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11 Hair Transplants

Hair transplantation has been practiced for decades, and the results have been mixed. But recent innovations are revolutionary. The old pluggy, toothbrushy look is gone. When skillfully done, today's transplants are virtually indistinguishable from a normal hair pattern. The doctors who have changed with the times are seeing superb results, while those who still use the old methods are getting compromised or mediocre results.

How It's Done

Hair transplantation involves removing some of the hair-bearing scalp from the back of the head and planting it in the front of the head in tiny seedlings or "grafts." The hair continues to grow in the front just as it was doing in the back (the permanent hair from the back of the head normally grows for life). The area from which the hair is removed at the back of the head is called the "donor site." This is closed with stitches or staples, heals quickly, and the scar is concealed with the remaining hair.

In the last few years doctors have used smaller and smaller graft sizes. In the past, large "plugs" — groups of up to 25 hair roots — were transplanted together, but now the tiny grafts contain just one to six hairs. We've learned that fewer hairs per graft produce a more natural result, and the problem of handling large numbers of grafts has also been solved. The techniques for "harvesting" hair from the back of the head have improved too. These new techniques result in less damage to the hair, less healing time, less discomfort, and a better look.

Alternatives to transplantation aren't great. Hairpieces are a hassle. They're expensive (frequently more than transplants over the long term), they often look unnatural, and they can come off or move out of place unexpectedly, causing embarrassment. And some physicians think that hairpieces actually kill more hair. One alternative, Rogaine®, is a nonprescription hair growth medicine applied to the scalp. It works for only about 25 to 50 percent of users. And, if you stop using it, any new hair will fall out. Propecia® is another medicine that comes in pill form. It works well if you have some hair left, but also must be taken daily for an indefinite length of time. Although side effects are usually modest or none, your doctor should periodically monitor your treatment. So transplantation is often the best choice. Most "new hair" seen on the heads of American men these days involves the minor surgery of hair transplantation.

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