A hair transplant is a procedure to move hair from an area unaffected by hair loss to an area of thinning or baldness.
It is suitable for people with androgenetic alopecia (male- and female-pattern baldness) or scarring resulting from injury or burns.
It is not usually appropriate for other types of hair loss, such as alopecia areata.
A hair transplant isn't normally available on the NHS, as it is regarded as cosmetic surgery.
It is a major decision – a permanent alteration to your appearance – so weigh it up carefully and don't rush into anything.
You may want to read Is cosmetic surgery right for me? before making your decision.
Read on to find out:
How much does it cost?
A hair transplant in the UK can cost anywhere between £1,000 and £30,000, depending on the extent of hair loss, the type of procedure you have, and the quality of the clinic and its team.
Where do I go?
If you're looking in England, check the Care Quality Commission (CQC) website for treatment centres that can perform hair transplants.
All independent clinics and hospitals that provide cosmetic surgery in England must be registered with the CQC. The CQC publishes inspection reports and performance ratings to help people choose care.
Also, research the surgeon who is going to carry our your hair transplant. All doctors must, as a minimum, be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). Check the register to see the doctor's fitness to practise history.
You may also want to find out:
- how many transplants they've performed where there have been complications
- what sort of care would be provided after the operation
- where the surgeon is based
Read more about choosing a cosmetic surgeon.
What does it involve?
A hair transplant is usually carried out under local anaesthetic and sedation.
There are two main ways it can be carried out.
Follicular unit transplantation (FUT, or strip method):
- A strip of hair-bearing skin is removed from the back and sides of the head and divided into individual hair grafts. Each graft contains about two hairs.
- The grafts are then placed into tiny cuts (incisions) made in the scalp.
- The wound at the back of the head is closed with stitches.
The head does not need to be shaved – only the area to be removed is trimmed.
Follicular unit extraction (FUE):
- The entire head is usually shaved.
- A special punch device is used to directly remove individual grafts of hair one by one.
- The grafts are placed into tiny incisions made in the scalp.
Both procedures usually take a full day, but an overnight stay is not required.
If a large area is being treated, you may need to have two or more sessions a few months apart.
You shouldn't feel pain during a hair transplant. Pain relief will be provided if you experience any discomfort afterwards.
The surgeon may give you some lotion or spray to take away and use at home. It's important to follow the instructions you're given when discharged.
You will need to arrange for someone to drive you home if you were given a sedative, as this can take up to 24 hours to wear off.
Most patients return to work about three days after their hair transplant procedure.
It's usually possible to return to work more quickly following an FUT procedure. The head is not shaved, so your operation may not be noticeable.
You should be very careful with your transplanted hair for the first 14 days after your operation. The newly transplanted grafts will not be secure in their new place.
After 14 days, you can normally return to your normal hair care routine. Most clinics will ask you to restrict your exercise in the first month to reduce the chances of increased scarring.
After a few days: Any bandages can normally be removed. You may be able to wash your hair gently by hand.
After a week: Any non-dissolvable stitches can normally be removed.
After a few weeks: The transplanted hair will often fall out, and later start to grow back.
After six months: New hair will normally start to appear.
After 12-18 months: The full results should be seen.
Side effects to expect
It's common after a hair transplant to have:
- a tight, achy and swollen scalp for a few days
- temporary scabbing where the hair was transplanted
- at least one scar – although this should fade and is usually only noticeable if your hair is cut very short
What could go wrong
A hair transplant is generally a safe procedure, but as with any type of operation there's always a small risk of:
- excessive bleeding
- an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic or sedation
Your surgeon should be able to treat these problems promptly if they happen.
There's also a small risk the transplant won't take and the hair falls out, or an obvious scar develops.
The surgeon should explain how likely these risks and complications are and how they would be treated if they occured.
If you have male- or female-pattern hair loss, your hair will continue to thin in the areas around the transplant, so it's essential to carefully plan the design of the transplant to make sure the hair remains natural looking as time passes.
Occasionally, people find the desired effect wasn't achieved and feel they need another operation.
What to do if you have problems
Cosmetic surgery can sometimes go wrong and the results may not be what you expected.
You should contact the clinic where the operation was carried out as soon as possible if you have severe pain or any unexpected symptoms.
If you have a hair transplant and are not happy with the results, or you think the procedure wasn't carried out properly, you should take up the matter with the surgeon who treated you.
If you have concerns about your care, you should contact the CQC. If necessary, you can make a complaint about a doctor to the General Medical Council (GMC).
For more information, read the Royal College of Surgeon's advice on What if things go wrong?