Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/27/2021
When most people hear the words "hair transplant," a certain image pops into their mind: fake, “pluggy” looking hair that’s obviously the result of a cosmetic procedure rather than a natural hairline.
Unfortunately, hair transplants have a bad reputation. This is because of the old, 1980s "hair plug" procedures, which transplanted hairs in plugs of several follicles and created an unusual, unnatural-looking hairline.
The reality is that today’s hair transplant technology allows you to add thickness to your hair and fill in a receding hairline without the fake, plug-like look of older treatments.
However, hair transplants aren’t miracles, and there are still potential downsides that you should be aware of.
In this guide, we’ll explain how modern hair transplants work and how they can be used to fill in your hairline and reverse the effects of male pattern baldness. We’ll also cover the downsides of hair transplants and explain how some of the limitations of the procedure could affect you.
If you’re considering getting a hair transplant, the information below can help you make a more informed, confident decision about whether the procedure is the right option for you.
A hair transplant is a cosmetic procedure that involves harvesting hairs from a certain part of your scalp (called the "donor site") and transplanting them onto a different part of your scalp.
In short, getting a hair transplant means taking hair from areas of your scalp that aren’t affected by male pattern baldness and moving it to areas that are thinning or bald.
Hair transplants work because not all of the hair on your head is affected by DHT, the primary hormone that causes baldness. By moving DHT-resistant hairs from the back and sides of your head to the front, a hair transplant surgeon may be able to give you a thicker, fuller head of hair.
Originally, hairline transplants involved removing and transplanting hairs using "plugs," which were groups of several hair follicles in clusters.
While hair plugs worked as a way to fill in a receding hairline, they typically looked unnatural due to the fact that hair grafts were grouped into separate areas, sometimes with a noticeable gap in between each "plug."
Today, hair transplants are much more sophisticated. Surgeons can harvest hairs using FUE or FUT methods (which we’ll explain a little further down the page) and transplant them in groups of one to three hairs, creating a hairline that looks and feels natural.
From an aesthetic perspective, a hair transplant performed by an experienced surgeon will look and feel just like a natural hairline, assuming you have enough donor hair available and the ability to grow hair on the areas of your scalp that need it.
Each method produces a similar result, albeit with a few differences. FUE involves extracting small "units" of one to four hairs from the scalp using a medical device. These hairs are then transplanted onto the top of the head to restore a hairline or provide extra thickness.
The advantage of FUE is that it doesn’t produce a large scar. Instead, it creates hundreds of tiny scars that are much less visible after healing, especially for people with light hair that might not be able to completely cover a traditional "strip" hair transplant scar.
FUT, on the other hand, involves removing a strip of skin from the back of the scalp. Hairs are extracted from this strip in groups of one to four. After extracting the hair follicles, the surgeon can transplant the hairs onto the top of the scalp to fill in the hairline or crown.
The advantage of FUT is that the transplanted hairs have a higher survival rate than hairs transplanted using the FUE method. However, the downside of FUT is that it creates a larger scar on the back of the scalp that’s visible with some short or shaved haircuts. It is also important to note that the success of either procedure depends on the surgeon or dermatologist performing the surgery.
Minus the scarring — which shouldn’t be visible if the hair on the back of your scalp is dark and thick -- both procedures produce the same aesthetic results in the hairline and crown area.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock for people looking into hair transplantation is the fact that, put plainly, it ain’t cheap. How much you’re ultimately going to spend on hair transplant surgery depends largely on where you live, the extent of the procedure, and even the individual surgeon who does the procedure. And because it’s considered cosmetic surgery, insurance typically won’t cover it.
That said, a general answer is thousands. A very rough estimate can be anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000, depending on the circumstances mentioned above. We’ve covered this topic more in-depth in our guide to The Truth Cost of Hair Transplants.
Aside from the financial costs of hair transplantation surgery, the recovery time and potential complications from it also shouldn’t be taken lightly. Following your surgery, your surgeon or healthcare professional will typically allow you to return to work the next day.
However, the donor area (where the hair is taken from) and the recipient area (the hair where it’s transplanted) can take as long as three weeks to heal, depending on the type of surgery you elect to have. You also will likely be advised by your surgeon not to risk slowing down the healing process by wearing any kind of pullover garments (yes — this includes t-shirts) while you’re healing. Generally, anything that would touch or risk injury to the site should be avoided.
There may also be complications following hair transplantation surgery. Some common complications include:
Failure of growth in the transplanted hair
Post-surgery edema in the affected area
Numbness of the affected area
The development of cysts and the suture site
If you have a receding hairline or diffuse hair loss and want to do something about it, getting a hair transplant may offer a potential remedy.
When performed by an experienced, skilled surgeon, a hairline transplant can restore your hairline and give back the volume and thickness that you had in the past.
However, a hair transplant isn’t a miracle treatment, and it might not necessarily be a total cure for baldness. You also might not be able to get a full head of hair from a hair transplant, making it important that you have realistic expectations about the procedure.
Before you consider a hair transplant, you should know the following:
If your hair is genetically sensitive to DHT, it may continue to fall out after you get a hair transplant. This could mean that the hair around the transplanted areas gets thin, while the transplanted hair remains thick and healthy.
Because of this, your hair transplant surgeons may recommend using finasteride (and/or minoxidil and other hair loss prevention treatments) after your procedure to minimize the rate of further hair loss.
All hair transplant techniques, including FUE, produce scarring. The only difference is the size and shape of the scar(s). FUT produces one large scar, whereas FUE creates hundreds of small, distributed scars on the back of your scalp.
If you have thick, dark hair on the back of your scalp, the scar from a hair transplant will probably be completely invisible. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that people will see if you decide to shave your head in the future.
A key factor in determining how your hair transplant will look is the skill and experience level of the surgeon. Choose a good surgeon and you’ll probably end up with a natural, great-looking hairline and a significant improvement in your appearance.
Like with all cosmetic procedures, it’s best to choose a surgeon that specializes in hair restoration instead of a general plastic surgeon that performs a wide range of different procedures.
A hair transplant doesn’t create new hair. Instead, it involves moving hairs you already have into a new location. If you’ve already lost most of your hair, you probably won’t be able to restore your original hairline and hair thickness with a transplant.
However, for most men, a hairline transplant can produce a significant improvement in the appearance of your hair. Just make sure you have realistic expectations based on the amount of hair you still have left.
Getting a hair transplant is a significant decision that requires research and patience. Like all medical procedures, it’s important that you understand the effects, costs and limitations of the procedure before you go ahead.
It’s also important to be realistic about what you can achieve with a hair transplant. If you’re completely bald, a hair transplant will probably produce an improvement, but it’s not going to give you a completely full head of hair.
However, if you have minor hair loss and plenty of donor hair, a hairline transplant can help you reverse several years of hair loss and improve your appearance. Just remember that getting a hair transplant doesn’t permanently end hair loss. You’ll still need to take a proactive approach to protecting and maintaining your hair after the procedure.
Getting a hair transplant can help you turn back the clock on years of hair loss. However, the most effective way to give yourself a fuller, thicker head of hair is to prevent your hair from falling out in the first place.
By taking a proactive approach to hair loss and using hair loss treatments like finasteride, minoxidil and other hair loss prevention products, you can keep more of your hair and avoid having to get a hairline transplant in the first place.
As a result, you’ll potentially be able to save the thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars you’d normally have to spend on a hair transplant.
Want to take action? Our guide to stopping a receding hairline explains the root cause of male pattern baldness and lists a range of tactics you can use to stop hair loss and keep as much of your hair as possible.
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