IS A HAIR TRANSPLANT THE BEST WAY TO TREAT MALE PATTERN BALDNESS?

Medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last reviewed 03/08/2021
2 minute read
Medically reviewed by Dr Daniel Atkinson
Written by Jackson
Last reviewed 03/08/2021
5 minute read
Man's scalp under a magnifying glass

Footballers. Hollywood actors. TV presenters. 

Hair transplants. It almost sounds like the stuff of science-fiction. Except it isn’t. 

Medical professionals started to explore the possibility of hair transplantation in the 1950s. It was quite unlike the modern practices employed today. But more on that later. 

For the last two or three decades, these medical procedures have been all-but perfected. For the most part, they’re safe, effective and viable options for many men suffering with hair loss. 

But are hair transplants the best way to deal with things like male pattern baldness? Are there better, cheaper, alternatives? And can hair loss ever truly be reversed? 

Read on to find out. 

What is a hair transplant?

A hair transplant is a minimally-invasive medical procedure which involves moving follicles from one area to another, where thinning and balding is prevalent. Hair is taken from ‘safe’ areas. These are places where, instead of being thin or even bald, the hair is thick, full and likely to keep growing back. This can often include the back and sides of the hair. 

Hair can also be transported from places like the chest or back. Though chest hair can be particularly coarse and unruly, so whether this is actually viable will come down to the individual patient. The cosmetic procedure is extremely methodical and delicate.

They can cost anywhere from £1,000 to £30,000[1], dependent on the medical professional, their expertise and their team. 

Hair transplants are not available on the NHS because they are classed as a cosmetic procedure. 

Hair transplants: a medical marvel?

It took a number of years to perfect what is now a relatively safe and effective medical procedure. 

In the early days of hair transplants, in the 1950s, as a time saving method, surgeons would extract small patches of skin – roughly 3-4mm across. One patch could contain anywhere up to 20 follicles. They would then re-embed these into the thin or bald areas of the scalp. (Hair transplants aren’t limited exclusively to the scalp. You can get eyebrow transplants, for example). 

However, while the follicles themselves were healthy and capable of growth – the method through which they were placed could give a patchy appearance. It gave the look of small tufts with bald space in between, almost like how we might imagine a doll’s hair to look. Not ideal.

Over time, the procedure has been mostly perfected. Instead of moving a patch of skin containing up to 20 follicles, a transplant surgeon will now attempt to move only one or two follicles at a time. 

Now if you take a moment to pinch some of your hair with your thumb and forefinger, just imagine how many strands and individual hairs you’re gripping. Each one is rooted in a hair-follicle. That will give you a good idea of what a delicate and intricate process hair transplants can be. 

How much hair do men lose a day?

You’re brushing your hair. You dare to peak at the shower drain. You notice hair on your clothes and furniture. 

Don’t panic, for hair loss is both normal and common. We can lose up to 100 hairs a day and it’s important to make the distinction between what is ‘healthy’ or natural hair loss, and what is more the symptom of a problem like alopecia or male pattern baldness.  

If you still have a relatively healthy head of hair, that both feels and looks thick and full, there is no cause for concern. The older we get, the more likely our hair will be too thin in places. This is normal as well. 

Our bodies need care and attention and your hair is no different. Try not to dye it too often, if at all. Avoid exposing it to harsh chemicals and bleach, and make sure you wash it regularly with healthy shampoos and conditioners. 

Look after your hair, and it’ll look after you Elvis. 

Male pattern baldness is a different ball game. It happens because of a type of testosterone known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Mouthful. 

DHT prevents hair follicles from growing. Sometimes, it causes men to lose hair at a faster rate than it grows. This can lead to bald spots or thinning. 

Some parts of your scalp are more sensitive to DHT. This is why you’ll more commonly see things like receding hairlines, bald spots at the crown of the head or even complete baldness on top of the head. The hair on the back and sides is able to put up more of a fight against DHT, and so is less likely to be lost. 

Hair being held by a hand

Hair loss: mythbusting

Myth #1: Male pattern baldness only affects older men

It is thought that 50% of all men over the age of 50 suffer with some degree of hair loss. Hair loss does get more likely with age, this is just a fact of life. However, male pattern baldness can and does happen at any age. Some men even suffer in their early 20s or even teens.

Myth #2: I won’t suffer with hair loss if no one in my family has it

Hereditary factors[2] can play a role in who gets hair loss. However, you can also be the only person in your immediate family to suffer with it. You might get it, and your brother doesn’t. Your Dad might have it, and you don’t.

Myth #3: Wearing hats puts me more at risk

Wrong. This is not supported by medical evidence. Cap, beanie or Stetson hat – wear them loud and proud.

Myth #4: Hair grows back thicker and fuller the more you cut it

This is wrong too. There’s no evidence to support this claim. What is true is that hair can grow at different rates depending on where it is. It can also be thicker and fuller in certain places, and thinner in others.

Myth #5: Hair grows back thicker and fuller the more you cut it

Hair can naturally grow back in places it once was lost, depending on the type of hair loss. Some types of alopecia caused by illness can be temporary and hair can grow back. But MPB it sends to be permanent, but there are treatments that can slow hair loss down and cause regrowth in some cases.

Hair transplants as a solution to hair loss

Maybe you’ve spoken to your doctor, or you’ve done your personal research, and you know it’s quite likely you’re suffering with male pattern baldness. What next? 

You’re probably feeling and thinking a number of perfectly understandable things. The important thing is not to rush into any one solution. 

Hair transplantation might seem like an attractive option. But there are a few things to consider before you decide to go all-in. 

  • Hair transplants can be very expensive. Sometimes they are financially unviable. In the UK, they’re not available with the NHS (for free), because they’re classed as cosmetic surgery.
  • While the risk is low, hair transplants can cause infection and leave minor scar tissue.
  • Sometimes, one hair transplant isn’t enough.
  • Prepare for the fact you may get a new hairline.
  • The recovery process is normally quite straightforward and doesn’t take too long. But swelling, pain and discomfort should be expected. The head may also feel numb for a small amount of time afterwards.

Before rushing into the idea of a hair transplant, it doesn’t hurt to try other, more affordable solutions, first. 

Female pattern baldness and androgenetic alopecia

Both men and women can suffer with hair loss problems, though it is more commonly observed in men. This largely surrounds the fact men produce testosterone forever – meaning there is more of a chance their hair develops sensitivity to DHT. 

Women do not produce as much testosterone (this is converted into progesterone in the body), but this is not to say they cannot experience hair loss.

Dealing with hair loss

According to one study[3], up to 42% of men aged between 18 and 49 experience moderate to extensive hair loss.  This was 16% for men aged 18-24 and 53% for men aged 40-49. Twelve per cent of those studied suffered with predominantly frontal baldness.  Those are quite considerable numbers. But we don’t use them to scare you. The opposite. You’re not alone. Male pattern baldness is a really common problem.  While it might be difficult to come to terms with at first, perhaps particularly for younger men, it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. The chances are the person who is most concerned about your hair loss is you. Talk to your partner about it. Talk to your mates. Be honest with yourself about what’s happening.  As they say. Acceptance is the first step and hair loss is no exception to this. 

Treating hair loss

If you’re looking to do something about male pattern baldness, try to be a bit savvy about where you look and what you buy into. 

There’s probably a million and one videos and websites talking about solutions to hair loss. The truth is – many of these are not studied well enough to support whether they work. Fewer still are medically approved treatments. 

In the UK, the Medicines Healthcare and Regulatory Authority (MHRA) is the body responsible for approving treatments. If in doubt, check the MHRA out. Their website will give you all the information you need about licensed UK treatments. 

A lot of ‘natural’ treatments may not work. Neither will rubbing particular vitamins into your hair and scalp. 

There are two main types of established hair loss treatment in the UK that are supported by medical evidence. These can be topical treatments or tablets that you swallow. 

The two approved active ingredients are finasteride and minoxidil. Sometimes, it’s possible to get hair loss treatments that don’t have these names but are still approved for use. That’s because they contain either finasteride or minoxidil as active ingredients. An example would be Regaine, which contains minoxidil or Propecia which contains finasteride. 

So before you take out a second mortgage to fund a hair loss transplant, consider the following:

  • Embrace who you are. You are uniquely you, with or without hair. Let’s face it, it’s not the 1970s anymore. Some people are bald - and that’s just fine.
  • Talk to your doctor about male pattern baldness if you’re struggling. If recommended, try approved medical treatments.

The takeaway? 

Don’t go rubbing honey in your hair. It won’t work. You’ve been warned. 

And think long and hard before committing to a hair transplant. Try the alternatives first. 

You can also come and talk to one of our registered UK-clinicians about hair loss. We’ll need to perform an online consultation about your medical background. 

If approved, you can subscribe to a tailored hair loss plan that includes licensed and approved hair loss treatment. Choose when you want it delivered, and we’ll take care of the rest. 

References
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