A hair transplant is a hair restoration technique where a surgeon removes follicles from one part of your scalp and inserts them into balding areas. Hair transplants are most effective for treating genetic hair loss called male pattern baldness or female pattern baldness.

Hair transplants are considered relatively safe procedures, but every procedure comes with some risk. Infections are one possible complication. However, they’re relatively rare and affect less than 1 percent of people who receive hair transplants.

Let’s look at how you can recognize an infection after a hair transplant surgery. We also examine other potential complications.

An infection can occur when microbes enter open wounds at the site of the donor hair follicles or at the reception site. Your scalp has a large network of blood vessels that allows your immune system to quickly target pathogens. A small 2014 study with male participants showed that infections of the scalp are rare, and when they do develop, they’re usually not serious.

Surgical infections most commonly occur 3 to 7 days after a procedure.

Symptoms of a hair transplant infection can include:

  • pus-filled abscess
  • oozing pus
  • redness or discoloration
  • swelling
  • pain
  • itchiness
  • burning
  • bleeding
  • warmth

Some bleeding and swelling is normal. But symptoms that get worse instead of better, or linger for more than about a week, are signs that you may be dealing with an infection.

Infections can also lead to systemic symptoms like:

An infection can develop when microbes or pathogens enter your body either during surgery or while you’re healing. Having an underlying medical condition that weakens your immune system can raise your chances of developing an infection.

Improper hygiene or unsanitary conditions

Bacteria can enter your open wounds during the hair transplant or while your wounds are healing. You may develop an infection if tools used during the procedure aren’t properly sanitized or if you touch your wounds while they’re still healing.

Excessive crust formation

Scabbing and crusting of your wounds is normal. But a 2018 research review showed that excessive crust formation can lead to itchiness that encourages scratching. Scratching your scalp can dislodge scabs and transmit bacteria from your fingers into your wounds.

Underlying medical conditions

Underlying conditions that weaken your immune system can increase your chances of developing wound infections. Some conditions that weaken your immune system include:

If you get an infection, you’re at an elevated risk of developing scarring that could negatively impact your results and may lead to patchy regrowth around the scars.

An infection can spread to deeper tissues if left untreated. The same 2018 research review above showed that in very rare cases, it can even spread into the bone or lead to septicemia. Septicemia is an infection of your bloodstream. It can lead to a condition called sepsis.

Sepsis is a life threatening condition that occurs when your immune system releases inflammatory molecules throughout your body that can lead to organ failure.

You can develop an infection at the donor site where hair follicles are removed or at the reception site where the follicles are transplanted.

The two most commonly used hair transplant techniques are follicular unit transplant (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE). During FUE, your surgeon removes individual hair follicles for transplantation. During FUT, they cut a strip of skin from the back of your scalp and then remove individual follicles.

FUT leads to a long and narrow scar and generally has a longer recovery time. In theory, the larger wound caused by this procedure leads to a higher risk of infection, but both procedures rarely cause infection when performed properly.

If you develop an infection, it’s important to contact your surgeon so they can help you develop a proper treatment plan. Oral or topical antibiotics are commonly used to target the bacteria causing your infection. Your surgeon may also recommend antibacterial shampoos or they may drain pus-filled abscesses to help facilitate the healing process.

Here are some ways you can minimize your chances of developing complications from a hair transplant.

  • Have your procedure at a licensed clinic that follows good hygiene habits.
  • Avoid picking at your scabs or touching your wounds.
  • Go to your scheduled follow-up appointments.
  • Follow pre- and post-care instructions.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco while recovering.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise until your surgeon says it’s OK.

A small 2014 study found that in a group of 73 people who underwent hair transplants, the most common side effects reported were swelling (42 percent), sterile folliculitis (23 percent), and scarring at the donor site (15 percent).


Folliculitis is inflammation of your hair follicles and usually appears as red or discolored bumps that resemble acne. It frequently develops weeks or months after surgery. The same small 2014 study above found that the cause isn’t clear, but it’s thought that many factors may contribute, such as ingrown hairs and bacterial infection of the hair follicle.

It’s called bacterial folliculitis when a bacteria is attributed as the underlying cause. But in most cases, no particular bacteria is identified. In this case, it’s called sterile folliculitis.

Shock hair loss

Shock hair loss is an uncommon side effect that leads to the shedding of hair at the donation site. It’s thought that it’s caused by stress and microtrauma from the procedure. A 2018 research review showed that almost everybody makes a full recovery from shock hair loss in the 3 to 4 months following surgery.

General wound healing side effects

You will likely notice several general signs of wound healing after your procedure, such as:

  • redness or discoloration
  • itchiness
  • scabbing
  • discomfort


Numbness of the scalp is rarely permanent. It may be accompanied by a tingling or prickling sensation as the nerves in your scalp recover from the surgery.

Unnatural results and scarring

Hair transplant techniques and surgeons are getting better at producing natural-looking results. However, in some cases, you may also develop excessive scarring that leads to patchy hair regrowth.

Hair transplants rarely cause serious side effects, but it’s a good idea to call your doctor if you develop symptoms of infection. The sooner you receive proper medical treatment, the better your chances of not developing a severe infection or other complications.

Although infections are a potential complication of hair transplants, they’re relatively rare. Most infections aren’t serious, but it’s still a good idea to call your doctor once an infection develops for proper treatment. They will most likely prescribe antibiotics and may drain the pus.

You can minimize your chances of developing an infection by following your surgeon’s pre- and post-care instructions, and avoiding touching your open wounds.