By the age of 35, nearly two thirds of men will have some degree of noticeable hair loss—and that number jumps to 85% after the age of 50. Men aren’t the only ones affected: women make up nearly half of the number of hair loss sufferers in the United States. With statistics like that, it’s easy to understand why so many people are searching for hair loss solutions that work.
Unfortunately, for every effective option on the market, it seems there are 10 that do nothing except drain your bank account and provide false hope. There is good news, however. Over the last few years, advancements hair transplant techniques and technologies mean patients have access to solutions that provide real, long-lasting results.
We recently sat down with Dr. Alexander Sobel, American Board of Cosmetic Surgery President and board certified cosmetic surgeon in Bellevue, WA, to talk about the current state of hair restoration. Read on to learn more about what options are available, the pros and cons of each, and who you should work with to get optimal hair restoration results.
Non-surgical treatment of hair loss
Before we get into the details, let’s get the facts out of the way. If you have substantial hair loss, specialty shampoos, supplements, and leave-in products aren’t going to provide dramatic improvement. That’s because once you’ve started balding in certain areas, the follicles of those individual hairs have become dormant and stopped producing hair entirely.
That being said, there are medications and medical products that can provide noticeable results if you use them in the early stages of hair loss. Medications can slow or reverse mild hair loss, often by improving hair growth and fullness in surrounding follicles that aren’t yet totally dormant.
Hair loss medications
According to Dr. Sobel, there are two types of medications that are FDA approved to treat pattern baldness in men: androgen-dependent and androgen-independent.
Androgen-dependent hair loss medications, like Finasteride, work by stopping the conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone—a hormone believed to contribute to male pattern baldness—in the scalp. During early stages of hair loss, androgen-dependent medicine typically helps increase hair growth after around three months of use.
Androgen-independent hair loss medications, like Minoxidil, work by dilating small blood vessels in the body. While it is still unknown why this stimulates hair growth, it has been shown to provide hair regrowth in around 40% of men after three months and will continue to support hair growth while the medication is being taken. Unlike androgen-dependent medicines, androgen-independent medicines can be used by women.
Can supplements treat hair loss?
While there are a variety of dietary supplements and vitamins marketed for treating hair loss, Dr. Sobel warns that there have been no clinical studies showing that these types of products can restore lost hair. Those who are genetically predisposed to hair loss—but have yet to start noticing thinning hair—may benefit from supplements or shampoos that support hair strength or scalp health, but results can be hit or miss depending on what type of alopecia you have.
Surgical hair restoration
For those who have significant hair loss, surgical hair transplantation is the only proven way to truly restore natural hair growth to areas that have balded. If you’ve been hesitant to consider a surgical option, consider that recent advancements have made hair transplant surgery quite a bit easier on patients by reducing discomfort and downtime.
Dr. Sobel says that newer hair transplant procedures have a high patient satisfaction rate and also offer more natural-looking results. Patients additionally reported feeling that the cost was well worth the final outcome.
Here’s a break down of the differences between surgical hair transplant methods.
FUT vs FUE hair restoration
There are two types of hair transplant methods: FUT (Follicular Unit Transplant) and FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction). The best option for you will depend on your individual needs and the recommendations of your physician.
The FUT method of hair transplantation involves taking a strip of skin with hair follicles from the donor site, typically the back of your head where hair is naturally fuller and less prone to balding. From this skin, small groups of tissue containing hair follicles are separated and prepared for transplantation. While this is happening, tiny, individual holes are made in the recipient site where you are experiencing thinning or balding. The prepared grafts are then individually placed into the recipient site.
This method has been around for over two decades and was a revolutionary technique for restoring a natural looking hairline when it was first developed and for many years after. But while it provided previously unachievable results, Dr. Sobel explains that this technique is not without its downsides. This type of surgery can take many hours, depending on the number of grafts placed, and there is no way to avoid the resulting horizontal scar across the back of the head. While healing, this incision will be prominent, and patients will need to take care of both the linear incision on the back of the head and the recipient sites during recovery.
The FUE technique of hair transplantation was developed as a means to achieve the same results of FUT while addressing the disadvantages. Like FUT, FUE involves harvesting hair follicles from a donor site at the back of the head and moving them to create a fuller, natural-looking hairline. Unlike FUT, this method doesn’t involve removing a strip of tissue from the back of the head but rather collecting individual hair follicles directly from the scalp and inserting them into small incisions made in the recipient site.
While the detailed FUE technique requires more time in surgery, this method eliminates the linear scar and advanced wound care needed with FUT. The FUE method also lessens downtime and lowers levels of post-procedure discomfort.
New advancements in FUE hair restoration: NeoGraft®
Traditionally, there haven’t been many methods for hair restoration, but that doesn’t mean innovation has stagnated. Per Dr. Sobel, recent years have seen renewed dedication to developing options that optimize the benefits of surgical restoration while minimizing the drawbacks. NeoGraft hair restoration is an example of these advancements.
NeoGraft is a minimally invasive FUE technique that automates the process to reduce procedure time, lessen discomfort, increase the take rate of transplanted hair follicles, and minimize downtime compared with traditional FUE. Not only is there no linear scar, Dr. Sobel explains, results look more natural because there is less room for error during harvesting and implantation.
The procedure is performed in-office with local anesthesia to reduce any discomfort. Individual follicles are gently extracted from the back and sides of the head using the NeoGraft system and then meticulously placed into the scalp of thinning areas in a natural-looking pattern. Normal activities can be resumed in just a few days, and results start to appear over the next few months as the cycle of hair growth begins.