A hair transplant is a surgical procedure where hairs are taken from an area of the scalp unaffected by baldness and grafted to the affected area of the scalp.
Hair transplant surgery offers a permanent hair restoration solution for patients with male pattern baldness and is an option to consider after less invasive hair loss treatments have failed to work. Treatment may take more than one session and each session lasts several hours.
Men seeking hair transplant surgery usually want to correct hair loss resulting from genetics (male pattern baldness), ageing, injury, or certain medical conditions.
Before going ahead with a hair transplant, men should first consider if they:
- are physically healthy and prepared
- have enough healthy hair to be transplanted on to the rest of the head
- have realistic goals and expectations for the results of hair transplant surgery
The most widely used hair transplant surgery technique is known as follicular unit extraction (FUE), where each individual follicle is removed from the non-affected part of the scalp and re-inserted into the part of the scalp where hair loss has occurred, to create a natural hairline.
Another type of hair transplant is follicular unit transplantation (FUT). With this hair transplant procedure, the surgeon cuts a strip of tissue with a number of follicle units from an area of the scalp. This is then placed in the affected area of the scalp.
How does hair transplant surgery work?
Hair transplant surgery is a procedure which involves removing individual healthy hair follicles from an area where the hair is plentiful, usually at the back of the head. These single hairs or small groups of hairs, including the follicles’ sebaceous (oil) glands, nerves, a small muscle, and sometimes other finer hairs are then re-inserted into the thinning or bald areas of the scalp.
Both FUT and FUE are carried out in-clinic by a dermatological surgeon. There is usually no need for a general anaesthetic during hair transplant, and the procedure is normally carried out under local anaesthetic. A general anaesthetic may be required in cases where more extensive work is needed.
The use of a local anaesthetic (where only the area to be operated on is numbed) means that the risks associated with general anaesthetic are eliminated, and the recovery time is reduced. Recovery times vary depending on the procedure type used.
The surgeon cuts a single thin strip of hair from the back of the scalp. This is then dissected into individual follicular units of around 1mm in width under a microscope. Each follicular unit consists of one to four hairs, oil glands, nerves and small muscle, from the donor area. The surgeon then makes miniscule cuts in the recipient area (the balding part) of the scalp and inserts the units. Up to 3000 grafts can be transplanted onto the donor area at a time, depending on how much donor hair is growing on the rest of the scalp. This is a less commonly used procedure and FUE is more commonly used instead in most cases.
FUE is a non-invasive procedure which uses a ‘punch’ device to remove the follicular units from the back and sides of the scalp without causing damage. Healing times are faster than with FUT.
The area which has been treated will feel quite sore for a few days while the scalp heals. You may be prescribed medications to aid your recovery, such as pain killers, antibiotics to reduce the risk of infection, and anti-inflammatory medications which will reduce any swelling.
Before you leave the hair transplant clinic, the surgeon will advise you on how to look after your scalp and you will normally be asked to attend a follow-up appointment to check that your scalp is healing well and to check the progress of the transplant. You may be offered further check-ups over the course of a year.
It normally takes at least three months for the newly-transplanted hair to grow as normal, so patience is needed. You may notice some hair fall out a couple of weeks after hair transplant surgery, but this is normal and is making way for new hair to grow.
FUT leaves a long scar across the donor area of the scalp, which can be hidden by longer hair. Healing time is longer than with FUE.
There is usually minimal scarring with FUE, which is often not visible to the naked eye. Successfully transplanted hair will continue to grow for the rest of your life. The surrounding naturally growing hair may still be affected by the body's levels of DHT, and so there may be further hair loss at a later stage. As part of your treatment regime, your doctor may prescribe minoxidil (Regaine) or finasteride (Propecia) to further stimulate hair regrowth and slow down any future hair loss.
What does it cost?
The cost of hair transplant surgery in the UK varies depending on the extent of your hair loss, the amount of work needed, and the experience and quality of the surgeon. The location of the clinic that you choose will also have a bearing on price.
Typical costs for hair transplants vary from around £2000 to £7000. Hair transplant costs for the treatment of severe male pattern baldness can however rise to a price as high as £30000.
Hair transplantation by FUE is usually charged at a cost per follicle, which decreases the more follicles are transplanted. The first 2000 follicles, for example, might be charged at up to £5 each, with less being charged per transplanted follicle over 2000.
What are the side effects?
Hair transplant side effects include:
- mild pain and discomfort
- folliculitis - infection or inflammation of the hair follicles
- swelling of the scalp
- small scabs over the graft areas
- bruising around the eye area
- temporary thinning of pre-existing hair
- scalp numbness (this is usually temporary and resolves in a few months but can be permanent)
- loss of the transplanted hair, which is normally temporary
- transplanted hair may not survive the procedure
Most of these side effects are mild and resolve within a few weeks. If any side effects continue for longer or get worse, see your doctor.
Can hair transplant cause scars?
As with any surgical procedure, there is a risk of scarring, the extent of which depends on the technique used.
How long does it take to see results?
Typically it takes at least three months and as long as nine months to see results from hair transplant surgery. You might continue to experience hair loss in the areas of your scalp that haven’t been treated. Your doctor may prescribe a topical hair loss treatment such as Regaine (minoxidil) or an oral treatment such as Propecia (finasteride) to prevent further hair loss in untreated areas of the scalp.