Thinning hair and bald spots can shatter self-confidence and artificially age people. The marketplace offers an endless array of products to encourage hair growth, but most do not work as needed. Hair transplants can offer a faster and more reliable solution. The decision to undergo a transplant often leads people to wonder where the hair used in the surgery comes from and how the process works.
How Hair Grows
All hair grows from under the skin in a bulb known as a follicle. In the follicle, blood vessels nourish cells that divide repeatedly to create the hair shaft. The hair continues to grow out of the skin until cut or until the shaft reaches the catagen phase where growth slows. The bulb of the follicle begins to shrink during this phase. Eventually, the growth stops, the hair detaches and sheds from the body and a new process begins in the follicle.
Baldness and thinning hair take place when follicles cease to produce new hairs, or when shedding happens faster than the regrowth. Age, disease, and nutrition can play a role in how quickly the follicles regenerate, or if they regenerate at all. Hormones and heredity can also affect hair growth and the health of follicles.
Why Transplants Work
Hair creams, serums, and other products do not always help with hair replacement because they cannot replace hair follicles. The methods can sometimes work for people with hair loss related to circulation issues or nutrition-related fallout because they can nourish the scalp and encourage faster growth. The many people with heredity-related balding need something that can address the loss of the follicles. Baldness related to heredity is known as Androgenetic alopecia, and it affects about 80 million men and women in the United States.
Transplants work for people with inherited hair loss because it replaces the follicles that stopped working. The process does not attempt to regenerate a damaged follicle or simply thicken existing hair to hide thinning patches. The surgery inserts working, healthy hair follicles into the scalp where the prior follicles have ceased to produce hair. The follicles transplanted into the scalp continue to go through the hair growth process as they always have, just in a new place.
Some may find it surprising to discover that transplants do not always need to take place on the head. A patient that desires more chest hair or hair anywhere on their body can also undergo the same procedure. The hair transplanted to the chosen area will come from elsewhere on the body that has ample follicles available.
What to Expect
Patients who decide to have transplant surgery will receive transplants of hair from their bodies. The surgeons will remove strips of the scalp or other skin grafts which include the hair with the attached follicles, or they will pluck and insert individual follicles, based on the needs of the patient. Some people have thick hair elsewhere on their scalps that make it possible for the surgeons to harvest from these areas without affecting the look of the hair. In cases where the hair loss or thinning on the scalp has become too extreme, the surgeons will perform a hair transplant using body hairs.
Body hair can originally look and feel much different than the hair on the scalp. Consider the average length and texture of chest or back hair, for example. However, over time, the transplanted follicles change, and the hair grows to look and feel like the hair on the head. The scars from removed or transplanted grafts are minimal, if visible at all, and the hair taken typically comes from areas where any mark on the skin remains unseen. Healing takes only a few days to a few weeks, and the hair follicles will grow hair immediately in its normal cycle.
What to Know
Hair transplants from a donor are not possible. The body will almost always reject the donated follicles. Immunosuppressive medications given to people who receive an organ transplant are too expensive and not approved for hair procedures. Transplantation may not be possible for people who experience Alopecia Areata, a disease of the hair follicles that can cause the loss of all body hair.
Prospective transplant candidates should also know that the potential for normal hair loss during aging still exists even after a transplant. Some people maintain enough hair after their procedure to never need help again, and others may need to return in a few years to fill in any areas where loss takes place. It is possible in some patients with predictable patterns of loss for the surgeon to determine where any new loss will take place and to transplant follicles a little more heavily than normal. The extra follicles will extend how long it takes before any thinning begins to show.
Before transplant surgery, the doctor may recommend pretreatment of the harvesting area and some grooming tips to prepare the follicles they will remove. The transplant specialist will explain the process, anesthesia options, and other information needed before any work begins. Hair transplantation does not work for every individual, but it has proven very successful for those deemed as viable candidates. A consultation can determine if someone could benefit from a hair transplant and the meeting enables them to get the answers to any questions they may have.