What is Hair Transplant Surgery?

Jason C. Chavis

Hair transplant surgery is the process by which hair follicles from one location of the body are moved to another. Usually, this simply involves the movement of the actual skin from the donor location to the site of interest. Another technique can be used to move the individual follicles for placement in the recipient tissues. The most common application for hair transplantation surgery is for the treatment of male pattern baldness. It can also be used, however, to treat accident victims suffering from scarring.

Hair follicles can be transplanted to bald areas of the head.
Hair follicles can be transplanted to bald areas of the head.

Unlike traditional skin grafting, which uses a technique of replacing the epidermis and dermis of the tissue, hair transplant surgery is handled in a more delicate fashion. Essentially, a number of tiny grafts are made using the tissue immediately around the hair follicle. The most common example of this is known as follicular unit transplantation. Each hair follicle on the body grows in sets of one to four hairs. Hair transplant surgery transplants these sets, attempting to mimic the natural groupings as closely as possible.

A man starting to lose his hair.
A man starting to lose his hair.

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There are two basic ways in which hair replacement occurs. The first is known as strip harvesting, a process by which small strips of the scalp are removed from the patient's donor area and placed on the recipient area. Stitches are put in place to hold the tissue to the body, which ultimately create a scar. The other form of hair transplant surgery is known as follicular unit extraction. This is the process by which individual follicles are removed and placed into the recipient area using a micro blade, producing minimal scarring.

The idea of using hair transplant surgery dates back to at least the 1930s, when Japanese scientists worked to replace patients' eyebrows after accidents. It wasn't until the 1950s, however, that the technology took a leap forward through the work of Dr. Norman Orenteich, a New York dermatologist working on a solution to male pattern baldness. Although some of the original work focused on placing clumps of hair on the head, advancements in the 1980s led to individual follicle treatment. By the 1990s and early 2000s, the transplantation of follicles into natural patterns was obtained. Essentially, by this point, hair transplant surgery mimicked natural hair very closely.

Patients of hair transplant surgery sometimes suffer from side effects following surgery. Most of these are temporary, although some may be permanent. A condition known as “shock loss” can occur, where the grafted area looses all its hair. Additionally, some people suffer from general hair loss in the area years after the hair replacement process. Another condition that many transplant patients suffer from is itching and swelling in the donor region. This is easily treated, however, with a special shampoo that moisturizes the region and causes swelling to decrease.

The idea of using hair transplant surgery dates back to at least the 1930's.
The idea of using hair transplant surgery dates back to at least the 1930's.

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