How Do Hair Transplants Work?
Hair transplants are effective and long term solutions for those who deal with hair loss. These medical procedures should always be performed by experienced doctors who are trained to restore normal hair growth by inserting new follicles into scalp areas that have been affected by alopecia. (Although the word alopecia has long been associated with a hair disease, is simply means the loss of hair.)
Hair transplants can last a lifetime. Although thin hair or hair loss are both normal aging processes, some younger patients have hair transplant procedures done because of certain scalp traumas or medical conditions.
What Is Hair Transplant?
Surgical hair transplantation is a popular and, nowadays, almost painless surgical technique during which the doctor removes existing hair follicles from a healthy part of the patient’s scalp (referred to as donor hair) and then inserts those follicles into those areas that have been affected by alopecia.
The area where the donor hairs are taken from is called the donor site, while the surface in which the follicles are inserted is called the recipient site. This procedure is mostly used to treat male pattern baldness, but has been used for female pattern hair loss as well.
Usually, this operation is done by a surgeon specializing in surgical hair restoration. Most of the time, grafts that contain multiple hair follicles are extracted from the back of the head, where normally, individual hairs tend to be thicker. The majority of patients deal with baldness in the front area of the head.
How Does Hair Transplant Work?
Before the procedure, you will have an initial appointment with your surgeon and discuss everything that needs clarification. Also, you will be locally sedated so you won’t feel any pain. A small needle is used to anesthetize and numb your scalp. However, all surgeons will also thoroughly clean the area before beginning the operation, as is typical with most surgeries.
Based on the type of hair transplant that you and your doctor opt for, the procedure is slightly different. One requires a scalpel to remove a narrow strip of skin. The other relies on thousands of small punch incisions.
One session of hair restoration surgery might last around 6 hours or, sometimes, even longer. After 10 days post-surgery for FUT hair transplant patients, the doctor will remove your staples. Many patients will need to have more than one procedure to obtain their desired results. These procedures are scheduled months to years apart, depending on the amount of hair loss the individual is experience and the amount of hair density the patient is trying to achieve. This pause is necessary for the scalp to fully heal.
Note that even though it’s called hair restoration surgery, hair transplants work by moving healthy hair follicles to areas where hair follicles are no longer functioning, thus restoring the presence of healthy hair follicles versus restoring function to the nonfunctional hair follicles.
Main Types of Hair Transplant
There are two main types of hair transplants:
- FUT surgery or FUSS which stands for follicular unit transplant or follicular unit strip surgery;
- FUE procedure which stands for follicular unit excision.
Let’s discuss them in more detail.
FUT/Follicular Unit Transplantation
During this procedure, the doctor uses a scalpel to cut a small part of your scalp skin. Usually, surgeons make this incision around the back of your head. The length of the incision is approximately 6 inches. Before going on to the next step of the process, the doctor stitches or staples and closes the incision.
Then, the surgeon will remove and separate small sections from the removed strip using a sharp surgical knife and a microscope/magnifying lens. This way, when inserted into the recipient site, these tiny parts of follicles will help you achieve a natural look, once the hair grows back.
FUE/Follicular Unit Extraction
During this type of hair transplant, the surgeon cuts the hair follicles out directly from the back part of the patient’s head by doing thousands of very small punch incisions that are the size of dots.
The doctor uses either a needle or a tiny blade to create holes all over the recipient site. Then, he or she fills those areas with the hairs taken from the donor site. In one single session, an expert could transplant hundreds, if not thousands, of different hairs.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Both FUT and FUE?
Nowadays, most clinics such as NHI Medical are amazingly equipped, using top-notch technology. So, both hair transplants procedure types are safe and generally painless during the procedure. Some soreness is normal right after the surgery, but that will pass in just a couple of days. The recovery time is quick after hair transplantation. You can return to work after only 2 to 5 days post-operation, with little visible signs that a procedure was performed.
In a couple of weeks after surgery, all the newly-transplanted hair will fall out just to make room for new growth, but you must have a little patience because this entire process will take a 9-12 months to show the full results of your procedure.
- Has a better growth rate compared to the one of FUE
- The stereo-microscopic dissection is so precise that the follicle damage is minimal
- Patients don’t have to shave their heads before the surgery
- Usually, a FUT procedure is less expensive than FUE surgery.
- After the operation, patients will be left with a linear scar, but it generally won’t be visible because it will fade away after a while and it will be hidden within the hairline
- If you want to cut your hair very short, the scar will become visible, so you should avoid using the #1 guard of your razor – this generally isn’t a problem because once you enjoy hair regrowth, you won’t want to have very short hair ever again.
- In some cases, FUT can be a little more painful right after the surgery than FUE – both procedures are safe, and they aren’t that painful, but pain is a highly subjective concept, each patient experiences it in a different way.
- With the FUE hair transplant, patients will avoid linear scars.
- FUE generally has lower postoperative pain than FUT.
- You can wear your hair any way you want, even cut it very short because there won’t be a linear scar showing.
- In some cases, with FUE, the donor site heals a bit quicker than with the FUT procedure.
- There will be numerous tiny dot scars at the back of your scalp but once your hair grows back, no one, not even you, will typically notice them.
- FUE comes with more transection compared to FUT.
- Because of the transection, the growth rate might be a little slower.
- You will need to shave your head or at least the areas where the doctor will work on before the surgery.
Hair Transplants: FUE vs. FUT
Both types of surgeries are effective for restoring the appearance of a normal hairline and a full head of hair. However, they can have slightly different outcomes, in some cases.
Some say that FUE requires a more experienced and skilled surgeon, and it also takes longer compared to FUT. Most of the time, doctors take hairs from either the sides or the back of the scalp. These areas are considered donor areas.
When the situation requires it, a hair transplant surgeon could even remove hairs from other body parts such as the back, chin, or chest. After a successful procedure, you will enjoy having much thicker-looking hair, so most don’t mind where the donor hair actually comes from.
Your surgeon will certainly offer some advice regarding the things you should do or avoid after the operation. If you follow those instructions as well as avoid intense workouts for a couple of weeks, you shouldn’t generally encounter any problems.
What Happens After the Procedure?
At first, your scalp could be sore, which is why your doctor could prescribe you some medication that you should take after the hair transplant surgery:
- At minimum, anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce the swelling
- Pain medication for pain relief
- Antibiotics to help prevent the risk of infection
Most patients are able to start working again after several days, post-procedure. In the first two or three weeks, the transplanted hairs will fall out, but this is totally normal. It’s the body’s way of making room for new hair growth. You will see a head full of “new” hair after at least eight months after the surgery but typically no longer than one year.
The way your new hairs will look varies from one person to the other, based on each patient’s scalp laxity, follicle density, hair quality, hair curl, and hair caliber. It is always important to clarify all these details with your surgeon before the operation to set realistic expectations.
What Can Cause Pattern Baldness?
There are several different scenarios that can lead to pattern baldness or premature alopecia.
The first reason, that is also the most common one, is genetics. If your family members have dealt with the same problem, it is likely you will also experience hair loss.
The hair strands on a person’s head have growth cycles. Once the hair follicles shrink, these cycles get weaker. This further leads to thinner hair and, as soon the cycle ends, the follicle dies and there won’t be any new hair growing in that affected area.
Besides genetics, another reason that explains alopecia is given by a number of health conditions; those kinds of issues also translate into symptoms such as scalp redness, rashes, and hair breakage.
Stress could also be another factor that causes baldness or hair loss.
Finally, hormonal imbalance and inappropriate hair treatments paired with aging and poor nutrition are extra possible reasons as well.
Reasons don’t have to be exclusive either–you could have a combination of these reasons and even other reasons for hair loss.
How Do Hair Transplants Work? The Bottom Line
The first thing you must do is try to prevent hair loss is by being gentle with your hair, combing it slowly, avoiding harsh treatments, protecting the hair from too much direct sunlight, and trying to keep your hair and scalp as healthy as possible. Then, if all these precautionary measures still don’t work, you may need to make an appointment for a hair transplant consult.
Nowadays, hair transplants are safe and effective. All you have to do is find the right doctor and follow all the guidelines the expert provides.
P.S. All the aforementioned activities, such as combing your hair right and avoiding too many styling products, are recommended post-surgery as well to support healthy hair and a healthy scalp. This way, you can enjoy your operation outcome as long as possible!