- Men's Health & Wellness
Surgical treatments for hair loss with artificial hair implants
What it is
Artificial hairs: Implants are non-living artificial hairs which are anchored into the scalp with hook-like artificial roots. They are placed individually into the scalp in a manner that mimics natural hair growth. They are considered to be a more permanent, and more undetectable alternative to hairpieces.
Immune reaction: Artificial hairs are typically made of synthetic fibers similar to those used for surgical sutures. The materials for the artificial hairs and artificial roots are selected for strength, natural-looking appearance, and to minimize rejection as a foreign substance by the body's immune system.
Banned in the United States: The body eventually rejects the artificial hairs however, often producing chronic inflammation and sometimes scalp infections. In the past, on some occasions, this disadvantage was not presented accurately to the prospective patients. The risk of chronic inflammation and scalp infections resulting from artificial hair implants has resulted in the US Food and Drug Administration banning the use of artificial hairs as a medical device in the United States since 1984.
Legal in Japan, Mexico, Europe: Artificial hair implant procedures are legal in Japan, Mexico, and some European countries, although there is still plenty of controversy surrounding their use. Although improvements in implant materials and surgical methods have been made, and are continuing to be made, artificial hair implant procedures are still not legal to perform in the United States.
New hair added: The major benefit of artificial hair implants is that new "hair" is added, and the effect is immediate. The initial implantation of individual artificial hairs causes only minor trauma to the scalp, and the patient can enjoy new full-length hair immediately after surgery.
Realistic appearance: The artificial hairs are placed individually for a realistic appearance, and they look and style in a way similar to real hairs. The artificial hairs can be implanted into a completely bald area or interspersed among natural growing hairs. Detection is difficult, provided that there is no skin irritation.
No incisions: Unlike other surgical treatments for hair restoration, the insertion of the artificial hairs is a very simple surgical procedure, and there are no incisions needed to harvest donor follicles or move the scalp.
Maintain hair density: Unlike other surgical hair restoration procedures that relocate live hair follicles, artificial hair implantation maintains hair density in the areas surrounding the thin area or bald spot.
Won't fall off: Artificial hairs eliminate the fear of a hairpiece coming off unintentionally. Although occasional shedding occurs, the artificial hairs won't fall out all at once. Implanted hairs are long lasting, although not permanent. The synthetic fiber shafts become worn and occasionally break, and the body's immune system eventually rejects the artificial roots. Artificial hair implants remain in the scalp for several months, on average.
Chronic inflammation: Inflammation results from the body's tissues responding to irritation. The major disadvantage of artificial hair implants is that they cause irritation and are always rejected by the body eventually. Rejection often causes chronic skin problems, sometimes even after the artificial hairs are removed. The body's immune system detects the hairs as foreign objects and works to push them out of the skin. Artificial hair roots however, are designed to hold the hairs securely in place. Inflammation, and often scalp numbness result. Often the skin around the implants hot, itchy, and painful. Chronic inflammation also results in an unnatural red and swollen appearance.
Infections: Infections are when microorganisms such as bacteria invade the body and reproduce, and cause damage to cells. Even without inflammation, artificial hairs provide a path for bacteria to enter the skin. Skin oils and dead cells accumulate around each artificial hair as it exits the scalp, and provide a favorable condition for bacteria. If the scalp is weakened and inflamed, the result could be bacterial infections. Untreated scalp infections can spread and cause the loss of live growing hairs. To reduce infections, periodic visits to the implant surgeon are required for professional scalp cleansing. Implants at the site of infections are usually extracted by the doctor during these visits. Extraction can result in scarring, which over time can cause an unnatural appearance.
Embedded artificial roots: Sometimes due to hair styling and shampooing, or just normal movement, artificial hair implant shafts break. The break may occur below the surface of the scalp leaving behind a buried artificial root, which continues to trigger a foreign body reaction. A scar-like cyst may form around the root, as the body's immune system attempts to isolate the foreign body. Sometimes infections can result. The buried artificial root is difficult to detect and remove without causing scarring. Severe infections from embedded artificial roots can result in scalp tissue death and severe scarring.
Multiple procedures: Multiple implant procedures are required initially to achieve good hair density, because only a limited amount of artificial hairs can be implanted in one area at a time. The scalp has to rest and heal between implant sessions. Furthermore all implanted hairs eventually require replacement due to shaft breakage, shedding, or infection and inflammation. Regular visits to the implant doctor are required for the rest of the patient's life to maintain a dense hair look.
Unnatural feel: Although they can look and style similar to real hairs, artificial hairs do not feel like real hairs, which may be awkward in intimate situations.
Constant length: Artificial hairs do not grow, and may look messy and possibly unnatural, if adjacent living hair grows out to a different length. Also, if the artificial hairs are cut short, this can limit the future choice of hair styles.
Scarring: Repeated insertion and the ultimate removal of artificial hairs will cause scarring on the scalp, and an unnatural appearance.
Poor cosmetic results: Artificial hair implant procedures require both adequate surgical skill and a fine sense of aesthetics to achieve good results, and especially to achieve a natural look at the hairline and temples. Unnatural placement, spacing, and hair direction could result in poor cosmetic results. In addition, the plan for the final appearance of the patient must also take into account how the patient will look 30, 40, and even 50 years after the surgery.
Pain: There is the risk of discomfort and pain after artificial hair implant procedures. Unlike other surgical procedures, there is no cutting of tissue, although there can be some swelling. Medications are prescribed for use after implantation to minimize swelling and pain, however some people may still experience discomfort during the healing period following an artificial hair implant procedure. If the area implanted becomes severely inflamed, there could also be chronic discomfort and pain.
Hair loss continues: Artificial hair implant procedures have no effect on one's genetic program for losing hair. After an artificial hair implant procedure, hair loss due to inherited genetics will continue, and continued loss of hair may eventually result in additional or larger thin areas.
Steady Improvement: Artificial hair manufacturers continue to make improvements in all aspects of this treatment method. The hair material is being made to look, feel, and behave more like real human hair. Also, new materials are being made that are less reactive with the body's immune system, and more resistant to triggering bacterial infections. Root designs are being developed that reduce the risk of the root remaining in the skin when the implant is extracted.
Synthetic materials: Artificial hairs can be made of a variety of materials, all of which are selected to both appear and behave like real hair, and to minimize infections and rejection by the body's immune system. Most are made of synthetic plastic fibers that have a history of being used in the body as sutures for closing wounds. Special varieties of nylon, PET, and modified acrylic have all been used. Some artificial hairs are coated with silver compounds, which reduces bacterial infections. All artificial hairs are eventually rejected as foreign bodies.
Human hair: Donated human hair has been tried as an implant material, however hair has a very high protein content which provokes a very strong immune reaction, and is rejected quickly.
Root design: Artificial hair roots come in a variety of designs, however all are made to be easily inserted, to firmly anchor the implant, and to be removed intact when necessary.
Permanent hair loss: Almost anyone with a permanent hair loss condition could be a candidate for artificial hair implants, provided that they are willing to accept the risks and disadvantages of this method. Existing hair quality is less relevant than with other surgical treatments, because donor hair is not a concern. There are an endless supply of new hairs that can be added.
Realistic expectations: The patient's expectations must be realistic. Artificial hairs are not a permanent solution, and there are severe disadvantages. to this treatment method.
Follow through: Artificial hair implant patients must be committed to continuing regular visits to the implant surgeon for the rest of their lives. Periodic visits are required to maintain scalp cleanliness, remove implants at sites that are infected, and add additional artificial hairs.
Not scar readily: Skin quality can be important, especially if the patient's skin has a strong negative reaction to the artificial hairs. Skin that scars easily would begin to look increasingly unnatural with repeated implant extractions.