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Hair Transplants Are More Sophisticated Than Ever: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Getting One

From the cost to how to find the best doctor, we've got all your questions answered.

Hair Transplants Are More Sophisticated Than Ever: Here's Everything You Need to Know About Getting One Michael Blann

You don’t have to look far to find cautionary tales about hair transplants—those guys whose scalps look like Cabbage-Patch dolls instead of resembling authentic, home-grown heads of hair.

But there are also plenty of stories about men whose transplants look really, really good: successful procedures that erased years from a hairline and gave the subject the youthful gusto to match. If you’re considering hair restoration and want to look more like the second scenario than the first, you may be wondering what the most reliable hair transplant method is these days, and what emerging technologies we have to look forward to? (In other words, when the heck will stem cell transplants finally be available?)

For answers, we spoke with hair experts Ken Washenik, M.D., and Serkan Agyin, M.D. Washenik is a medical advisor for Hair Club, which advises guys nationwide on this very subject (and provides its clients with customized solutions). He is also the medical director of Bosley Medical Group—a name you might recognize for its transformative advancements in hair restoration. Agyin is a surgeon with more than 25 years of hair transplant experience, and is based in Istanbul, Turkey—an increasingly popular destination for the procedure, thanks to its high medical standards and relatively lower costs than what you might pay in the U.S. or U.K.

What’s the best hair transplant method currently?

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Shutterstock / Roman Chazov

“The current gold standard for hair transplants is called Follicular Unit Extraction,” says Washenik. “FUE is an advanced surgical hair restoration technique. It’s less invasive than traditional hair transplants. This surgical solution leaves no linear scar and requires no stitches. With FUE, one hair follicle at a time is extracted from your donor area.” (Typically the rear of the head, where hair loss does not otherwise occur. “It is then transplanted to your thinning or balding areas. FUE can be performed manually or via a robotic unit operated by your doctor. This is a one-day outpatient procedure so you can go home the same day as your surgery.”

The cost and length of FUE transplants—and any transplants, really—are determined by how many “follicular unit graphs” are being moved. This depends on the coverage desired by the procedure. You can transplant a few thousand graphs in one five- to 10-hour session, which is pretty standard fare. Thinner and more recessed heads of hair will need multiple sessions.

Your hair will grow exactly as it did from the donor site, and takes well to both the crown and the hairline. “Transplanted hair doesn’t know you moved it,” Washenik says, stating that it will simply grow happily from its new home. He adds that it takes roughly one year before your hair is fully grown in and the transplant’s success is measured. That’s because the transplanted hair typically sheds itself entirely after a couple months, before regrowing from the new host site. This is natural, but it means that transplant recipients have to trust the procedure without enjoying the results for anywhere between six to 12 months.

What about stem cell hair transplants?

Procedure for stimulating hair growth mesotherapy. Hair transplant in men.; Shutterstock ID 1661503774; Notes: RR digital
Shutterstock / Yuliya L

As for the future of the procedure, the rumors are true: Stem-cell hair transplants are being studied, and some experts have suggested they’ll be available later in 2023 or 2024, pending FDA approval, based on their research progress. (In 2017, Italian researchers found a 29 percent increase in hair density around six months after subjects underwent a stem cell treatment, but similar trials in the U.S. hit the pause button.)

The procedure is being tested in various ways, but Washenik outlines the commonality between all methods: “Tissue is taken from a patient by the hair surgeon, [and the best] cells of choice are then extracted offsite, at the company’s facility. Cells are multiplied or used from early hair structure and these are sent back to the surgeon, who injects or implants them back into the patient. After six to 12 months, new hair is visible.”

Other studies are testing transplants using “allogeneic cells”, using cells from a different donor than the recipient. Washenik notes that steady progress is being made in this arena, too. (Though it’s only going to be desirable in specific cases, since someone with curly red hair probably won’t want hair transplants from someone with straight brown hair.)

But until stem cells are out of clinical trials—and until they prove to generate effective results—FUE remains the consumer’s gold standard.

How do you find the right hair transplant doctor?

Hair Transplant
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First and foremost, says Aygin, you need to ensure that your doctor has a direct tie to the field of hair transplantation—either through accreditations in dermatology or plastic surgery. Given that you have so many options, look for a doctor who differentiates themselves by participating in clinical studies or writing medical articles. Better yet, look for someone with at least 10 years of experience with FUE methods. This duration of experience will ensure that they have completed thousands of transplants—if not tens of thousands. This experience, coupled with the doctor’s efforts to stay up to date on new techniques, medical advancements, and industry standards, should help you land a good doctor. And once you find a candidate, make a good effort to pore over their “before and after” images, as well as the reviews on any pertinent site—not just the claims that they post on their own website. Be wary of someone with a perfect score and only a small handful of reviews. Yes, you want a near-perfect score, but you should understand that not every patient is going to be 100 percent satisfied with the reality of their results. That’s the small margin of error you should account for when looking for a very high average score, along with a very high amount of reviews. 

Once you select your doctor, make no financial exchange until you can understand what he or she is proposing for the procedure. It’s OK to shop around for different opinions, but only go with a doctor who can ensure that their staff is able to communicate everything to you in your own language (if you’re traveling abroad for the procedure) and if that doctor can clearly communicate an outline of the grafting session(s) and recovery period. They will need to first assess your hair loss and existing density in order to make this outline. Aygin emphasizes that it’s important for your doctor to provide this information upfront, in order to build your trust and confidence in the doctor’s work. They should also communicate to you what machinery will be used, and present you with various options and techniques (which might alter the price slightly). Any doctor you consider should be using the latest equipment, and you may have to get a few quotes or do some Googling in order to ensure that your doctor is using the most advanced, trusted procedures.

What are the common mistakes men make when planning for a hair transplant? How can they be avoided?

Handsome young man checking himself in a bathroom mirror in the morning.
Handsome young man checking himself in a bathroom mirror in the morning. Getty Images

Aygin emphasizes that some patients will only have one chance at this in their life. This depends mostly on your existing hair loss and the amount of hair that is possible to transplant unnoticeably from your “donor area” in the back of your head. So, you want to get it right—and you’ve ideally chosen a doctor who can help get it right. (That in itself is the biggest mistake people make—choosing an inexperienced doctor.)

Second is to go into a clinic abroad, as many hair transplant patients do, and to have no translators available for your procedure. It is imperative that everything is communicated clearly during this time, especially because the rules for a speedy recovery will greatly impact your final results. You need somebody on staff who can answer any pressing questions and clearly dictate these expectations and guidelines—and the same goes for the procedure, too.

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How much does a hair transplant cost, and what’s a fair price?

Man getting good hair looking at his cellphone.
F.J. Jimenez

Prices vary dramatically for these procedures, and it all comes down to the amount of hair you’re transplanting, where in the world you’re doing it,  the techniques or equipment being used, and the doctor’s own experience or reputation. In Turkey, you can pay as little as $2,700 for a hair transplant—minus the cost of getting there and booking a hotel to stay in. In the U.S., costs also vary depending on location, but the average price is around $13,000, according to a survey by the United Care Clinic.

The reason the procedures are cheaper in other countries isn’t just because of a favorable exchange rate, either. Aygin points out that Turkey’s Joint Commission International (JCI) provides government incentives for these practices, which effectively offsets the costs for patients (from all over the world). That’s why a country filled with some of the best hair transplant surgeons also offers some of the lowest global prices.

The best way to ensure that you’re getting a fair price is to get multiple opinions. Don’t show your cards to any of the doctors—let them offer a rate to you, along with their proposed area of transplant cover, and how many grafts you’ll need (or are able to get, based on your donor area). Compare these critically, looking for similarities and discrepancies in the recommendations and the costs. Note the technologies they propose to use, and how they “sell” these procedures to you. Then, make an informed decision based on your own specific case. 

Who is the best candidate for a hair transplant? Is it ever “too soon” or “too late” to receive one?

Over the shoulder waist-up view of brunette man in casual clothing standing in modern bathroom and looking at his reflection with hand in hair.
xavierarnau

There is no ideal age for a hair transplant, says Aygin. “The ideal time is when an individual starts to get concerned and feels unhappy about his or her hair. This can range between the age of 20 to 75.”  

However, he brings up the point that hair loss will naturally continue after the hair transplant, just as it was progressing prior to the procedure. And some people just may not have enough hair in their donor area to cover a single transplant.

“Even if an individual continues to experience hair loss after hair transplantation, it is still possible to undergo another session,” he says. (The interval between two sessions must be at least six months.) “The most critical aspect here is to preserve the donor area for future hair transplant sessions. An experienced doctor will naturally be able to foresee the likelihood of an individual’s future hair loss and will carry out the first hair transplant accordingly. But, if the donor area of an individual is weak and the area to be covered is wide, this means that there may be no chance of undergoing a second hair transplant session in the future, and the hairline should be designed taking this into account.” 

There are various phases of hair loss that your doctor will assess, on a scale of A to F, with A being the least amount of loss. “There are a lot of patients in phase A who undergo the procedure. Individuals in phase F also opt for hair transplantation. The number of patients who undergo hair transplantation within each of these phases are generally equal. A patient in phase F generally has more realistic expectations. Most of these patients understand that they do not have such a strong donor area to obtain similar hair transplant results as those in phases A and B. Showing ‘before and after’ photos of former patients (in the same phases of loss) can provide these patients with a clearer insight on what to expect from the operation. This will also enable the patient to undergo the operation with more confidence.”

Should hair transplant recipients take other measures—like finasteride pills or topical minoxidil—to preserve the transplanted hair?

Man checking face in mirror
bymuratdeniz

“After hair transplantation, we recommend our patients to use minoxidil and finasteride,” says Aygin. These supporting medications provide positive results to individuals both who have and have not undergone hair transplantation.” In short, the methods you used before your transplant are just as important to maintain afterward—and they may be the reason you can enjoy your new hairline for an extra decade or two.

For the uninitiated, minoxidil (the generic name for Rogaine) is a topical foam or liquid that helps improve blood flow and nutrient delivery to the hairs on the crown. This strengthens them and prevents thinning or hair fall. Finasteride (the generic for Propecia) is an oral supplement for men, which suppresses the hormone that leads to hair thinning and loss. So, while minoxidil improves sustenance, finasteride improves defense. It’s important to talk to your dermatologist about both, however, especially finasteride, because it requires a close monitoring of your sex drive and ability to get an erection. (A small percentage of men, between one to two percent, report these sexual side effects, and must decide whether or not to continue with the medication.) 

How long before a hair transplant recipient can go back to work? Is there any way to expedite the healing process?

Rogan Macdonald

Transplant recipients will be able to return to work as soon as they wish, says Aygin. There is no medical restriction over this, as of now. Patients will have to wear a bathing cap in the event they are experiencing minor bleeding and to protect their newly transplanted hairs on the job. Your specific case will vary based on the nature of your work, keeping in mind that you will need to avoid pressure on the newly transplanted hair, as well as sweating and sun exposure, for up to a couple of months.

The scabs on your head should be healed entirely within 12 days, says Aygin, though some patients will experience faster recovery. 

How long before you see the results of a hair transplant surgery?

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fizkes

Upon transplantation, your “new” hair resets its growth cycle, meaning it naturally falls out but leaves its follicle in place. Like any of your other hairs that naturally fall out and regrow, it will take as little as two months, and up to six months, to regenerate and reappear. Most patients will see their new hair in six months, but depending on the length they wish to showcase, or depending on how slowly their hair grows, it could take a year or more. 

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