Question: Does a hair transplant mean using someone else’s hair? I know it is possible to transplant organs and tissue from one person to another – is that how a hair transplant works?
Dr. Shapiro, Hair Transplant Doctor Answers: It is technically possible to transplant hair from one person (possibly a cadaver) to another, however, this is never done. Virtually all person-to-person transplants run the risk of rejection.
Rejection means that the immune system recognizes the new tissue as an invader and attacks it. Anti-rejection drugs have been developed to minimize this problem. However, anti-rejection drugs can have very serious side-effects and health risks, because they weaken the immune system and increase the possibility of infections. Person-to-person hair transplants are not worth the risk, given that auto-transplants (donor tissue from the patient’s own body) are usually possible.
Hair transplants are auto-transplants. Hair follicles are transplanted from one part of the scalp (donor area) to the balding or thinning area of the scalp. Since this is the person’s own hair, rejection is not an issue. After a hair transplant, anti-rejection drugs are not necessary.
A very typical cause of balding is called “androgenetic alopecia” or “male pattern balding.” It runs in families, and is caused by the hair follicles becoming increasingly sensitive to male hormones. The hair follicles at the top and front of the head are subject to deteriorating and falling out, but the hair on the back and sides are not.
The donor area, therefore, is removed (usually in a strip) from the back or sides of the head, and transplanted to the top and front. A competent hair transplant surgeon will use a trichophytic closure to minimize scarring at the donor site. After being transplanted, the new hair grows within a few months and is no subject to hormone sensitivity, so it does not fall out (except as part of the normal growth cycle).
Today’s hair transplants look very natural because follicular unit grafts are usually utilized. Small units of 1-3 hair follicles are used at the hairline, so that the hair placement is not noticeably different.
When someone is experiencing hair loss, they should consult with a doctor right away. Hair loss has many possible causes and a diagnosis is essential. The sooner someone with male pattern balding seeks a hair transplant, before total balding of the crown has taken place, the better.
Thanks for asking!
Dr. Shapiro is a dermatologist and hair transplantation specialist with hair transplant clinics in the Miami, Boca Raton and Ft. Lauderdale areas of south Florida.