Definition Hair transplantation is a surgical procedure used to treat baldness or hair loss (alopecia). Typically, tiny patches of scalp are removed from the back and sides of the head and implanted in the bald spots in the front and top of the head.
Hair transplantation is a cosmetic procedure performed on men and occasionally on women who have significant hair loss, thinning hair, or bald spots where hair no longer grows. In men, hair loss and baldness are most commonly due to genetic factors and age. Male pattern baldness, in which the hairline gradually recedes to expose more and more of the forehead, is the most common form. Men may also experience a gradual thinning of hair at the crown, or very top of the skull. For women, hair loss is more commonly due to hormonal changes and is more likely to be a thinning of hair from the entire head. Transplants can also be performed to replace hair lost due to burns, injury, or diseases of the scalp.
An estimated 50,000 men receive hair transplants each year.
Hair transplantation surgery is performed by a physician with specialty training in plastic surgery or, less commonly, dermatology. Each surgery lasts two to three hours during which approximately 250 grafts will be transplanted. A moderately balding man may require up to 1,000 grafts to get good coverage of a bald area; consequently, a series of surgeries scheduled three to four months apart is usually required. Individuals may be completely awake during the procedure with just a local anesthetic drug applied to numb the areas of the scalp. Some persons may be given a drug to help them relax or may be given an anesthetic drug that puts them to sleep.
The most common transplant procedure uses a thin strip of hair and scalp from the back of the head. This strip is cut into smaller clumps of five or six hairs. Tiny slits are made in the balding area of the scalp, and a clump is implanted into each slit. The doctor performing the surgery will attempt to recreate a natural-looking hairline along the forehead. Minigrafts, micrografts, or implants of single hair follicles can be used to fill in between larger implant sites and can provide a more natural-looking hairline. The implants will also be arranged so that thick and thin hairs are interspersed and the hair will grow in the same direction.
Another type of hair replacement surgery is called scalp reduction. This involves removing some of the skin from the hairless area and "stretching" some of the nearby hair-covered scalp over the cut-away area.
Health insurance will not pay for hair transplants that are performed for cosmetic reasons. Insurance plansmay pay for hair replacement surgery to correct hair loss due to accidents, burns, or disease.
It is important to be realistic about what the final result of a hair transplant will look like. This procedure does not create new hair. Rather, it simply redistributes the hair that an individual still has. Chest hair has been experimentally transplanted onto the scalp. As of 2003, this procedure has not been widely used.