Is a Hair Transplant the Best Solution for Hair Loss?
Your journey to self confidence starts with an informed decision, and ends with a full head of hair.
Hair loss, which affects approximately half of adults over the age of 50, can be stressful and detrimental to self confidence. Over the years, however, science has granted us the power to prevent and even reverse signs of losing our hair. The myriad hair loss treatments that we use today range from extremely simple methods—such as simply changing your hairstyle—to methods that come closer to the source of the problem, like medication and surgery. But how do you know which method is right for you? What method of hair loss treatment will be most effective in allowing you to look the way you want to look?
At first glance, many might write off a hair transplant as an option for acquiring a full head of hair. The ease of store-bought medication like minoxidil (also known as Rogaine) or the time-tested simplicity of wearing a hat are both viable options that work for many people, but they are no longer the only viable options. The notion of a “hair transplant” has developed something of a bad reputation, but medical advancements over the past couple decades have ensured that these stereotypes are a thing of the past. These days, hair transplant surgery is one of the best solutions for hair loss, granting you the ability to live the life you want with a full head of natural hair.
When I say the words “hair transplant,” the phrase likely conjures up some unfortunate images, such as unnatural-looking plugs that are more reminiscent of a doll’s hair than of a natural human scalp. This negative stereotype is valid, because after all, it is what hair transplants used to look like. Back in the 1950s, when a New York-based dermatologist named Dr. Norman Orentreich pioneered modern hair transplant surgery, he used a device not unlike a hole punch. He used the punch to take grafts of healthy scalp from the back of the head, which he then surgically transplanted to balding areas.
The groundbreaking surgery allowed physicians to do what had never before been done. People suffering from hair loss were able to at least partially regain a head of their own hair. This was a pinnacle moment in the history of modern hair loss treatment, and indeed in the history of hair restoration as a whole. As with many surgical advancements, however, it has been consistently improved upon since its inception. Over the years, the process has become much more precise and less invasive.
Today, top hair restoration specialists like Dr. Michael Wolfeld in New York City have access to highly advanced technology which allows them to perform hair transplant surgery with such great precision that the results are indistinguishable from a natural head of hair.
If you suffer from hair loss, you are likely already aware of the most commonly available medical treatments. The most famous of these is an over-the-counter drug called minoxidil. Commonly known by the brand name Rogaine, minoxidil is a topically applied solution that stimulates hair growth on parts of the scalp that have begun to thin. The mechanism by which it works isn’t fully understood, but it is well-documented to strengthen hair follicles and reduce the effects of pattern baldness.
Minoxidil is not, however, a one-size-fits-all treatment. First and foremost, it only works to strengthen existing hair follicles. It cannot create new follicles on a completely bald scalp. A transplant is the only way to begin growing new hair in areas with dead follicles. By the numbers, only about 40% of men using minoxidil experience improvement within six months.
Finasteride, also known by the brand name Propecia, is the only other FDA-approved drug to treat hair loss. Taken orally, it decreases the body’s production of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT, which is one cause of hair loss. Like minoxidil, however, it is not for everyone. In fact, finasteride is useless as a hair loss treatment for women, and it only provides about a 30% improvement in hair loss after six months for men.
One other important factor to note about both minoxidil and finasteride is that neither is a permanent solution. Both drugs only serve to prolong the process of hair loss by helping the body strengthen and hold onto the hair it already has, and both drugs must be taken on a regular basis for their effects to continue. Once you stop using them, the positive effects will immediately subside. A hair transplant is the only way to permanently replace the hair on your scalp.
The Evolution of Hair Transplant Surgery
To get an idea of what the modern hair transplant process is like, picture the “hole punch” method that Dr. Orentreich first used back in the fifties. Back then, the punch left behind conspicuous marks wherever follicles were transplanted. The punch grew smaller and smaller over the years, but by 1980, the infamous “doll’s hair” appearance still continued to be a signature of the procedure.
One method that developed in the 1980s in response to this issue is known as “strip harvesting.” In this method, the surgeon selects an area of the scalp with good hair growth and harvests a strip of skin from this area. Follicular units (small groups of 1-4 hair follicles) are then removed from the strip to be implanted in the recipient area of the scalp. The result is a small linear scar that can usually be hidden by normal hair growth. This method, which requires up to two weeks of recovery time, remains the most common hair transplant technique today.
More recent developments in technology have introduced another method which yields more natural-looking results via a much less invasive process than strip harvesting. This method, utilized by leading surgeons like Dr. Wolfeld, is known officially as FUE or “follicular unit extraction.” FUE can be performed either manually or utilizing a robotic system. Dr. Wolfeld performs all of his FUE procedures with the use of a surgical robot called the ARTAS iX, which utilizes artificial intelligence to identify individual follicular units (small groups of 1-4 hair follicles) for extraction. Rather than removing a strip of skin to harvest the follicular units, the ARTAS allows surgeons to harvest follicular units directly from the donor area of a patient’s scalp. Unlike the strip harvesting method, FUE does not require stitches or staples, and patient recovery time is often less than a week.
Is Hair Transplant Surgery Right for Me?
Modern advancements in surgery and technology, along with the expertise of surgeons like Dr. Wolfeld and his team, ensure that the “doll’s hair” look is a thing of the past. Today, individuals suffering from hair loss no longer have to choose between “no hair” and “unnatural hair.” It is now possible for almost anyone to receive a hair transplant that will result in a full head of hair practically indistinguishable from their natural hairstyle. In short, hair transplant surgery no longer comes with a caveat.
As we’ve covered, however, hair transplant surgery is not the only option out there. It is in fact just one of many choices you have, so it’s important to know what potential paths there are for you to take. A hair transplant may be the right choice for you if you have experienced hair loss as a result of trauma or scarring, or if other methods of hair replacement have been unsuccessful. Regardless of what an article tells you to do, however, meeting with a hair loss specialist is the only way to decide what method of treatment is truly best for you.
Every head of hair is unique, and a licensed professional is the only one who can determine the most viable options for yours. Trained specialists like Dr. Wolfeld and his team will examine your scalp and give you their educated opinion on how your body will respond to different treatments and which route is best for your needs, whether that means a drug like minoxidil or finasteride, hair transplant surgery, or other potential options. Your doctor will be your guide as you set out on the journey back to a full head of hair.