The process of hair transplant surgery has actually been around since the 1950s, and unsurprisingly technology has advanced rapidly since then. The most common technique, and one that has been in practice since the 1990s is called Follicular Unit Hair Transplantation (or ‘FUT’). This involves taking a strip of hair follicles and ‘harvesting’ them, before moving them to a new site and hoping that they take root.
The biggest downside of this type of treatment is that it can result in a scar at the donor site, which means even this (relatively new) technique is constantly evolving, with the introduction of individual hair grafts now available in some surgeries. Unsurprisingly, this process is time consuming, but can be very successful. It involves surgeons taking tiny clusters of follicles (in groups of between 1 and 4 follicles at a time – known as ‘hair units’) and implanting them one by one to the new site. If the hair takes well to the transplant site, the hair follicles will adjust to their new setting and will look very natural, hence this kind of treatment is desirable for those who can afford it.
So how do doctors keep these follicles alive during this process?
Whether surgeons are removing strips of hair follicles, or smaller hair units, they need to ensure that these are kept alive in the time between removal from the donor site and implantation into the recipient site. While in transit, the hairs are stored in a holding solution, which provides an environment where they are safe and nourished, before completing their journey to the new site. The holding solution is a complex mixture of chemicals which have to offer the most suitable environment to keep the follicles alive – ensuring the correct levels of acidity, components such as oxygen and the temperature that it is stored at are critical for this process.
Once the hairs have been transplanted there is still a period of uncertainty – it usually takes around 3 days for the blood supply to reconnect to the follicles, and if this does not work correctly, then the follicles can die. If the transplant process is successful and the implant site and the new hairs coexist happily, transplanted hair can last as long as the remainder of the patient’s life, although the associated risks and likelihood for future hair loss (either from the transplant site or from elsewhere on the scalp, should be discussed at length with your surgeon before the decision to have treatment is made. As with many things, each case is unique and carries its own balance of risks and rewards.
One of the latest technology breakthroughs in hair transplant surgery is the automation of the FUE technique with the NeoGraft system. This facilitates the harvesting process, improving accuracy and speed over manual extraction, meaning less potential damage to the hair follicles.