Hair loss is a fact of life for more than half of all men, and the older men and women become, the more likely they are to experience some degree of thinning or balding. Given that so many people have to deal with this condition, it’s clear why hair transplant surgery is more popular than ever.
We’ve made big strides in the hair restoration industry in recent years. Surgeons are better, prices are lower, and clients around the world are highly satisfied with their results.
Whether you’ve only just begun to consider transplant as an option, or you’ve had your mind set on the surgery for years, there is still probably some information you need to know.
In this article, we’re giving you an in-depth breakdown of the whole hair transplant process, from research to consultation, surgery to recovery, and everything down the line. We’ll explore whether a hair transplant is really a permanent solution, and what other options you have to ensure you keep that hairline exactly how you want.
No more waiting – let’s get into this definitive hair transplant guide.
Are you a good candidate?
Before you jump in your car and get going to the clinic, you need to do a bit of groundwork to determine if you are a good candidate for a hair transplant in the first place.
First off, try to figure out the type of hair loss you are experiencing.
Hair transplants are most effective for individuals suffering from the condition known as androgenetic alopecia, which is linked to genetic heritage. This is the classic “pattern balding” common in more than half the adult male population and signified by an M-shaped hairline and loss of hair in the back of the vertex.
Sometimes, other medical conditions are the cause of hair loss, and genetics play less of a role. Alopecia areata is one autoimmune disorder that can lead to rapid, unpredictable hair loss, and transplants are deemed ineffective for these patients.
Other thyroid and hormonal problems can be why hair loss happens rapidly, and lifestyle factors like health and stress also play a role.
It’s very important that before you seek medical treatment, you do everything in your control to maximize your personal wellness and give your hair the best chance to grow naturally.
For women, it’s rare to see the same type of receding hairline and patchiness, but the chances of thinning are higher. With that said, hair transplants are not the most popular solution for women, who instead opt for procedures like forehead reduction through hairline lowering.
There is also the rare chance that hair loss results from injury or unknown conditions that need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
But if androgenetic alopecia is identified as your root cause of hair loss and you’ve done everything to improve your lifestyle, it may be time to look at treatment.
Some Proven Alternatives
It’s tempting to seek a surgical solution when balding first starts, but the truth is that a hair transplant should not be the first course of action for hair restoration.
We mentioned some natural options above, but there are other heavy-duty medications that have worked well for men, typically in the early stages of hair loss.
The first is called Finasteride, a once-a-day pill that aims to reduce the action of DHT on hair cycles and reduce the rate of hair loss, sometimes with additional regrowth.
The other is Minoxidil, which is a topical solution meant to stimulate blood flow on the scalp and stimulate follicle growth.
While there are some minor side effects to these medications, they are typically considered safe and effective, especially when taken in immediate response to initial signs of hair loss.
If you do make the decision to seek consultation for a hair transplant, make sure you discuss all the other alternatives before committing to surgery.
The Perfect Consultation
Your initial consultation with a hair restoration expert is key to a satisfactory surgical outcome. There’s a reason why people are willing to fly halfway around the world for the best treatment!
When researching for clinics and surgeons, regularly ask these key questions:
- Is the surgeon an MD/board certified?
- Has the doctor published original research in the field of hair restoration science?
- Does the doctor specialize in a particular type of hair transplant surgery?
- Is the doctor a plastic surgeon, dermatologist, or another type of specialist?
- Do you have sufficient evidence that the doctor has performed these procedures with consistent success over time (reviews, testimonials, references)?
- Does the doctor have full time medical technicians or does he use sub-contractors?
You’d be shocked to see how many surgeons don’t live up to these criteria, and you should not be hesitant to weed them out of your selection process.
Hair transplant surgery is a serious and costly procedure, so it is always better to do a thorough vetting process upfront to avoid major consequences later on.
Once you have selected a clinic to work with and you feel confident about your doctor’s capabilities, you will sit down for a face-to-face meeting.
The best doctors in the industry will take their time to ask you questions, examine the state of your hair loss, and use a measured approach to determine if a hair transplant is a right move. Be skeptical of doctors who take one quick glance at you and immediately suggest surgery. This is a red flag and a sign that the surgeon does not have your best interests in mind!
The initial consultation should be a back-and-forth conversation, and you should spend as much time asking questions as the doctor spends answering them.
If you do decide to move forward with the procedure, the doctor should map out your options and make a clear, honest estimation of what you can expect results-wise. Reputable and ethical physicians will not make grand claims about perfect outcomes. A good doctor will paint a picture of what their hair will look like in 5, 10, and 15 years’ time, providing their reasoning for the predictions.
Only if you are satisfied with your consultation, should you move forward in the process.
Two Types of Transplants
Given you feel comfortable and confident in your clinic of choice, you will usually be given two main options for the hair transplant procedure itself.
The first is known as Follicular Unit Transplant, or FUT.
This is the most familiar and common type of hair transplant, and will probably be the one suggested to you by the majority of surgeons.
In this process, a horizontal strip of hair is harvested from the donor area, typically at the back of the head toward the neck.
The follicle units from the donor area are then carefully grafted with tiny incisions into the recipient area targeted by the client and surgeon.
Recipient areas are usually at the front of the scalp along the hairline, filling in the gaps in the M-shaped pattern that defines most hair loss in men.
The advantages of FUT are many:
- The horizontal strip from the donor area is the best hair for grafting.
- Most surgeons are highly proficient in the process.
- Shaving your head is not required.
- Some doctors claim it is a faster procedure than FUE.
- More cost-effective than other surgeries.
This is why FUT is considered standard for most hair restoration clinics around the world, but if you want to avoid the linear scarring at the back of the head, there is another option.
The other major method rising in popularity is Follicular Unit Excision or FUE.
In this approach, the surgeon harvests donor hair from a broader range of surface area at the back of the head, as opposed to the strip-harvest method of FUT.
The result is a drastic decrease in the level of scarring experienced, although some clinics claim that the overall quality of the harvested hair does not match that of the strip method.
Be aware that fewer surgeons in the industry have mastered FUE, so you should be sure they are qualified and experienced in this area before moving forward.
Also, keep in mind that FUE is a slightly more costly procedure than FUT, but for thousands of people each year, the added benefits are worth the price.
Whether you choose FUT or FUE, the patient experience is largely the same.
Your doctor should explain the do’s and don’ts leading up to the day of the procedure.
Common recommendations include limiting salty and sugary foods, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and filling up on healthy foods that boost immunity and the ability to recover.
Doctors may also suggest you stay away from medications that could interfere in the healing process, such as anti-inflammatory or over-the-counter pain relievers.
Essentially, you want to be in a healthy mind frame and in good physical condition before entering surgery, because it tends to be a lengthy process and can be taxing on the body.
Once all your preparations are complete and you’ve cleared your schedule for post-op recovery, you’ll be ready for the big day.
Upon entering the operating room, the doctor will place some markings around your donor and recipient areas, and familiarize the staff with the surgical plan.
There may be up to three or four people operating on you at a given time, as this will allow them to graft as many as 3000 follicles in a single session.
After you receive a local anesthetic to numb the pain, the surgeon will begin making incisions or extractions, based on the type of procedure you selected.
Most patients do not report major discomfort during the surgery itself. The most common reaction is a feeling of “pulling” on the donor area and a slight prickling feeling on the recipient area. If the pain becomes too harsh, surgeons can always administer more local anesthetic.
The typical procedure takes roughly 4 to 7 hours total, and patients are able to listen to music, watch TV, or just relax and let the time pass.
Surgeons will take breaks every couple of hours or so to let the patient walk and stretch their legs so they can remain comfortable throughout.
When the surgical procedure is complete, the patient will be debriefed by the doctors and given some pointers on how to recover.
We suggest to our patients to arrange transportation ahead of time so that they can fully regain their composure and feel at ease following the surgery.
Although we do not administer heavier sedatives to our patients, some of them opt to take anti-anxiety medication, meaning they need to be driven home.
As the surgery concludes, the patient may have some minor throbbing or feeling of pressure in the affected areas. Some pain relief medication is acceptable to use at this stage.
The hard part is over, now it’s time to relax!
Recovery Done Right
As we stated earlier, you should have everything you need for recovery ready to go at home before you enter the clinic on the day of the surgery.
That means stocking up on food, medications, shampoos, and any other supplies the doctor recommends to you (headwear, bandages, etc).
In addition, you will have a set of strict rules and looser guidelines directly from the clinic. These points need to be followed closely, even if they seem too restrictive.
Your primary goal for the first week of recovery is to allow the body to heal.
First things first – no touching, scratching, or poking at the areas, both donor and recipient.
It is crucial that you stay hands-off as long as possible since the newly grafted hair is extremely delicate at this time. We want the skin around the grafts to heal on their own, and become strong new follicles for the future. One wrong scratch or itch and you can lose valuable strands.
You should try to keep your head in an elevated position for this first week of post-op care as well, and if possible, restrict movement in bed to avoid loosening grafts.
No heavy lifting or exercise is permitted in this phase either. Some light sweating is okay, but you’ll want to carefully wash your hair immediately afterward to prevent bacteria buildup.
The general rule here is to keep stress levels low, minimize unnecessary movement, and feed the body with the care and quality food it needs to recover in full
While many workaholics will want to be on their email and phones nonstop, we highly recommend that they take at least a few days off work to focus on aftercare.
Within another week or so (14 days total), you can begin to return to work and daily activities. Your hair may not look perfect yet, but the major incisions should be healed and normal rates of hair growth should be seen in the months to come.
It’s rare that patients experience any excessive discomfort or have emergency situations during the recovery phase, but it’s critical that they contact the clinic if this does occur.
Unusual levels of bruising, bleeding or oozing should be reported to your team of doctors immediately.
The same goes for any situation in which hair grafts are lost as a result of a mishap or accident. The best clinics will make time for the patient to come in for a quick examination.
Assuming that everything does go to plan in the recovery stage, and the patient manages to keep the large majority of the new hair in place, a normal followup meeting will be required. This is a short visit at the clinic in which the patient and surgeon discuss the overall effectiveness of the procedure, and go over any concerns.
The client is encouraged to voice feedback, questions, and concerns in this meeting, as it gives the doctor a better understanding of how to approach future surgeries.
If everything appears to be normal, the surgeon will provide the client with a revised set of guidelines that will help them navigate the next few months.
Another followup meeting may be scheduled anywhere between 10 – 14 months later to ensure that the transplant is holding up, and if any other changes to the care regimen is needed.
It’s no wonder why hair transplants like FUE and FUT are more popular than ever. They are widely available, fairly affordable, and deliver real results that last for years.
If you are on the fence about a hair transplant, it’s worth scheduling a consultation to learn more about how you can specifically benefit from the procedure.
In the meantime, we encourage you to read our renowned Balding Blog, which covers all the big industry trends and keeps you informed on key hair restoration topics.