What is Scalp MicroPigmentation: A Complete Guide
Among the many recent innovations in hair restoration, Scalp MicroPigmentation (SMP) has been met with a lot of enthusiasm from doctors and patients alike.
SMP can be an effective and affordable solution for many different hair loss scenarios and is a far less serious procedure than traditional transplants.
In this complete guide to SMP, we’ll explain precisely what the procedure entails, who will most benefit from it, and what clients can expect throughout the entire process.
If you’ve only heard about SMP but still want to know all the facts, you’re in the right place.
Is SMP right for you?
While SMP is a popular and effective procedure, it is definitely for more of a niche crowd.
We’ll get into the details later on, but in short, SMP can be summarized as a subtle cosmetic pigmentation that replicates the look of very short cropped hair on the scalp.
This superficial covering can be targeted to anywhere on the scalp, and while similar to tattooing, each tiny dot of pigmentation does not go as deep into the skin as tattoos do.
With that working definition, we can determine who might benefit most from SMP.
First of all, men who rock the very short buzz-cut look tend to be the main demographic that seeks out this procedure. Think tough-guy actors like Vin Diesel, Jason Statham or Jamie Foxx.
While they don’t need long locks to look great, their male pattern baldness holds them back from that total coverage on the scalp. SMP is the perfect remedy for that.
SMP tends to be an aesthetic fix for conditions such as androgenetic alopecia, the most common cause of male balding, but it can also be a saving grace for folks suffering from more complex conditions like alopecia areata or other autoimmune issues.
When people with these disorders experience an attack or flare-up, patches of hair can fall out at random, and in a very short timeframe. These diseases are not well understood, but SMP can help these individuals fight back by adding coverage over problem areas.
Can women enjoy the benefits of SMP? It’s rare that they will seek this treatment for the same reasons as men, since most women do not go with the sleek shaved-head look.
Instead, women can use SMP to cover some of the areas of the scalp where thinning is taking place, particularly around the middle parting of the hair.
Since thinning is more of a common issue for women than men, this is how they tend to take advantage of procedures like SMP. With that said, it’s far more common for men, particularly in the 35-55 age group to seek SMP treatment.
The final category of candidates for SMP is the group of men who have scarring from previous restoration treatments such as Follicular Unit Transplant.
Since this method requires a strip of healthy hair to be harvested from the back of the head and graft individual follicles to the front recipient area, scarring is somewhat common.
Although the scars can be hidden by longer hairstyles, some men want to maintain the close-shaved look along the back of the neck, and SMP allows them to do so.
What to Look For in a Doctor
If you think SMP is right for you, definitely do your homework on clinics and surgeons before putting down cash and getting it done.
Since SMP is still a relatively new method, there are many practitioners out there who offer shoddy treatment due to inexperience and lack of training.
Credibility is key when looking for an SMP provider. Avoid amateur tattooers who claim they can give you an SMP treatment like the professionals. They are not to be trusted!
Keep the following criteria in mind when looking for a doctor to perform SMP:
- A proven track record of clientele and plenty of testimonials from actual people. Check out before and after photos to make sure they are the real deal.
- Be skeptical when doctors claim that they have only just begun their SMP practices, since some might not be licensed physicians at all.
- Vet the location from top to bottom and make sure it goes above and beyond health and sterility regulations. Pop-up shops and traveling “artists” should be avoided.
- Don’t get work done from a doctor who only does SMP as a “package deal” with other restoration procedures. SMP should stand alone as its own thing.
Remember, SMP is more than just a tattoo. It is a medical procedure that needs to be handled with extreme care and caution.
When you do sit down to consult with a doctor face to face, make sure you ask them about any of the key questions we highlighted above.
Furthermore, a good SMP doctor should be very open and honest when laying out expectations about the procedure. They will not make any crazy promises or guarantees. Instead, they will clearly paint a picture of what kinds of results they can offer, and map out how your procedure will work with specific numbers and dimensions.
Great SMP providers are able to determine where the optimal hairline is, so the SMP looks as natural as possible and works to replicate the organic look that we desire.
Less-qualified technicians may overdo the amount of pigmentation on the scalp, making the new coverage appear to be a different color from the original hair. Alternatively, mistakes can be made with the shape and breadth of the pigmentation, causing a very unnatural look that can be difficult to reverse.
Take your time when seeking out an SMP specialist, and do as much research on the surgeons as possible. It is worth putting in the groundwork to get the best service available.
During the consultation, also be sure to gather plenty of information on the procedure itself, since each surgeon may take a slightly different approach or use unique instruments.
You will want to walk out of the meeting knowing exactly how the surgery will work, how much coverage you’ll receive, how long you’ll spend at the clinic on the day of the procedure, and what the recovery time will be like for your particular case.
Also, have a clear price structure to pay for your surgery, so you can plan accordingly and not put yourself in any unnecessary hot water. Most clients can expect to pay anywhere between $1,500 to $4,000 for SMP treatment, depending on the experience level of the surgeon and the extent of the coverage required.
Keep in mind that because this is strictly a cosmetic procedure, it is unlikely to be covered by most insurance, although payment plans can sometimes be arranged with the clinic.
Typical Steps of an SMP Procedure
If you are feeling 100% confident in your clinic of choice and are ready to pull the trigger on SMP, you’ve already done most of the work!
Now that you’ve made the commitment, you should know some more technical details and what to expect on the day(s) of the surgery.
Upon entering the operating room, the surgeon will brief you once more on the methods used for the surgery. There may be an assistant or two in the room as well.
When everyone is ready for action, the surgeon will administer a mild local anesthetic to the target area, causing some numbness to minimize discomfort.
The instrument used in this procedure is similar in function to a tattoo gun, but rather different in form. It is far more precise, quiet, and technical.
Doctors will select a pigmentation that matches your hair color, and will replicate the texture of very short-cropped hair for maximum depth and definition.
From there, the surgeon will administer tiny “dots” of pigmentation to the subdermal layer of the scalp, going one at a time.
Despite what you may believe, not every dot is the same shape and size. Doctors generally utilize the classic artistic style of pointillism to make your hair look as natural as possible from every angle.
Few clients complain about discomfort during SMP. With mild anesthetics in effect, you will likely feel nothing but a tiny bit of pressure across the head as the surgeon goes about his or her work.
You will be in a position where you can comfortably read, watch TV or listen to music, helping time fly by and ensuring you stay calm throughout the process.
Since this is a delicate process, you’ll have to be extremely still from beginning to end, so it’s perfectly fine to request a break or two if you need to get up and move around.
Surgeons also occasionally need to take a few minutes now and then to step away from the operating room to help them stay focused.
The typical SMP session should only take a few hours, and you should be totally fine to drive home that day, granted you haven’t taken any extra sedative medications.
This will be the drill for however many SMP sessions you have scheduled, but in the meantime, your sole focus will be to chill out and recover the right way!
SMP Recovery and Aftercare
If you’ve ever undergone surgery before, you’ll know the strict set of rules given to you by the doctor for optimal post-op care.
SMP may not be the most serious or invasive operation in the world, but you need to stick to the recovery game plan nevertheless, since ignoring them could be very problematic in the success of your surgery.
Since you will likely have three or four separate treatment sessions, it’s important to avoid all prohibited activity in those time frames.
With that in mind, here are a few of the core principles of SMP recovery in between treatments:
- No swimming, steam rooms or saunas.
- No super-hot showers. Minimize the amount of time cleaning the scalp.
- No sun exposure for the first four days after a treatment.
- Avoid tight-fitting hats and headwraps following a session.
- Avoid heavy lifting and only do lightweight exercise.
- Try to keep the head in an upright position and limit scratching itches.
As you go in for more sessions, you should start to become more comfortable with the process and should have no problem adhering to the guidelines. From that point on, it’s just rinse and repeat, until your final session.
Aftercare following the final session is not much different. Be sure to keep out of the sun, saunas, and steam rooms for about a month, and wait at least a week before you lift heavy weights in the gym or on the job.
Moisturizing is your friend in the final recovery phase, since dry skin on the scalp can accelerate the rate at which the pigmentation fades.
Your doctor may have specific recommendations for products or tactics that will help you make the most out of your treatment, but be sure to ask any care questions at the final debrief.
A few months after your procedure is finalized, you will return to the clinic for a followup meeting to make sure that everything has gone according to plan. Take this opportunity to voice any additional concerns or questions about your coverage, and stick to further instruction from the doctor.
You will want to keep a close eye out for anything unusual about your pigmentation in the months and years to come.
If you choose a quality clinic and trusted surgeon, you should have no trouble, but there is always the chance of allergic reaction or injury that may need to be addressed. Some folks have an adverse reaction to the micro-trauma of the tattoo process, or their bodies reject the ink in their skin for whatever reason.
It’s important to contact your clinic immediately if you feel any ongoing inflammation or discomfort during the recovery process, since this may indicate some slight poisoning or allergic reaction.
If this happens, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor to change course. You do not want to continue treatment if it means putting your overall health in danger.
But, if everything works out (which it usually does!), you should have a clean and easy recovery period and get back to normal life without delay.
Long Term Strategies
As far as hair restoration treatment goes, SMP has a great track record.
According to a 2014 study, 42 out of 43 clients surveyed after SMP were highly satisfied with the results of the procedure, after struggling with hair loss and scars. That is nearly a 98% satisfaction rate, which is impressive for any elective treatment.
Still, clients should recognize that fading to the pigmentation may occur between 3 and 7 years following the procedure, and surgeons should lay out a game plan to address this upfront. It is possible to “touch up” the coverage with additional procedures, and this is actually an expected part of the long-term care regimen for SMP.
Speaking of care, clients should take extra caution when exposing micropigmentation to ultraviolet rays, so excessive suntanning may need to be taken off the agenda. If you do decide to show off your sleek scalp at the beach or pool, just be sure that it is completely protected by SPF 30-50 sunscreen, and you avoid burns at all costs.
We should mention that SMP removal is always a possibility as well, and clients sometimes decide to make minor tweaks to their hairline using this approach.
Other patients have decided to remove their pigmentation and opt for a complete transplant in the style of FUE or FUT.
The removal process is not comfortable or cheap, but it is far more effective than traditional tattoo lasering since SMP markings are not placed as deeply in the skin.
With so much flexibility and customization available, it’s clear why SMP is such a popular and satisfactory procedure for many people today.
The hair restoration industry is definitely entering a golden age for Scalp MicroPigmentation treatments, and practitioners are becoming better at the process year over year.
Just remember not to give in to the temptation for cheap, quick SMP service. Like a tattoo, this is a permanent fixture and needs to be given the same level of consideration. As more SMP services begin to appear in Google search and on social media, keep in mind the criteria for service we laid out earlier and stick to the best in the business.
With all that said, you should be thrilled with the results of SMP if you connect with the right professionals and follow the rules of recovery to a point.
Enjoy that bold, full-coverage look and experience a whole new level of confidence!
If you are curious about advancements in SMP or general info about the hair restoration industry, be sure to follow our famous Balding Blog online and be a part of our email newsletter.