques.
The second qualification is that the bald or thinned patches on your scalp are viable – that is, still capable of growing hair.
When it comes to male pattern baldness, the follicles don’t disappear or die but instead shrink. Your doctor will be able to assess your case and determine if healthier follicles can be transplanted to thinned areas and start growing hair again.
During your consultation, you may be asked for a blood test to help determine the precise cause of your hair loss. If your doc still needs more information, he or she might recommend a small scalp biopsy. It sounds scary but it is actually simple, painless, and can be done right in the office.
There are many different approaches to hair transplantation. If you are looking for a modest change in the fullness of your hair, you may have a mini-graft, micro-graft, punch graft, slit graft, or strip graft. Surgeries that produce more dramatic results are scalp-reduction, tissue expansion, and flaps.
In most cases you will only require a local anesthetic to numb your scalp, but if you’re really nervous, your doctor may also prescribe a mild sedative. The time it will take depends on the method being used, but you can expect to spend between 4-8 hours on the table.
Before surgery, speak to your surgeon about how he or she will remove the healthy hairs for transplantation. One method is to take each hair individually. This can provide a more natural finished look, but it takes much longer to complete. The other option is for narrow strips of skin to be removed that contain many hairs. This will leave a scar, but once it fades, it shouldn’t be noticeable unless you keep your hair cropped short.
Once the healthy hairs have been removed, both the hairs and your scalp will be prepped for transplant. When they are ready, your surgical team will go to work implanting the hairs in their target locations. Afterwards, your scalp will be wrapped in bandages and you will be sent home with instructions for follow up care.
Timing the Surgery
It’s important to understand that hair transplantation does not produce instant results. The average time it takes to see noticeable results from the surgery is 6-9 months, but it wouldn’t be unusual to wait a full year before you can really tell that your hair is thicker.
Many people are surprised to learn that the transplanted hair actually falls out after 2-8 weeks. This is totally normal, though it can be admittedly discouraging to find your hair thinner in month three than it was before the surgery. But by month six, if the surgery was successful, those follicles that received a transplant should begin growing new hair.
Because of the long recovery process, it can be tricky to time the surgery. There will be some awkward stages throughout the next year, but you should be quite presentable within six months or so. Recovering from hair transplant surgery shouldn’t interfere with your daily activities, but you might want to plan it with attention to times when you’ll be in pictures that are immortalized forever.
About Pain & Scarring
You won’t feel any pain during the procedure, only pressure. Afterwards, you will experience some soreness, but it is generally mild enough to be managed with OTC pain medication. If you have really bad pain, contact your doctor immediately.
Scarring as a result of your surgery will be minimal. The amount that you end up with depends on the type of transplant you have done. The individual hair method leaves virtually no scarring at all. Even if you do end up with a scar, your doctor will have been careful to take healthy hair from a discreet area.
It’ll take about three weeks for the redness of irritated skin to completely resolve and any shaved areas to fill back in. After that, it will still be some time before you get the thickness you wanted, but no one should be able to tell that you had surgery.
Reasonable Expectations About Results
In theory, the follicles that received a transplant will be able to grow healthy hair for many years to come. However, male pattern baldness is progressive, so you will probably still lose hair in other areas of your head. You will also need to continue taking hair loss medication throughout your life in order to help preserve the results of the surgery.
You may ultimately want to have another hair transplant surgery, but heed your doctor’s advice on when it is safe and wise to do so. The general rule of thumb is to wait a full 12 months between procedures. One reason is to make sure you know the final results of your previous surgery. Another is to allow your scalp to fully heal before subjecting it to more trauma.
And finally, while you can reasonably expect to have a thicker, fuller head of hair after your procedure, it will never reach the level that you had before hair loss began.
If you are concerned about hair loss, speak to your dermatologist. There are lots of things that can be done to slow the loss and make the most of the hair you have left. Surgery, should you choose to pursue it, is just one technique on a continuum of care
In the end, the most important choice you have when it comes to hair transplantation is your doctor. Choose one who takes the time to listen to you and to develop a comprehensive plan of attack. The right doctor for your hair transplant surgery is the one you can trust.