How Do Hair Transplants Work?

a man examines his hair in the mirror

Hair transplantation is a procedure that has been used in the U.S., in one form or another, since the 1950s. However, it has significantly evolved from how it began. Today, hair transplants involve surgically removing functioning hair follicles from areas of the scalp and moving them to an area of the scalp where there is little or no hair.

Hair Restoration Surgery

Since hair transplants are minor surgeries, it can be performed in the doctor’s office. It will usually take anywhere from four to eight hours from start to finish for one session. Additional sessions may be necessary if the desired thickness of hair is not achieved with just one.

During the procedure, usually a local anesthetic is used to numb the area of the “donor site”–where the three- to four-inch area of scalp will be removed. The surgeon will use a scalpel to remove the strip of scalp, usually from the back of the head. Then, the surgeon will sew the scalp closed. The incision area will be easily hidden by the hair surrounding it.

The next step is for the surgeon to divide the strip of scalp into anywhere from 500 to 2,000 tiny grafts that contain individual hairs on each. The type of graft and number of hair follicles will depend on many things, such as the hair quality, type, color, and the size of the transplant area.

The surgeon will then numb and prepare the recipient site (where the grafts will be placed) by cutting holes or slits using a needle or scalpel. Each graft will be placed into one of the holes with the intention that the hair follicle will now produce hair in this spot the same as it did where it was harvested.

Recovery and Results

While some people can have the surgery and go back to work the next day, some people need a few days of rest before returning to normal activities. Hair transplantation will cause the scalp to be very tender, but the level of pain will vary from person to person. Depending on how much pain you’re in, you may need to take pain medications for several days.

A few weeks after the surgery, the transplanted hair will fall out. The new hair growth may not begin to be noticeable for several months. However, most people see up to 60% of their new hair growth about six months after the procedure. Sometimes a hair-growing drug such as Rogaine (minoxidil) may be prescribed to help with results.

Costs of Hair Transplants

Since hair transplants are rarely covered by insurance, it can be fairly expensive. Depending on how much hair is going to be transplanted, the cost can range anywhere from $4,000 to $15,000. There are other factors to consider before committing to hair transplantation, such as the risk of infection or ineffectiveness. A common infection that follows this procedure is folliculitis, which is an infection of the hair follicles. It can usually be relieved with antibiotics, but it can sometimes cause the sudden loss of transplanted hair.