With modern hair transplant techniques, side effects and complications are minimal. The likelihood of infection is basically out of the question, and the recovery process is also more manageable than ever before.
However, scarring is the one downside that many potential patients grapple with when considering hair restoration surgery, and it’s a topic that comes up at some point in every consultation.
What procedures lead to hair transplant scarring, how much of a problem does it pose, and what can be done to keep these unattractive marks to a minimum?
Let’s talk about all the variables at play when looking at hair transplant scars and offer some tips to clients who are thinking about jumping into the process.
What Causes Hair Transplant Scars?
The human body is quite resilient, regulating countless systems in equilibrium and patching itself up from damage and attacks. Scars are one of the many ways the body heals from severe trauma to tissue of the skin.
While scarring might not be considered attractive, it’s a perfectly normal function of the body and a sign that everything is working well. You want your skin to form scars, even if you don’t like how they look.
Depending on the type of hair transplant you receive, scarring will take different forms and have unique patterns. Here are some common types of procedures that you might consider and the scars that may come with them.
Most of the hair transplants performed nowadays are Follicular Unit Transplant (FUT) procedures, also known as “strip harvesting” or “strip surgery.”
These shorthand names give you an idea of how FUT works. The procedure begins with a wide, horizontal incision on the back of the patient’s scalp, known as the donor area.
This incision is done to remove a strip of hair-bearing skin from the region, which technicians will then examine, dissect, and process into individual follicle units to be implanted on the recipient region.
While the incisions on the donor area can range in size, they are generally relatively wide and long, especially if the surgeon requires a lot of hair for transplantation to the scalp. Once the desired amount of tissue is removed, the surgeon will then close up the wound on the back of the head with stitches and proceed to the grafting process.
As you might imagine, this leads to a linear scar on the back of the patient’s head, which is almost unavoidable, even when performed by the world’s best hair restoration surgeons.
Later, we’ll discuss the different types of scars that can result from strip harvesting, but for now, remember that it is almost impossible to perform FUT without some degree of scarring in the donor region.
The quick rise in popularity of Follicular Unit Excision (FUE) is largely due to the issue of scarring that occurs from FUT procedures.
FUE is a method in which surgeons use a circular scalpel or “punch tool” to remove individual follicle units from the donor area, rather than making a long and wide horizontal incision on the back of the head.
The result is an extraction process that drastically minimizes the amount and severity of scarring on the donor area and has a few key advantages for patients.
Firstly, the client can wear their hair shaved short in the back, whereas they might be hesitant to do so with a linear scar from FUT. Next, the recovery process is also considered slightly more comfortable after an FUE procedure since it’s generally less invasive to the skin.
Finally, while some small scars result from FUE, they are typically much smaller and spread throughout a broader donor region. The hair that ends up on the recipient area is, for the most part, just as reliable and healthy, with minimal transection.
Other Cosmetic Hair Procedures
Nowadays, the mechanisms and techniques used for hair transplants are being applied to other areas of the body and face, with increasing popularity and success.
Eyebrow transplant is an example of a surgery requiring minimal hair-bearing tissue from the donor region, though scarring is still expected if strip-method is used.
Facial hair transplant is also being practiced more widely, and once again, some scarring can occur based on the method applied.
Keep in mind that scarring is simply a part of hair transplants, whether they’re targeting the scalp, face, or anywhere else. While scarring can be minimized or covered up, this is often just a part of the experience and a trade-off you need to consider.
Types of Scarring from Hair Transplants
We have an idea of why scars happen due to hair transplants, but what types of scars can you expect from certain procedures, and what factors determine the size and shape of these scars? Let’s find out.
When it comes to FUT, donor area scars tend to be long, straight, and horizontal, extending from one side of the head to the other.
Depending on how much skin was removed during the harvesting process, scars can have different properties and characteristics. For instance, a small scar from an eyebrow transplant may be smooth and appear to be the same color as the patient’s skin.
However, a scar from a FUT mega session will be longer, more noticeable, and might be slightly off-colored as the result of the large wound that must heal from the procedure.
It should be mentioned that the severity of scarring is not only due to the type of procedure but also the ability and experience of the surgeon running the show. A veteran FUT expert will leave a better-looking scar than a haphazard FUE procedure any day.
With this in mind, remember to prioritize choosing a quality surgeon instead of chasing the lowest prices, the latest marketing campaigns, or the most convenient procedures.
When hair is transplanted to the recipient region on the scalp, some minor scarring can also occur due to tiny incisions made by the surgeon for the implantation of new follicle units.
These scars are often far less noticeable or severe than those on the donor area, simply due to the presence of new and healthy hair taking root and covering up the scalp with greater density.
Many follicle units contain several hair strands, camouflaging the skin beneath, and longer hairstyles will make any scarring undetectable.
One potential problem can arise if hair once again begins to thin after time passes or if follicles are damaged during the implantation process and cannot take root.
Scars on the hairline or vertex may become visible, and patients may want treatment to minimize or remove these marks.
Dealing with Hair Transplant Scars
It’s hard to avoid scarring altogether when undergoing a hair transplant, but there are ways to help these scars look and feel better as time goes on. Here are some treatments that patients may want to consider once their procedures are complete.
Camouflaging and Treatments
As we mentioned, the easiest way to cover scars on the donor area is to simply wear longer hairstyles and cover them up as you go about your day.
While this might be an issue for people who prefer a shaved head or a short-in-the-back style, it can be a satisfactory solution for most folks who are happy to wear their hair long once again.
There are also methods to improve the appearance of scars over time. Although scars might never go away completely, they can be minimized in a few effective ways.
Many over-the-counter products claim to help heal scars and cause them to fade with continued application. Cosmetic treatments like microchanneling, dermabrasion, laser resurfacing, and radiotherapy can accelerate the process and achieve better results.
Finally, many hair transplant patients opt for a procedure called scalp micropigmentation after they are completely healed. This method involves hundreds of tiny “tattoos” placed on the area of scarring to give it a more dense and natural appearance of shaved hair.
SMP is best for men or women who wear their hair short in the back, though it can also be used to fill in gaps across the entire head if the patient prefers the close-shaved look all around.
Choose a Great Surgeon
It’s worth reiterating that a top-tier surgeon can dramatically impact the scarring that a patient will experience after a hair transplant.
A proper hair restoration specialist will use the best methods and technologies to minimize scarring and administer proper aftercare and healing treatments to ensure the scars do not worsen after the fact.
Of course, patients also have a responsibility to look after their scars during the recovery stage, but a good surgeon will guide them during this time with the right instructions and supplies.
The Results You Want with Minimal Scarring
For most hair transplant patients, scars from FUT strip surgery are a reasonable tradeoff they’re happy to make to gain their healthy scalp hair back once again.
However, scarring can still be an issue for some patients, making FUE a better overall option. No matter what procedure you choose, a great surgeon will help minimize scarring and make the most of every graft for lasting, satisfying results.
Schedule your consultation with Jae Pak, MD to find out more information and get started on the process.