Men's Health

What's the go with hair plugs?

6th May, 06:55

Lucinda Starr

You’ve seen the TV ads and celebrity-backed commercials aplenty—hipster dads discovering new-found bald spots, 20-somethings battling receding hairlines, retired cricketers spruiking miracle cures, dodgy shampoos—the list goes on.

When in comes to hair loss, few, it would seem, are immune.

The thing is, hair loss is more normal and common than you’d think. In fact, one in five Aussie men in their 20s encounter significant balding (with this stat doubling by the time men reach their 40s).


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We found the dumbest cures for hair loss so you don't have to


It might be oh-so-normal and commonplace, but for many blokes, hair loss is a source of stress and anxiety. It’s a visual reminder of the inevitability of time and age, and can be as simple as worrying your mates might say something over beers at the pub, or as complex as avoiding intimacy with your girlfriend in case she notices your receding hairline.

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So, what can you do if you don’t want to become a "hat guy"? And will hair plugs make you look like a life-sized Ken doll?

Here’s everything you need to know about hair plugs.

All about men and hair loss

So, why are we losing our hair in the first place? Male pattern hair loss, also known in the medical world as androgenic alopecia, is shown to impact most men as they age.

It usually presents as a gradual receding of the hairline at the temples as well as the hair on the crown of your head getting thinner over time.

The male sex hormone testosterone has a big role to play in men’s facial and body hair. In fact, testosterone impacts almost every part of the body, including hair follicles, and cells in the prostate.

But it doesn’t stop there. Testosterone is converted to the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in the body. For men with certain genes, their hair follicles are more sensitive to DHT which causes the hair to thin and shorten.

Plus, there’s a bunch of other factors at play when it comes to hair loss, including reactions to certain types of medication, significant periods of stress, and even serious diseases such as cancers and thyroid conditions.

The history of hair plugs

Hair plugs have been used since the mid 20th Century as a way to hide the appearance of hair thinning or balding. The process involves taking hair from thicker parts of the scalp (or even other parts of the body) and transplanting this onto the affected areas of the scalp.

Hair plugs have earned themselves a bad reputation over the years. The first modern hair transplant took place in Japan during the 1930s, using grafts to restore facial hair to burns victims.

But it wasn’t until the 1950s that the focus was shifted to treating male pattern baldness, with New York dermatologist Dr. Norman Orentreich responsible for planting the first grafts in balding areas on the head. Many look to Dr. Norman as the inventor of the modern-day hair transplant.

The early incarnations of hair plugs used invasive surgical techniques that transplanted large tuffs of “donor” hair areas onto the “recipient” areas of the scalp or hairline. The issue with this technique is it didn’t blend in the transplanted hair, giving an unnatural doll-like look to the hair. Clearly, something had to change.

Fast forward to the 1990s and enter Dr. B.L. Limmer, the first surgeon to use micro follicular unit grafting to revolutionise hair transplant treatments globally. Setting the gold standard for hair transplant treatments, Dr. Limmer used a stereoscopic magnifier to offer smaller graft sizes than ever before.

The result? The process gave more natural results that better blended  into the patient’s actual hair.

Despite these innovations, hair plugs and hair transplants still hold the stigma of years gone by. But today, men have a variety of less invasive options that minimise the chance of scarring (or anyone from your footy team noticing you’ve had a procedure done).

What other options do we have now?

For blokes considering hair loss treatment, the options are much less barbaric than in previous decades.

Thanks to the powers of modern medicine, you won’t be stuck with the doll-like hair plugs of old. Instead, the process involves taking hair from the back of your head and transplanting this to the front. These treatments can have an almost undetectable look as they use smaller grafts to mimic the look of your natural hair.

There are two common types of hair transplant options available in Australia, including:

Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE): a modern hair transplant procedure which involves taking individual hair follicles from your own head using specialised micro tools.  These fine blades work on tiny parts of your scalp to shift hair follicles one-by-one from the back of your head to the crown or hairline.

  • The pros: using fine needles, this sophisticated process transplants hair follicles individually (moving only one to three hairs at a time) making scaring almost impossible to see with the naked eye.
  • The cons: Due to the single-hair extraction process, this treatment involves a full day surgery under local anaesthetic, making it very time consuming and often more expensive than other options.

Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT): also known as a “strip procedure”, this technique is more commonly used by cosmetic surgeons as they can harvest and move thousands of hair follicles in one go. These narrow strips are removed from the back of the head (where the hair is the thickest), divided into small follicle units of 1-4 hairs, and transplanted onto the thinning scalp areas.

  • The pros: By moving larger strips of hair, this method is much faster and more cost-effective as surgeons are able to move twice as much hair for half the price.
  • The cons: However, due to this technique taking larger strips of hair, scarring is almost inevitable with this procedures (which can be a concern for those with shorter hair).

As you’d expect, no matter what method you choose, the costs of hair transplant surgery aren’t cheap. In fact, they’re shown to cost Australians on average between AU$11,000 to $18,000 (with some even costing as much as $30,000 if multiple sessions are required).

What to consider before booking in for a hair transplant

Like any big decision, it’s important to weigh up your options before putting your scalp on the line. In fact, going under the knife isn’t the only option.

Here are a few important things to consider:

  • Speak with your GP to assess whether a hair transplant procedure is right for you.
  • Consider alternative methods (especially if you’re young) as there are medications and less invasive options worth checking out.
  • Do your research and find a licensed, certified surgeon who can guide you through the process. Compare a variety of reputable surgeons so you don’t settle for the first one you meet.
  • Be prepared for the potential side effects of the procedures, including infections, pain, itching, swelling, bleeding, and more. If you’re concerned, speak with your doctor to get a better understanding of what to expect.

Like most things when it comes to your health, prevention is always better than a cure, and in the case of hair loss, a costly and painful operation is still the closest we have to a "cure", per se.

But with this said, the biggest killer of hair follicles is time, and the sooner you act to keep your hair via the two proven effective treatments available from a GP, the more likely you are to stay hairy without surgical intervention.

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Read next:
How often should I wash my hair?
How to get rid of dandruff
Hair Loss Guide


Sources:

• Healthy Male
• American Hair Loss Org
• Pilot
• Finder
• Healthline
• NCBI
• Knudsen Clinic