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Hair Transplant Overview: From The Procedure To Costs

Hair transplants have become increasingly popular as a solution for certain types of hair loss. A hair transplant, or restoration, is a surgical procedure where a surgeon first extracts hair, from the patient's head, or donor site, to be transplanted. Then, the surgeon relocates those hairs in the balding area.

According to the International Society for Hair Restoration, primary candidates for hair restoration surgery include individuals who have a sufficient amount of genetically pure hair for a transplant to their hair loss region. These typically include men who've suffered from male pattern baldness for five or more years or whose hair loss has progressed to a Norwood class 3, the earliest stage of balding where hair is receding at the front and corners, or progressed to a higher level.

The transplant procedure

Hair restoration surgeons typically perform two types of procedures today: the follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE). Why one is chosen over the over depends on various factors, including the patient's cause and type of hair loss, likelihood of progression, chosen hair length, scarring considerations, cost and more.

The original method, FUT, involves cutting out a strip of skin, typically from ear to ear, from the donor site and then harvesting the follicular units to be relocated from that swath. The surgeon then sutures or staples the excised area closed. With FUE, the surgeon removes each follicular unit from the donor area individually. They make numerous, tiny holes across the donor area and extract one follicular unit through each of those holes.

Regardless of which grafting procedure a patient chooses, the subsequent transplant process of the harvested follicular unit remains the same. With the follicular units selected and ready for transfer, the surgeon prepares the recipient site for the final step -- placing the hair grafts in the balding scalp region. The surgeon cleans and injects the area with local anesthetic to numb it. With the patient awake, they create tiny slits or holes in the scalp with a needle or scalpel, then gingerly insert the hair grafts into them.

Procedure length, recovery

The procedure length depends on the extent of the individual's hair loss and, therefore, the number of grafts needed, along with the chosen transplant technique. Follicular unit transplants may take anywhere from four to eight hours. Follicular unit extractions typically take about one to two hours more, and longer procedures may be done in two sessions on consecutive days.

After the surgery, patients traditionally wear a dressing on their head for two days. During that time, they may experience mild scalp soreness or tenderness, which could require pain medications for a short time. In some cases, the scalp may become tender for approximately seven to ten more days. Scabs, or crusting, forms throughout the donor area and takes about four to 10 days to heal. Scalp tightness should ease over the ensuing eight months and even more so after.

Potential complications

Like any surgery, complications can occur during hair transplant procedures. Potential complications could include the following:

  • Bleeding and infection
  • Scarring at the donor site
  • Temporary numbness
  • Temporary loss of the surrounding hair (Shock loss)

When to expect new hair

Depending on the patient's health and hair, new hair starts usually begins growing in the transplanted between three and six months after the procedure. The new hair typically grows about one-inch per month.

How the results look

If the procedure was performed by a skilled, experienced and qualified surgeon, the transplanted hair should appear natural. In some cases, surgeons may be able to recreate or eliminate hair characteristics -- such as a natural part or cowlick -- that existed before hair loss and surgery.

Immediately following the hair transplant, patients may or may not look like they've had something done to their head. It all depends on how their body responds. Swelling or scabs over the grafts may be visible. Some patients who undergo follicular unit extraction may look like they have road rash on their scalp from the extraction holes.

How many transplant sessions are required?

To achieve their desired results, hair transplant patients may require more than one restoration surgery. Sometimes, the hairline needs to be adjusted forward or back to appear age appropriate. People with thinner hair may need more sessions for their transplanted area to achieve the desired denseness. Other considerations include the following:

  • Scalp area treated
  • Number and thickness of grafts used
  • Projected hair loss rate
  • Amount of donor hair available

How much do hair transplants cost?

The cost of a hair transplant depends on numerous factors, including the technique used, the surgeon's skill level, the patient's needs and goals, and the geographical region and type of facility where the procedure is done. Hair type, hair loss type and extent of balding also could influence price.

Surgeons typically charge in one of three ways:

  1. Flat rate, by graft
  2. Sliding scale, by graft
  3. Per session

By-the-graft rates traditionally range between $3 and $8, and in some cases, can cost $11 or more per graft.

Some hair restoration surgeons use a sliding scale to calculate fees. The cost per graft tends to decrease as the number of required grafts increases. For example, a surgeon may charge $5 per graft for the first 2,000 grafts and $3 per grafter thereafter.

Other clinics and surgeons may use a flat-fee for their hair transplants. For example, a clinic may charge $5,000 for an 1,800 graft session.