A hair transplant is a procedure in which a dermatological surgeon moves hair to a bald area of the head. The surgeon usually moves hair from the back or side of the head to the front or top of the head. Hair transplants typically occur in a medical office under local anesthesia.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, genetics accounts for the majority of alopecia (baldness) cases. The remaining cases are due to a variety of factors, including diet, stress, illness, and medications.
There are two types of transplant procedures: slit grafts and micro-grafts. Slit grafts contain 4 to 10 hairs per graft. Micro-grafts contain one or two hairs per graft, depending on the amount of coverage needed.
Receiving a hair transplant can improve your appearance and self-confidence. Good candidates for a hair transplant include:
- men with male-pattern baldness
- women with thinning hair
- anyone who has lost some hair from a burn or scalp injury
Hair replacement isn’t a good option for:
- women with a wide-spread pattern of hair loss throughout the scalp
- people who don’t have enough “donor” hair sites from which to remove hair for transplant
- people who form keloid scars (thick, fibrous scars) after injury or surgery
- people whose hair loss is due to medication like chemotherapy
After thoroughly cleaning your scalp, a surgeon will use a small needle to numb an area of your head with local anesthesia. Next, they’ll use a scalpel to remove a round section of your scalp covered with hair. Then they’ll sew the scalp closed.
The surgeon will separate the removed portion of scalp into small sections using a magnifying lens and sharp surgical knife. When implanted, these sections will help achieve natural-looking hair growth.
The surgeon will make tiny holes with a blade or needle in the area of your scalp receiving the hair transplant. They’ll gently place hairs in these holes. During one treatment session, a surgeon may transplant hundreds or even thousands of hairs.
After the graft, gauze or bandages will cover your scalp for a few days. A hair transplant session can take four hours or more.
Your stitches will be removed about 10 days after surgery. You may require up to three or four sessions to achieve the full head of hair you desire. Sessions occur several months apart to allow each transplant to fully heal.
Your scalp may be sore and you may need to take medications following hair transplant surgery, such as:
- pain medication
- antibiotics to reduce your risk of infection
- anti-inflammatory medications to keep swelling down
Most people can return to work several days after surgery.
It’s normal for the transplanted hair to fall out two to three weeks after the procedure. This makes way for new hair growth. Most people will see about 60 percent new hair growth six to nine months after surgery.
Many doctors prescribe minoxidil (Rogaine) or propecia (a hair growth medication) to improve hair regrowth. These medications also help slow or stop future hair loss.
Side effects from a hair transplant are usually minor and clear up within a few weeks. They can include:
- swelling of the scalp
- bruising around the eyes
- a crust that forms on the areas of the scalp where hair was removed or implanted
- numbness or lack of sensation on the treated areas of the scalp
- inflammation or infection of the hair follicles (folliculitis)
- sudden but typically temporary loss of the transplanted hair (called shock loss)
- unnatural-looking tufts of hair
Typically, people who have had a hair transplant will continue to grow hair in the transplanted areas of the scalp. The new hair may appear more or less dense depending on:
- scalp laxity (how loose your scalp skin is)
- density of follicles in the transplanted zone
- hair caliber or quality
- hair curl
If you don’t take medication (propecia or minoxidil) or undergo a low level of laser therapy, you may continue to experience hair loss in non-treated areas of your scalp.
It’s important to discuss the expected outcome with your surgeon and develop realistic expectations.