Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/30/2021
While surgery may seem like an extreme option, many men and women turn to hair transplant surgery every year to deal with a variety of hair loss types and hair loss problems.
If you’re reading this, we suspect that you’ve already looked at quite a few other options to deal with a concerning hair problem — one that’s likely making you feel very self conscious.
Hair loss treatments aren’t a sure thing, and hair transplants aren’t perfect. But for extreme cases, they do pose a potential solution.
You probably have many questions about hair transplants, and we’re here to help answer them.
Before we get to that, let’s go over some basics about why you may be losing hair in the first place.
You’re bound to lose a few of the around 100,000 hairs on your head each day — dozens, in fact.
The American Academy of Dermatology says that losing around 100 a day isn’t much of a reason to worry.
But when the numbers creep above that, it might indeed be time to talk to a healthcare professional about excessive hair loss.
Typically, hair follicles fall out because they have reached the end of their life cycles. Each hair follicle has an independent life cycle of several years, which can be broken into three distinct phases: the anagen phase, the catagen phase and the telogen phase.
The anagen phase is the hair follicle’s multi-year growth phase.
The catagen phase, which comes next, is when the hair follicle is alive, but has stopped growing.
The catagen phase lasts just a few weeks, and is followed by what is called the telogen phase, in which the hair follicle is resting (and is preparing to fall out).
There are several types of hair loss that can affect your hair in different phases, for different reasons, and depending on which type of hair loss you’re experiencing, it will change the suggested treatment options and the likelihood of their success.
Telogen effluvium is essentially a state in which a large number of hairs in the anagen phase are suddenly forced into the telogen phase, which causes a disproportionate amount of your hair follicles to go into a dormant state.
There can be many causes of telogen effluvium, but it tends to happen to people who have recently had a shocking or stressful event to the body.
For example, if you’ve recently had a high fever, an operation, or have given birth, lost a significant amount of weight, experienced a lot of stress or are recovering from illness, you may be at risk of experiencing telogen effluvium.
There are several forms of traumatic alopecia. One is traction alopecia, which is caused by pulling due to certain types of hairstyles.
Traumatic alopecia can also be caused by other forms of trauma to the hair, including burning or otherwise damaging the hair in various ways — everything from stress to going blonde for the summer can be at play here.
It can also be caused by psychological conditions like trichotillomania — an impulse control disorder that leads one to pull out their own hair.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that attacks your hair follicles, causing damage and eventually stopping growth.
There are three forms of alopecia areata: alopecia areata (which can leave patches of baldness anywhere on your body, such as your scalp eyebrows, beard, armpits, eyelashes and ears), alopecia totalis (which leaves your head bald) and alopecia universalis (which is very rare, but leaves your whole body bald).
This is your typical male and female pattern hair loss: receding hairlines and thinning on the crown for men and across the scalp for women.
It can develop in men and women as early as their teens or 20s, though in most cases for hair loss in women, it may take time for the effects to be visible, as hair loss tends to occur evenly.
Hair transplantation is just that: transplanting individual follicles of hair from one location to another.
This is done surgically, with follicles being moved from a location on your body where you don’t necessarily want hair to grow.
The follicles are then moved to a location where you want hair, typically to the scalp, along the hairline or wherever a bald patch may have formed.
Within the hair transplantation space, there are two techniques that account for the majority of hair transplantation procedures: follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE). Let’s take a look at how they differ.
Follicular unit transplantation is a faster and more efficient hair transplant procedure, whereby a strip of hair-follicle-laden skin is removed and the individual follicles from it are then separated and grafted into the desired locations.
The downside is that, when removing a large piece of tissue, there’s a higher likelihood of noticeable scarring, and it can increase the chances for some infection due to the larger trauma zone.
Follicular unit extraction, on the other hand, takes much longer to perform because each hair follicle is individually extracted from the skin and then moved to the desired site, one by one.
The benefits of FUE are obvious: smaller surgical operations mean smaller scars and quicker healing.
FUE will also cause less pain after hair transplant surgery, and because there are fewer noticeable scars, you won’t have to worry about styling your transplanted hair in such a way to hide visible marks.
The additional upside of FUE is that hairs can be taken from more locations, leaving more hair available for grafting generally.
There’s an additional potential bonus to this method: technically, you can use it to permanently remove hair follicles from unwanted locations and redeploy them where needed.
Hair transplants can help many people, but they’re not for everyone. For instance, the medical community is hesitant to perform a hair transplant for anyone under 25 because of the unpredictability of hair loss before that age.
The procedure is also best for baldness at the hairline.
Patients should also be patient and realistically manage their expectations, as multiple procedures might need to be performed to achieve the desired effect.
Further, the donor site’s hair should ideally not be showing signs of its own thinning and weakness.
Use of and a lack of results from other hair growth treatments is also a criterion — ideally, surgery should be the last option.
Diagnosis is the big question ahead of transplant approval.
A confirmed diagnosis of androgenic alopecia is ideal, because those with other hair loss types — including those caused by fibrosis or autoimmune conditions — might not be good candidates.
The medical community also generally considers excessive hair shedding, scalp inflammation, scarring, broken hairs and unusual or patchy hair loss patterns to be red flags and potential reasons for exclusion.
Because hair transplants are a surgical procedure, there are some significant risks associated with them.
The most obvious and serious risk, of course, is that the transplant might not work, and you’ll be down donor hair with no more hair to show for it.
Other common risks include edema, bleeding, folliculitis and numbing of the scalp (which could be permanent, but is typically temporary).
Major hair restoration surgery, ironically, can also cause telogen effluvium, which usually isn’t permanent, but may temporarily cause significant hair shedding for several months.
Less serious risks of side effects like ingrown hairs or cysts might also cause some complications.
As with any surgical procedure, hair transplants can cause infection, which may result in bleeding, crusting, swelling or other issues and require additional care.
The internet is full of products claiming to be the miracle cure for hair loss, but as you probably know, most of these claims are dubious at best.
The reality is that replacing or regrowing hair is a chore — one that may require serious commitment or changes, without the promise of certain success.
Here are some treatments that are considered effective alternatives to hair transplantation surgery:
Where do we begin with lifestyle changes? Poor diet, stress, hairstyles that strain or damage follicles — these can all be counteracted with simple lifestyle changes.
Consider reducing your intake of unhealthy processed foods, and instead increasing your vitamin intake — particularly with regards to vitamins A, D and biotin.
Loosen your buns and other tight hairstyles that may be pulling at the roots of your hair.
If you think your stress may be extreme enough to be having physiological effects, talk to a professional about ways to eliminate recurring stress from your life.
There are other options, including a popular supplement, saw palmetto, which also can reduce DHT levels (and may therefore be effective in treating hair loss).
Saw palmetto can be found as an ingredient in certain shampoos alongside biotin and other essential hair health compounds.
Our Best Shampoo for Women’s Hair Loss guide contains a full list of the ingredients you should check for in a shampoo.
There are other treatments and tools available, albeit with limited scientific results to prove their value.
Mechanical instruments — electric scalp massagers, laser combs and helmets — have had success in limited trials — they’re expensive but show modest potential.
Likewise, potential “gimmick” products like pumpkin seed oil or rosemary oil might have benefits, but for now have shown limited and inconclusive results.
These hair loss treatment options typically won’t be recommended by a healthcare professional at all, and if so, only after other treatments have failed.
Also, laser combs sound like a disaster waiting to happen. But we digress...
Hair transplants are a serious solution to a serious problem, but for women struggling with hair loss, it may be the best option to help them restore their head of hair and confidence alike.
If you’ve noticed changes to your hair or hairline, you might be a candidate for hair transplant or other treatments. The best way to find out what might work for you is to consult a medical professional.