Hair is such a natural and necessary part of our appearance that when we have bad hair – meaning hair becomes unmanageable for a certain time period – it is enough to ruin and mark that entire day, and create a chain of catastrophic events all somehow linked to how bad your hair looked that day. Well, imagine a more permanent sort of hair problem. Something more along the lines of male pattern baldness and thinning hair. How would you feel and what lengths would you go through to remedy a problem like that?
Alopecia or hair loss is experienced in one form or another by both men and women and can be caused by numerous factors like heredity, poor nutrition, infection, use of certain medications, stress and certain traumas, pregnancy and hormonal imbalances, as well as external factors like damage-causing environmental exposure. A certain type of hair loss called traction alopecia also commonly happens to African American women as it is caused by hairstyles that are worn too tight (like braids, cornrows and ponytails) and can pull the hair follicles and cause scarring. Once the scalp is damaged in a permanent way like scarring, it will not be possible to grow any hair and you will need to resort to remedies like hair transplants. These are not applicable to just areas with scalp scarring but for hair loss types such as male pattern baldness, which is experienced by 70% of men and 40% of women.
Hair transplant is basically a surgical procedure that transfers hair follicles from one part of the body or scalp (called the donor site) to where hair is does not grow anymore, called the recipient site. It is the primary treatment for male pattern baldness and can also be used to restore eyebrows, eyelashes, chest hair, beard hair, pubic hair and other areas were normal hair growth has stopped.
Hair Transplants – Then and Now
Hair transplantation dates back to as early as the 19th century where scalp flaps were transported to the bald areas. In the 1930s, the age of modern hair transplantation began Japan where doctors surgically removed small grafts and transferred to other sites to treat hair loss in eyebrows and eyelashes, but not yet for baldness. The Western world caught on in the 1950s where doctors in New York experimented with treating balding heads through the same use of skin and hair grafts. Over time, extraction methods were refined and grafts became smaller to mimic a more natural looking growth when placed over a bald area. Today there are two popular methods for hair extraction – the strip harvesting and follicular unit extraction. The more common method of the two, strip harvesting is when the surgeon removes a 1×15-30cm from an area with thick hair growth like the back of the head. That excised strip is then dissected into smaller grafts of hair groupings, which naturally clump together in about 1-4 hairs each, which are then planted into the recipient sites using fine needles. The key with a good surgeon here is to be able to create a realistic hair pattern so that hair would grow in a natural way. The biggest disadvantage to this method would be the thin scar it leaves behind on the donor area, which will be covered with hair anyway.
The other known method of harvesting hair is called the FUE or follicular unit extraction where individual hair groupings are taken from the site versus a whole strip. This procedure is more time consuming and can range from surgery of a few hours to multiple sessions, depending on the amount of hair needed for removal and transportation, as well as the skill of the surgeon doing the procedure. The advantages of this is procedure on the other hand is its more natural looking results as well as the quick recovery with minimized post surgery discomfort. But some surgeons and patients still prefer strip harvesting as FUE not only have increased surgical times and can be more expensive. Some surgeons also note that FUE has lower success rates than strip harvesting.
Advances in hair transplantation techniques have come far from its predecessors. Beyond the more typical strip harvesting and FUE methods, other types of hair extraction procedures are being explored. One such innovation is robotic hair removal, which is a device that allows detection of hair follicles as well as map out the topography of the area through use of robots and cameras. A robotic arm is used to increase the surgical time and lessen the exhaustion of a surgeon during a FUE procedure. The only disadvantage is the bigger punch holes made by the extraction compared to other methods of FUE.
The Future of Hair Transplants
The exciting news for those with bald spots and thinning hair is the breakthrough in stem cell research that could pave the way for future cures of baldness and hair loss. Unlike current hair transplants that basically graft hair from another site, stem cell can grow new hair that is cultured in a lab before being placed on the recipient site. This technique is currently being developed at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in California and was first found effective on mice and how human hair grew on those test subjects.
The research on hair loss cures and treatments is always a big and hot topic among doctors and scientists as resolving these issues affect a majority of the population. Hair appearance and experiencing hair loss can affect the every day lives of people – their self-esteem and how they see themselves as well as how they can interact with other people. It is no joke, especially for people who essentially can’t fight their hair loss, like those who experience the extremes of it due to heredity and illnesses. So being given the best possible solution like hair transplants and other complicated procedures, in order to remedy that situation is a choice that a lot of people say yes to, regardless of time, effort or money. Because don’t we all need a head full of healthy hair?