OK, so you’re losing your hair…
If you’re anything like me, you’ll have run through the full spectrum of emotions as your once full head of hair continues to thin out. You’ve probably tried everything to resolve this too, from increasing your Vitamin D intake to having your scalp massaged on a regular basis. Then, like a shining light on the horizon, there appears a so-called ‘miracle’ cure in the form of a hair transplant.
This is a great idea, right? Unfortunately, not everything that shines is golden, as hair transplants are incredibly costly procedures that cause considerable trauma to the scalp and fail to offer any guarantee of long-term success. So not only does a hair transplant often leave you out of pocket (unless you happen to have Wayne Rooney’s bank balance), but it’s also incapable or reversing genetic conditions such as male pattern baldness.
In this article, I’ll expose the truth about hair transplants and the private companies that market them as miracle cures, while asking what alternatives are available to those of you who are losing your locks.
Why Hair Transplant Companies are Ripping you Off
Let’s start with a bold assertion; hair transplant companies are ripping off their trusting and often vulnerable customers on a huge scale.
There are several reasons for this, not least the fact that companies charge customers huge amounts of money without guaranteeing that their treatment will be successful in the long-term.
Of course, it would be totally unethical for hair transplant firms to make such assurances, but by marketing their services as a cure for premature baldness they’ve made a conscious decision to mislead their customers from the outset.
Then there’s the actual cost of a hair transplant in the UK, which varies from £1,000 and £30,000 depending on the type of procedure that you invest in (I’ll break these down in more detail later in the piece).
The extent of your hair loss and the quality of the clinic that you visit will also impact on the price, but either way, these are astonishing amounts to spend on something that cannot be guaranteed.
You should also bear in mind that this does not represent a one-off payment, as it usually takes at least two weeks to resume your normal hair care routine after the transplant has been completed. Similarly, transplanted hair often falls out before growing back thicker and stronger, and this requires several follow-up appointments at considerable cost.
As if all of this is not enough, we’ve also seen a number of high profile cases in which people have had to invest in more than one hair transplant. The former Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney offers a relevant case in point, as he recently sought out further treatment when his hair began to thin following a £30,000 transplant as recently as 2011.
So while the initial cost of a hair transplant is high enough, rest assured you’ll need to spend considerably more if you’re to maintain the effects of the treatment over time.
What are the Different Types of Hair Transplant?
In simple terms, hair transplants rely on hair follicles that are drawn from the side and the back of the head.
This is because the hairs in these areas of the head are more resistant to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is an androgen thought to give males their unique characteristics and can cause follicles to miniaturise over time.
This means that they remain strong and healthy even as the hairs on your crown and the top of your head shrink, so they’re subsequently transplanted into balding areas of the scalp.
There are two main variations of this treatment, and I’ve taken the time to break these down below:
Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE)
If there’s such a thing as a gold standard procedure (at least by reputation) in this field, it’s the FUE transplant method.
With this technique, single hair follicles are removed from the donor areas of the scalp once it has been completely shaved and then inserted into tiny cuts made into the crown and the top of the head.
These lesions are typically angled to replicate the natural direction of hair growth, while the new follicles typically take up to six months to deliver the desired result.
The entire procedure can take a full day to complete, although this will depend on the extent of the hair loss you’ve experienced so far.
Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT)
With the FUT method, a surgeon will take a slightly different approach to remove hair from the donor site.
In this instance, you won’t be required to have your head shaved beforehand, while the hair will be removed in single strips rather than individual follicles.
Each of these grafts will include up to 2,000 hair follicles, which are then separated into single follicles and inserted into angular cuts as with the FUE methods.
This is usually the preferred transplant method if you’ve experienced advanced hair loss, so as a general rule you’ll pay more for this and suffer more considerable scarring in the process!
What Happens During a Hair Transplant?
While this may offer a brief insight into how hair transplants are completed, trust me when I say they do little to highlight the pain and the mental trauma associated with these procedures.
With this in mind, here’s a more comprehensive breakdown of FUE and FUT transplant methods and the individual steps that are taken to transform your scalp.
Preparing the Scalp
As I’ve already said, your scalp will be shaved when undergoing FUE treatment, while this is not the case with FUT transplants (due to the nature of the treatment and the fact that most patients will have already lost much of their hair by the time the procedure is undertaken).
However, a local anaesthesia will be applied in both instances, in an attempt to minimise the pain during treatment. This is injected directly into the scalp, and while this may numb the area for a short period of time it will do little to ease your discomfort later (again, we’ll have a little more on this further on).
Prior to this, a surgeon will also identify a donor area on the back or the side of your head, as he looks to graft the strongest and most DHT resistant follicles.
Removing the Donor Follicles
When it comes to grafting hair follicles from the donor site, the individual steps taken will depend on the transplant method.
In the case of FUE treatment, small, individual hair follicles are moved one-by-one from the selected area, in a painstaking process that can take up to eight hours for those in the early stages of hair loss.
These leave tiny puncture marks and temporary scars that may last for up to a week, while they can also contribute to significant pain and swelling long after the procedure has been completed.
In the case of FUT treatment, a six to 10-inch strip of skin is removed from the donor site, leaving a relatively large wound on your head. This will be sewn up before you’re woken from your slumber, and while the sutures are usually removed after 10 days or so they can leave a noticeable scar on your head.
This process will take approximately four to eight hours to complete, during which time the cut-out strip will be microscopically divided into grafts of between 500 and 2,000 hair follicles depending on each patients’ needs.
Completing the Hair Transplant
With both procedures, your scalp will then undergo further trauma as it’s prepared for transplantation.
More specifically, a surgeon will make a number of small but penetrative incisions on the relevant sections of the scalp, before placing the individual follicles into the cuts.
The wounds are typically angular, in an attempt to encourage normal hair growth and avoid an obviously synthetic appearance.
As you can imagine, making a number of incisions in your scalp can cause bleeding, as this may continue after the procedure has been completed. So while you can typically undergo these treatments as a day patient, you’re likely to experience considerable discomfort and soreness particularly after your anaesthetic has worn off.
Is Hair Transplant Surgery Painful?
We can’t escape the painful nature of hair transplant surgery, which requires an anaesthetic to minimise the discomfort felt during treatment.
In fact, even the injection can cause a degree of pain, while numerous patients have reported that they could feel individual follicles being removed from the donor site while the anaesthetic took time to kick in.
Make no mistake; the process of having a hair transplant can be described as uncomfortable at the very least, as patients remain awake and sentient throughout the procedure.
They’re undoubtedly aware of the trauma being experienced by the scalp during this time, from the pulling and tugging of hairs to the sensation of incisions being made on the head.
As if this wasn’t enough, you can rest assured that your level of pain and discomfort will increase further post-surgery. The area of the scalp that has been treated will be particularly sore and tender for a period time, as this and its connecting tissues will have been subjected to significant physical trauma that will take a while to heal.
Similarly, the donor site will also be very tender, red and swollen in the weeks following your treatment, while you’re also likely to sport a number of unsightly scars during this time.
Just imagine going through all of this without a finite guarantee that your hair transparent will be a success or survive the test of time. To make matters worse, considerable shock and trauma to the scalp can cause a phenomenon known as telogen effluvium, which is defined by temporary hair loss from the afflicted areas.
In this instance, you could pay £30,000 for a hair transplant only to find that you end up with less hair than when you started!
What Happens after a Hair Transplant?
In the immediate aftermath of your transplant, you’ll be sent on your merry way with a post-operative kit, some pain medication and washing directions (you normally can’t resume your normal haircare regime until two weeks after the treatment).
You’ll also be asked to book a three or six-month follow up appointment, usually for a standard consultation fee with your surgeon.
Following two or three weeks of pain and discomfort, your new locks are also likely to start falling out, after which time stronger and supposedly healthy hair follicles will grow in their place.
On average, it will take between six and 12 months for your new hair to grow in earnest, but during this period you’re likely to experience a number of disheartening side effects. We’ve already touched on a few of these, including recurring pain, but here’s a full list of the things to be wary of:
- Bleeding: I’m no surgeon, but if you have several incisions made in your scalp or entire strips of skin removed from the side of your head, it stands to reason that you should experience some post-surgery bleeding. This may require additional stitching, which is all you need after the trauma of treatment.
- Infection: Although a slightly rarer occurrence, it’s more than possible for you to suffer an infection following a hair transplant. While this can be countered through a course of antibiotics, such treatment can serve as a catalyst for other conditions.
- Swelling of the Forehead and the Eyes: In some cases, you may also notice that your forehead and the area around your eyes start to swell post-surgery. This can last indefinitely following treatment, while it may even leave you sporting a dreaded black eye!
- Inflammation or Infection of the Hair Follicles: Even if you’ve never heard of the condition folliculitis, you can surely agree with us that this sounds like no fun at all? This term refers to the inflammation or infection of the hair follicles, which can cause tremendous discomfort and deter growth over time.
- Numbness: After any form of cosmetic surgery, there’s a chance that the affected area will experience numbness. In this instance, this means that the treated areas of the scalp are at risk, and this could persist for as much as four months or more.
- Frequent Itching: Beyond this, you may also experience an itchy scalp that occurs due to the formation of scabs. Although this can be combated with regular shampooing using a medicated product, scratching these sores regularly could trigger secondary infections on the scalp.
- Scarring: We’ve already said that scarring is a significant risk of having a hair transplant, particularly if you’re naturally prone to this or have a weak immune system. If you’re one of the few people who are prone to keloid scarring, the treatment could even cause a ridging effect on the scalp.
- Sudden and Temporary Thinning: We referenced telogen effluvium earlier in the post, which describes sudden and temporary hair loss following physical trauma. Incredibly, an operation to transplant hair can actively cause you to lose whatever follicles remain, and while this will grow back over time it can be a huge setback for patients.
- Unnatural Looking Tufts of Hair: For the first year following your treatment, there’s a significant risk that your hair will appear noticeably strange and unnatural. This appearance may also last considerably longer, depending on the treatment that you had and the quality of the clinic that you used.
We reckon that these side effects represent grim reading, even for those of you who are normally optimistic. So before you even countenance the idea of having a hair transplant, ask yourself if this is worth these considerable risks?
Considering the Mental Scars and Trauma
In truth, the cost and the physical trauma associated with hair transplants was enough to put me off going through such a procedure in my youth (although I did spend a great deal on a hair thickening treatment at a clinic in Manchester during my darkest days).
This was without considering the potential mental scars, which go far deeper than your aesthetic appearance and can impact on every aspect of your life.
One of the biggest considerations is the financial strain created by having a hair transplant, whether you’re trying to pay down this debt or fund future appointments and consultations. This can be even more concerning in instances where you’ve borrowed money to fund your surgery, as repaying this can cause significant stress and mental anguish over time.
This can create something of a vicious cycle, as feelings of stress may trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response in your body. As a result, the body produces extra hormones to prepare to deal with a perceived threat, while typically increasing the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream.
These hormonal changes can have a significant impact on your hair follicles, hindering growth and extending the resting phase during the typical growth cycle. This can dramatically undermine the initial impact of your hair transplant, leaving you right back at square one or potentially in a worst position than when you started.
From here, the old feelings of insecurity can easily resurface, along with an underlying sense of depression and inadequacy.
While the financial and mental stress associated with hair transplants can drastically outweigh any temporary benefits, it’s also fair to surmise that these procedures can be botched by clinics.
You don’t need to take my word for this either, as there are several horror stories and tales of botched surgeries that have taken place across Europe.
One particular instance involved father-of-three Faisal Hamid, 30, who underwent a hair transplant so that he could look like his idol and favourite football player Wayne Rooney. Following a relatively expensive 10-hour treatment in Turkey (which provides cheap but unregulated treatments to international patients), Hamid was left with a striking bald patch on his scalp and lop-sided hair that was more reminiscent of Bobby Charlton’s famed comb-over.
In another instance, Scott MacArthur, 24, confirmed that he spent £1,500 on a hair transplant in Glasgow only to be left with a “glorified wig” on his scalp. After one occasion when MacArthur’s transplant appeared to shift from his scalp, the Scot could only then look on in horror as his new hair melted in the sun during the summer heatwave.
Clearly, experiences are subjective, and you can no doubt find thousands of positive testimonials from patients online. Still, would you really want to risk undergoing a substandard treatment, without a cast-iron guarantee that your surgery will work and stand the test of time?
If you Don’t have a Hair Transplant, What are your Alternatives?
For me, this questionable risk-reward ratio is at the heart of why hair transplants are so dangerous. Remember, it’s scientifically impossible to cure or reverse something that is a normal physiological occurrence, and this definitely applies to the genetic process of male pattern baldness.
Even those who believe that this may be possible in the future remain inherently cautious while confirming that treating male pattern baldness requires continuous treatment over a sustained period of time.
With this in mind, it’s clear that the cost of funding a hair transplant and follow-up treatments far exceeds the potential gains, while this type of treatment is also entirely unsuitable for those in search of a permanent solution.
Even on a fundamental level, this makes hair transplants a complete and utter con, and one that plays on people’s vulnerability and insecurities by falsely convincing them that there’s a long-term solution for their problem.
Then there’s the consideration of what else could be done with £30,000. This represents a huge sum of money for the everyday citizen, while it’s enough to pay for your dream holiday, bolster an ailing retirement fund or even pay off your mortgage in some instances.
If you are fortunate enough to have a sum of £30,000 or more sitting idle in your bank account, you’ll achieve far more value for your money by deploying it tangibly and avoiding ineffective hair loss treatments that fail to deliver on the promises that they make.
OK, I hear you ask, so what’s the alternative? From my own experience, if I had to choose all over again between spending thousands on a hair transplant or thickening treatment or buying a new, £30,000 car I’d go for the latter. And let me tell you one thing; those plush leather seats are comfy and worth every single penny!
This means embracing your premature baldness and accepting your brand new reality while adopting a positive approach to getting on with the remainder of your life.
The Last Word –Accepting There is no Miracle Cure
I accept that this is easier said than done, having gone through immense emotional anguish and trialed a number of hair loss solutions before finally accepting that there’s no miracle cure.
However, arriving at this conclusion is immensely empowering, while the process of embracing your baldness and proactively shaving your scalp can represent a turning point in your battle against male pattern baldness.
From cultivating a bold new look to taking charge of your life and long-term future, finally accepting your impending baldness can save you considerable sums of money while also helping you to truly fulfill your potential!