Hair implants are a way of treating hair loss due to baldness, scarring, or other causes of partial hair loss. A process called hair transplantation is used to move hair from one part of the body to another, allowing the relocated hair to grow on previously hairless skin. There are a variety of techniques used to accomplish this goal, but all harvest hair from one area to another.
As new technologies are developed, the size of the implants gets increasingly smaller, creating the appearance of more natural hair. While hair implants are generally thought of as a treatment solely for male pattern baldness, they are also used to restore eyebrows, eyelashes, and all forms of body hair.
Some place the beginnings of what we think of as hair implants in Japan in the 1930s, but the unbroken lineage of modern hair implants starts in New York in the 1950s when a dermatologist named Norman Orentreich developed a process of transplanting hair to sites of baldness. His experimental procedures proved that the vitality of the hair was dependent on the donor source, not on the location that the hair is placed. This means that hair follicles that are moved from one part of the head to another will continue to grow unaffected by the baldness that attacked the hairs that were once in that area.
The quality of hair implants is highly affected by the size of the hair plugs that are used in the process. Older hair plugs were relatively large, giving the recipient's head the bunched appearance similar to that of a common doll. Newer techniques can implant individual follicular units giving hair a natural appearance. One of the most advanced techniques, called Follicular Unit Extraction, can not only implant the follicles individually, but can also harvest them individually as well. These micrografts are so small that recovery time can be as little as a week, and no scarring will occur.
Those dissatisfied with older hair implants can use newer procedures to make the head of hair look more natural. Using newer techniques, older plugs can be removed, dissected into smaller follicular units and implanted again. While hair transplantation is a relatively minor surgery, there are always possible side effects. These include swelling, scabs on the donor and recipient sites, and loss of feeling in these areas. There is also a risk of infection, and if the surgery is performed incorrectly, the hair may never grow. Hair often falls out temporarily after surgery, but will usually grow back. Side effects are typically minor.
Even though hair implant surgery has improved rapidly over the years, it is unclear whether a preemptive cure for baldness will render the surgery relatively obsolete. With progress in medical treatments of baldness, hair implants will likely become more useful for victims of hair loss from trauma or medicine. Even so, the surgical procedures continue to improve.