What You Need to Know and Consider Before Hair Transplant Surgery
We’re all familiar with hair loss in one capacity or another, whether we’ve experienced it ourselves or know someone who has, and it’s likely something we’ll have to deal with sooner or later ourselves as we continue to age. While going bald isn’t exactly detrimental to our physical health, it is something most of us would prefer to avoid, and something that can have a huge impact on our mental health.
If hair transplant surgery is something you’ve been considering—or even if it’s something you’ve already committed to—there’s a thing or two you’ll need to know before you go ahead with the treatment.
What Exactly Is Hair Transplant Surgery?
As hair begins to thin out on the top of the scalp over time, the hairs on the back and the sides of the head tend to stay put, and continue growing healthily. Hair transplant surgery seeks to move hair from healthy donor sites on the body such as these and transplant them onto the areas that need treatment, where they can continue to grow healthily for as long as they would’ve in their original location.
Who’s the Ideal Candidate for Hair Transplant Surgery?
Alopecia (hair loss) can happen for any number of reasons, and these are usually separated into patterned and non-patterned alopecia, the latter of which is further divided into scarring or non-scarring alopecias. Scarring alopecia can typically come as a result of trauma, burns, or surgery, and a hair transplant can be an incredibly effective way of dealing with such issues. Many dermatological conditions can also lead to scarring alopecia, and once the condition has been resolved, a hair transplant can treat the issue.
There are a few types of non-scarring alopecias that can be treated with a hair transplant, however most surgeons would tend to advise against treating common alopecia areata cases with hair transplant surgery. The most typical cases of patterned alopecia are male and female pattern hair loss.
Male Pattern Hair Loss
Defined as a loss of hair at the front, the top, or the crown of the scalp, male pattern hair loss is the most common reason for men who choose to undergo hair transplant surgery. The hair on the sides and the back of the scalp are typically safe from any loss, and as such provide a safe and effective donor site.
The roots of our hair have a life cycle, with a growing phase and a resting phase. The growing phase will last up to seven years prior to any hair loss setting in, and a resting phase of around 3 to 4 months. As time goes on, genetic hair loss will cause the cycles to switch, with the growing phase becoming shorter and shorter and the resting phase becoming longer and longer, to the point where the hair stops growing entirely.
Hormone receptors in the roots are the cause of male pattern hair loss, and these aren’t present in permanent areas like the sides or the back of the head. Dihydrotestosterone (the male hormone) is attracted to these receptors, and it’s this that starts the hair loss process. Ultimately though it’ll all come down to each individual person’s genetics.
Female Pattern Hair Loss
The average woman sheds some 100 hairs each and every day, which 9 times out of 10 are replaced. In the rare circumstance that they aren’t, or in cases where more hairs are shed than normal, female pattern hair loss occurs.
Dealing with female pattern hair loss can be difficult, and there are a few conditions that can ultimately result in the same pattern where hair begins to thin over the top and the crown of the head, or in rarer cases around the temples. A little detective work will need to go into the true cause of the hair loss before committing to a hair transplant.
Just like with men, female pattern hair loss is the most common type of hair loss experienced by women, and just like men gain their susceptibility genetically from their parents. The presence of androgens (male hormones) triggers the hair loss, and while it can occur any time after puberty, it most commonly comes after menopause. There’s a small amount of male hormone in all women, and as female hormones decrease during menopause, the male to female hormone ratio can increase, leading to hair loss.
How is Hair Transplant Surgery Performed?
There are three main steps involved with hair transplant surgery: hair extraction, designing the area to receive the grafts, and implanting the grafts. The whole procedure is typically carried out under local anaesthetic, however it may or may not be done with sedation. We’ve broken the three steps into the two following parts:
There are two main methods used when it comes to extracting donor hairs for a hair transplant:
— Follicular Unit Transplantation: Also known as the strip method, follicular unit transplantation (FUT) involves removing a strip of hair (usually from the back of the scalp) and grafting it onto the treatment area.
— Follicular Unit Excision: Follicular unit excision (FUE) may also be known as a follicular transfer (FT), and involves individual hairs being removed by your surgeon with a special punch tool or a fancy automated machine.
Each method has their own advantages and disadvantages, and your surgeon will work with you to determine which method will be best for you and your goals.
Designing the Area to Receive the Grafts and Implanting Them
When it comes to making recipient sites and implanting the grafts, there’s a whole number of options available regarding the instruments that could be used. Factors such as orientation, angle, hair density and the shape of the hairline are all key things that need to be considered that’ll help achieve a natural looking result.
During your initial consultation with your surgeon, he or she will discuss with you the area that’ll be grafted, along with the donor ratio. Only a finite number of hairs will be available in the donor area, and if a large area is being treated, then there may need to be a compromise made when it comes to the ultimate density of the hairs. There are additional procedures that can be undergone to increase the density, however it’s always best to plan ahead for the potential of further hair loss somewhere down the road.
Once the hairs have been transplanted it should take around 3 to 4 months for them to start to grow, although it could be as long as 9 months before a patient’s desired hairstyle or length may be possible. The hairs will also continue to improve in quality for as many as 18 months following the procedure.
What Alternatives are there to Hair Transplant Surgery?
Not everyone will be ideally suited to hair transplant surgery, or may not be comfortable undergoing an invasive treatment. For patients such as these, there are numerous alternative options available.
Topical and oral medications are one such option, which your GP or a hair loss specialist will be able to recommend. There are also special camouflaging products that can make your hair appear thicker, along with micropigmentation tattooing that can increase the appearance of stubble or small strands of hair. Obviously wigs and hairpieces are another age-old option too.