The term “hair plugs” refers to the type of hair transplants that were performed from the 1950s until the early 2000s. During these procedures, a surgeon would punch out relatively large areas of skin and hair from the back of your scalp and transplant them into balding areas.

Hair plugs are obsolete and are no longer performed. Currently, the two techniques called follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE) are the most common procedures.

Some people still mistakenly use the terms hair plugs or hair implants to refer to any type of hair transplant including modern FUT and FUE techniques.

Let’s examine the history of hair plugs and look at why they’re no longer used today.

Hair plugs were an early type of hair transplant that used plug grafts to cover balding areas. New York dermatologist Dr. Norman Orentreich performed the first procedure in the 1950s.

During these early transplants, surgeons would punch out “plugs” (round sections of skin and hair follicles) from the back of your head. These plugs were about 4 millimeters (0.16 inches) across, and a surgeon would insert them into balding parts of your scalp.

These early transplants were nowhere near as sophisticated as modern techniques. They often produced an unnatural hairline and a doll-like appearance.

Over time, hair grafts became smaller, and the results became more natural. By the 2000s, hair plugs fell out of fashion, to be replaced by the newer FUT technique.

During a FUT transplant, a surgeon cuts a strip of hair from the back of your scalp and extracts individual follicles. They then transplant the follicles to thinning parts of your scalp.

FUT and FUE, which is similar, are still the most commonly performed types of hair transplants.

As technology has improved, hair plugs have been phased out by the newer FUT and FUE techniques. These newer techniques offer many advantages like quicker procedure times, a lower risk of scarring, and more natural results.

Early hair transplants took a long time. A study from 1971 describes the process taking 16 weeks to complete a procedure for deep hairline recession.

In comparison, modern techniques take about 4 to 8 hours.

The two most commonly performed techniques are FUT and FUE. These two techniques transplant individual hair follicles that usually contain 1 to 4 hairs each.

Hair plugs vs. FUT

The FUT technique first appeared in the scientific literature in 1995 and replaced hair plugs by the early 2000s.

During the FUT technique, a surgeon will cut a strip of skin from your scalp and then extract the follicles. They will then transplant the individual follicles into balding areas.

Individually transplanting follicles allows a surgeon to achieve a more natural look than they would be able to with larger hair plugs.

FUT is often performed over FUE if you need a large number of follicles grafted. FUT surgery is also generally cheaper and shorter than FUE.

Hair plugs vs. FUE

FUE is newer than FUT and involves removing individual follicles instead of cutting a strip of skin from your scalp. FUE is currently the most commonly performed hair transplant technique and has a number of benefits over hair plugs and FUT, such as:

  • faster recovery
  • less pain and scarring
  • can be effective for people with lower hair densities

Generally, during hair transplant surgeries, you need to shave at least part of your hair. However, the most state-of-the-art FUE technique can be performed on non-shaven hair.

Hair plugs vs. stem cell hair transplant

Stem cell hair transplants involve taking a small skin sample from your scalp and replicating the follicles in a lab.

As of 2021, researchers are still investigating the effectiveness, potential benefits, and safety of these types of procedures. However, they may become more available in the future.

Traditional hair plugs were revolutionary at the time of their creation, but they have since been phased out by more modern techniques. Modern techniques are much quicker and more likely to give you pleasing results.

Traditional hair plugs often produced results that were doll-like and generally didn’t produce results as natural as today’s procedures.

Hair plugs also came with a larger risk of complications. Potential side effects included:

All people can potentially benefit from a hair transplant. The following criteria can help you determine if you’re a good candidate:

  • Type of hair loss. Hair transplants are effective for treating genetic hair loss caused by male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness.
  • Area of balding. Hair transplants are most effective at treating balding on the front of your scalp.
  • Medical history. You’re free of health conditions that may increase your risk of infection or slow down your wound healing. Some examples are thyroid disease, HIV, or diabetes.
  • Medications. You aren’t currently taking a medication that may affect your hair growth, such as amphetamines or propranolol.
  • Expectations. You have realistic expectations about the type of results you can achieve.
  • Hair coverage. You have adequate hair coverage for your surgeon to extract hair grafts.
  • Hair density and color. People with darker hair colors and thicker hair densities tend to make better candidates.

Traditional hair plugs and modern hair transplant techniques extract hair from one part of your scalp (usually the back) and insert it into balding parts of your scalp.

If you’ve received hair plugs in the past, it’s still possible to get a modern hair transplant if you have enough available hair follicles to use as grafts for balding areas.

In the FUT procedure, a surgeon will generally use a strip that’s 1 to 1.5 centimeters (0.4 to 0.6 inches) wide. If you don’t have adequate coverage, overharvesting may leave a noticeable scar or thinning of your hair.

Many hair restoration clinics offer hair plug reversals for people not happy with their results.

Hair plugs are an obsolete type of hair transplant technique commonly used until the early 2000s. Some people still use the term “hair plugs” to refer to any type of hair transplant surgery including modern techniques.

FUT and FUE procedures are currently the most commonly performed types of hair transplants. These procedures have the potential to give more natural-looking results than hair plugs.