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Dr. Bernstein answers frequently asked questions about hair transplantation, hair loss, and medical treatment for hair loss.

Hair Restoration Answers

Can My Hair be Thinning Without Shedding?

Q: I seem to be thinning, but I never shed hair as such in the shower. I cannot see my hair falling out. Can it be androgenetic hair loss? — R.C., Cambridge, MA

A: In androgenetic hair loss one rarely sees hair falling out in mass, but rather the thinning is due to the hair decreasing in diameter and length (a process called “miniaturization”).


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Hair Restoration Answers

What Are Differences Between Follicular Unit Transplantation, Follicular Unit Extraction, and Ultra-refined FUHT?

Q: What is the difference between the following ways of doing hair transplants: Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT), Ultra-refined FUHT, and Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE)? — N.D., Meatpacking, N.Y.

A: Please see the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration website as it explains Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) and Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) in detail.

In brief, with FUT, follicular units are obtained from the microscopic dissection of a donor strip that has been removed from the back of the scalp. In FUE, the doctor attempts to remove intact follicular units directly from the scalp via a small round instrument called a punch.

Ultra Refined FUHT (Follicular Unit Hair Transplantation) is term that Pat Hennessey uses on his Hair Transplant Network. It refers to using very tiny recipient sites, carefully dissected follicular unit grafts, and large hair transplant sessions in FUHT procedures.


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Hair Restoration Answers

Why Change from Sutures to Surgical Staples in FUT Hair Transplants?

Q: I recall that you wrote an article about Monocryl for the donor closure in hair transplants. Why are you now using staples? — R.S., Park Slope, NY

A: I have been using staples in almost all of our follicular unit hair transplants since the beginning of 2006. When we published the Sutures vs. Staples study in 2001, some doctors were still not convinced. Because of this I continued to look at the issue, not in a bilaterally controlled experiment, but just looking at my cases done with the 5-0 Monocryl and those with staples that I continued to use from time to time. After doing hundreds of additional cases, I was still convinced that, overall, the suture line looked better with the 5-0 Monocryl sutures than with the staples.

However, it occurred to me that perhaps we were looking at the wrong thing. I began to think that perhaps we should be looking at hair preservation, rather than cosmesis alone.

The problem with the appearance of stapled closures is that it results in a very well demarcated, geometric line. Monocryl sutures, on the other hand, results in a much softer, more smudgy line – the characteristic that made it look better in the study.

This effect is produced by two things. The first is that the very fine 5-0 Monocryl sutures placed very close to the wound edges allow perfect wound edge approximation. However, the running suture actually destroys some hair as it makes its spiral course through the skin, destroying some hair and producing this smudgy appearance. We had felt that suturing very close to the would edge, using fine suture caliber 5-0 Monocryl, advancing the running stitch on the surface rather than in the SC space, and the mechanism of action of Monocryl absorption (via hydrolysis rather than by an inflammatory reaction) would all mitigate against any hair loss – but there was still some. It seemed that although the overall look was better with sutures, it might be at the expense of some hair loss.

To test this, I began to look at the hair yields in the donor strips of second hair transplant procedures where the new harvest completely encompassed the old scar. It seemed, at least anecdotally, that the strip containing an old incision that had been sutured closed contained slightly less hair than that from one that was stapled closed, even if the former looked better. Although I did not do a rigorous study, this was my “sense.”

In addition, I realized that staples could be left in the scalp for 3 weeks after a hair transplant without causing excessive inflammation (patient discomfort not withstanding) and this gave me more flexibility in using staples in patients with slightly tight scalps without having to rely on subcutaneous sutures. I began to take out alternate staples at 7 to 10 days and the remaining staples at 18-21 days post-op.

With the issue of hair preservation, rather than just the cosmetic benefit, as the main goal and with the added flexibility of being able to leave in alternate staples for up to 3 weeks, I started using staples routinely in almost all of our hair transplants.


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Hair Restoration Answers

Do You Use Megasessions or Very Large Graft Sessions In Your Hair Transplant Procedures?

Q: Some surgeons are doing hair transplants using 5,000 to 6,000 grafts in a single surgery. Looking at the cases in your photo gallery, it seems like your hair transplants involve many fewer grafts per surgery. Do you do such large graft numbers in a single hair restoration procedure? — H.P., Cranston, R.I.

A: The goal in surgical hair restoration should be to achieve the best results using the least amount of donor hair (the patient’s permanent reserves) and not simply to transplant the most grafts in one session. In my opinion, although large sessions are very desirable, the recent obsession with extremely large numbers of grafts in one session is misplaced. The focus should be on results.

For example, I would prefer to have full growth with a properly placed 2,500 – 3,000 graft hair transplant session than partial growth in a 5,000 graft session. Of course, the 5,000 graft session will look fuller than 2,500 grafts but, in my experience, never twice as full, and never as full as two 2,500 graft sessions.

The ability to perform large sessions is possible because of the very small recipient sites needed in Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT). It is one of the main reasons that we developed this procedure in back in 1995. See the first paper on this subject: Follicular Transplantation.

However, like all good things, the technique loses some of its advantage when taken to extreme.

In “very” large sessions, the long duration of surgery, the increased time the grafts are outside the body, the increased amount of scalp wounding, risk of poor growth, wider donor scars, placing grafts where they are not needed, sub-dividing follicular units, and the decreased ability to plan for future hair loss, can all contribute to suboptimal results. These problems don’t always occur, but the larger the session, the greater the risk. Therefore, it is important to decide if one’s goal is simply to transplant the maximum amount of hair that is possible in one session, or to get the best long-term results from your hair restoration.

Follicular Unit Preservation

One of the most fundamental issues is that doctors using very large sessions are not always performing “Follicular Unit Transplantation” and, therefore, in these situations the patients will not achieve the full benefit of the FUT procedure. Although doctors who perform these very large sessions take the liberty of calling their surgery “Follicular Unit Transplantation,” in actuality it is not, since naturally occurring follicular units are not always kept whole. The procedure is defined as follows: “Follicular Unit Transplantation is a method of hair restoration surgery where hair is transplanted exclusively in its naturally occurring, individual follicular units.” (see Hair Transplant Classification)

By preserving follicular units, FUT maximizes the cosmetic impact of the surgery by using the full complement of 1 to 4-hairs contained in naturally occurring follicular units. A whole follicular unit will obviously contain more hair than a partial one and will give the most fullness. Keeping follicular units whole also insures maximal growth since a divided follicular unit loses its protective sheath and risks being damaged in the dissection.

It can sound impressive to claim that you performing very large hair transplants, but if the large numbers of grafts are a result dividing up follicular units, then the patient is being short-changed. The reason is that, although the number of grafts is increased, the total number of hairs transplanted is not. A 3-hair follicular unit that is split up into a 1-hair and 2-hair micro-graft will double the graft count, but not change the total number of hairs actually transplanted. In fact, due to the increased dissection, more fragile grafts, and all the other potential problems associated with very long hair transplant sessions, the total number of hairs that actually grow may be a lot less. Please look at the section “Limits to Large Hair Transplant Sessions” on the Graft Numbers page of the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration website for a more detailed explanation of how breaking up follicular units can affect graft counts.

Donor Scarring

Since there are around 90 follicular units per cm2 in the donor scalp, one needs a 1cm wide by 28cm long (11inch) incision to harvest 2,500 follicular units. A 5,000 follicular unit procedure, using this width, would need to be 22 inches long, but the maximum length one can harvest a strip in the average individual is 13 inches (the distance around the entire scalp from one temple to the other).

In order to harvest 5,000 grafts, one would need 5,000 / 90 FU/cm2 = 55.6cm2 of donor tissue. If one takes the full 13 inch strip (33cm), then it would need to be 1.85 cm wide (55.6cm2 / (33cm long) = 1.85cm wide) or 1.85/2.54= ¾ of an inch wide along its entire length. However, one must taper the ends of a strip this wide (you can’t suture closed a rectangle) and, in addition, you can’t take such a wide strip over the ears. When you do the math again, it turns out that for most of the incision, the width must be almost an inch wide, an incredibly large amount of tissue to be removed in one procedure.

This large incision obviously increases the risk of having a wide donor scar – probably the most undesirable complication of a hair transplant. Needless to say, very large graft counts are achieved by sub-dividing follicular units rather than exposing the patient to the risk of an excessively large donor incision.

Popping

There are other issues as well. Large sessions go hand-in-hand with very high graft densities, since you often need these densities to fit the grafts in a finite area. The closer grafts are placed together, the greater the degree of popping. Popping occurs when a graft that is placed in the skin causes an adjacent one to lift-up. When a graft pops (elevates above the surface of the skin) it tends to dry out and die. Some degree of popping is a normal part of most hair transplant procedures and can be easily controlled by a skilled surgical team, but when it is excessive it can pose a significant risk to graft survival.

The best way to decrease the risk of popping being a significant problem is to not push large sessions (and the associated very dense packing) to the limit. In a patient’s first hair restoration procedure, it is literally impossible to predict the likelihood of excessive popping and once a very large strip is harvested, or the recipient sites are created in a very large session, it may be too late to correct for this. In addition, popping can vary at different times during the procedure and in different parts of the scalp adding to the problem of anticipating its occurrence.

Even if the distribution of grafts is well planned from the outset, a very large first session may force the surgeon to place hair in less-than-optimal regions of the scalp when popping occurs. This is because the surgeon must distribute the grafts further apart and thus over a larger area to prevent popping.

Blood Flow

Particularly where there is long-standing hair loss, the blood flow to the scalp has decreased making the scalp unable to support a very large number of grafts. This is not the cause of the hair loss, but the result of a decreased need for blood when the follicles have disappeared. In addition, persons that have been bald for a long time often have more sun damage on their scalp, a second factor that significantly compromises the scalp’s blood supply and may compromise the follicles survival when too many grafts are placed in one session. As with popping, the extent of photo-damage, as seen when the scalp gets a dusky-purple color during the creating of recipient sites, often only becomes evident once the procedure is well under way.

In the healing process following the first hair transplant, much of the original blood supply returns and this makes the scalp able to support additional grafts (this is particularly true if one waits a minimum of 8-10 months between procedures). This is another reason why it is better to not to be too aggressive in a first session when there is long-standing baldness or significant photo damage and where the blood supply may be compromised.

Limited Donor Supply

Another issue that is overlooked in performing a very large first session is that the average person only has about 6,000 movable follicular units in the donor area. When 5,000 grafts are used for the 1st procedure there will be little left for subsequent sessions and limit the ability of the surgeon to increase density in areas such as the frontal forelock or transplant into new areas when there is additional hair loss.

Conclusion

There are many advantages of performing large hair transplants, including having a natural look after one procedure, minimizing the number of times the donor area is accessed, and accomplishing the patient’s goals as quickly as possible. However, one should be cautious not to achieve this at the expense of a wider donor scar, poor graft growth, or a compromised ability to plan for future hair loss.

Achieving very high graft numbers should never be accomplished by dividing up the naturally occurring follicular units into smaller groups, as this increases the risk to the grafts, extends the duration of surgery, increases the cost of the procedure (when charging by the graft) and results in an overall thinner look.

For further discussion see:


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Hair Restoration Answers

Can Propecia Treat Diffuse Unpatterned Alopecia (DUPA)?

Q: I am 26 and I have been diagnosed with Diffuse Unpatterned Alopecia (DUPA) and realize I am not a candidate for hair transplants. I have been on Propecia for about 9 months. There have been periods of increased shedding throughout and I am still shedding what seem to be mostly very fine, miniaturized hairs. Do you think this is the Propecia speeding up the hair cycle and pushing out the old fine hairs, or do you think this is an increase in the pace of my genetic balding? I know that your post states that the accelerated hair loss generally stops by the 6th month. Does DUPA have any effect on the timeframe? Also, I have read that Propecia is only effective for about 50% of patients with DUPA. Do you find that to be true, or have you found a different experience? — T.T., White Plains, N.Y.

A: It is hard to tell at 9 months whether it is shedding from the finasteride or that the medication is just not working. Since there is no way to tell, I would stay on the medication for 2 years for any possible shedding from the medication to have passed and to see if your hair loss actually stops.

Since the natural history of DUPA is so unpredictable, I would give it the full two years rather than the 1-year trial the company recommends. There is no real scientific data to support this recommendation, however.

Please take heart in the fact that people with DUPA often look great (even without any hair transplants) if they keep their hair very short, since they never develop that cosmetically unappealing wreath of hair around the back and sides that is normally associated with extensive balding.


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Hair Restoration Answers

Can I Use the Laser Comb at Home or Do I Need to be in a Doctor’s Office?

Q: I’m nervous about using the LaserComb alone and unmonitored. Can I have the HairMax treatment done at a clinic or doctors office?

A: The LaserComb is a home treatment.


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Hair Restoration Answers

Can I Use Laser Therapy to Treat Advanced Hair Loss?

Q: I have been told I am a Norwood Class 6; will the HairMax LaserComb or other types of laser therapy work for me?

A: Laser treatments, as with other medical treatments for hair loss, only work when there is some existing hair in the area.


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Can I Treat Early Hair Loss with Laser Comb and What Age Should I Start?

Q: If I’m 20 years old and haven’t lost any hair yet, should I start using a laser comb now?

A: One should not treat hair loss until it actually occurs.

That said, once there is clear evidence that a person is thinning, non-surgical treatments are best started early to prevent further hair loss.

It is important to keep in mind that finasteride (Propecia) is still the most effective treatment for early hair loss and has a good record for at least some long-term effectiveness. It is not clear what additional benefit the laser-comb will have.


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Will Using Laser Comb Reduce Need for Hair Transplant?

Q: If I use the laser comb will I have to have hair transplants too someday?

A: If you are destined to have enough hair loss to require surgical hair restoration, it is unlikely that using any type of laser therapy will make a significant difference.


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Can I Use Laser Comb After a Hair Transplant?

Q: I want to use a laser comb and have already bought it. How soon after a hair transplant can I use it?

A: For the first ten days following a hair transplant you should not use the teeth on the laser comb, since it can dislodge the grafts. After this time it can be used normally.

Keep in mind, however, that as of now there are no published studies for this use.


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What are the Long-term Results of Using Laser Comb to Treat Hair Loss?

Q: What are the long-term results with the laser comb?

A: The study for FDA approval was conducted for only six months, so the answer to this question is not known at this time. It is assumed that periodic treatments will be necessary for the laser treatments to have continued benefit.


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Are There Side Effects from Laser Therapy for Hair Loss?

Q: Are there any side effects to the laser comb?

A: There can be an early temporary hair shedding in some patients. This is felt to be due to an acceleration of the hair cycle and is probably a mechanism similar to the one that causes early shedding when using Rogaine (Minoxidil) or Propecia (Finasteride).


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Is Laser Therapy a Revolutionary Hair Loss Treatment?

Q: The makers of the HairMax LaserComb have claimed that it will “revolutionize the hair growth industry.” What do you think?

A: This claim is obviously overstated.

Since the Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) doesn’t affect the action of DHT on hair follicles, it doesn’t affect the underlying cause of genetic hair loss, and thus would be expected only to have limited effectiveness. The company’s own studies show that this is, indeed, the case.

It was also predicted that Rogaine would revolutionize the field of hair restoration and it had little impact.

In my opinion, only finasteride has made a significant impact on the long-term course of hair loss, particularly in its ability to postpone the need for surgical intervention such as hair transplants.


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Does the Laser Comb Work on a Bald Scalp?

Q: Can the laser comb grow hair back in bald areas of scalp?

A: The HairMax LaserComb only works in areas where there is still some hair.

It will not bring back hair that has been lost. You need hair transplantation to do this. The laser comb works by thickening fine, miniaturized hair.


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Can I Treat Hair Loss Using Both Laser Comb and Medication?

Q: Can the laser comb be used with other treatments, such as Minoxidil or Propecia?

A: Yes, it appears so, but there have been no scientific studies examining the interaction or possible synergy between these hair loss treatments.


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Updated: 2019-11-15 | Published: 2009-07-02


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