By Marci Robbins
Like most cosmetic procedures, hair transplants are a very personal, private experience. That is, unless you’re the self-proclaimed “Human Ken Doll,” aka Justin Jedlica. The famous plastic surgery fan recently welcomed cameras into his procedure room at Beverly Hills Hair Restoration, as he had 900 pieces of skin extracted from the back of his head in order to transplant the follicles to other areas. However, because most hair transplants (often known by the antiquated phrase “hair plugs”) are performed without an audience, (or even without the person saying they had one afterward) they can seem mysterious to someone who may be considering the procedure, making it easily stigmatized.
In reality, hair transplants can look far more realistic than their reputation has long implied. The procedure is more advanced than ever, and there’s more information available to potential patients. Here are seven things anyone intrigued by hair transplants needs to know, whether you’re looking to move forward with it as a hair-loss solution or you’re simply curious about the procedure.
Hair transplants are typically associated with men seeking a remedy for male-pattern hair loss, but the number of women looking to the procedure has been on the rise. “In our practice, about 27 percent of our surgical patients are female,” says Carlos K. Wesley,, a hair restoration surgeon in New York City. “A large percentage of women wish to lower their hairline or even give the illusion of lowering their hairline by increasing the hair density surrounding their face. Adding healthy hair follicles throughout the part line can also provide a profound cosmetic improvement in women with hair thinning atop their head.”
Although hair transplants can make a huge difference for many people experiencing hair loss, the procedure isn’t for everyone. Francesca Fusco, a dermatologist in New York City, explains there are important criteria to consider: “Does the person have enough donor hair to supply the areas that are thin or balding? What kind of hair loss does the person have?” she says, explaining that androgenetic hair loss (aka male pattern baldness), caused by high level of the male hormone androgen, is usually the optimal type for this procedure. “The donor hair should also not be in the process of miniaturization, which means on its way to falling out.”
The goal of increased hair density is the same, but there are two different methods for achieving a successful hair transplant, both of which require local anesthesia. “After it’s numbed, healthy hair follicles are harvested from the donor area — the back of the head — either by extracting a thin ellipse of the hair-bearing scalp and closing the area with sutures or by extracting individual hair follicles one by one with a tiny motorized punch,” Wesley explains. “The first approach, known as follicular unit transplantation (FUT), does not require trimming of the donor hair, and it leaves a thin linear scar tucked away within the permanent hair so it is not visible after the procedure. Individual follicles are then isolated from this ellipse under a microscope.”
The other method doesn’t require suturing, but hair in the donor area typically needs to be trimmed. “The second approach, called follicular unit extraction (FUE), usually requires trimming regions of the donor area so as to most effectively see how the hairs exit the scalp surface, but it leaves the majority of the hair intact so that the harvested areas are not seen once the hair grows back,” says Wesley, who notes that only one out of every three to five donor follicles are harvested with FUE.