Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration - Alopecia Areata
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According to an article published in the journal of Clinical Aesthetic, ((Rassman WR, Pak JP, Jino K, Estrin NF. Scalp Micro-Pigmentation, A Concealer for Hair and Scalp Deformities. Clinical Aesthetic, March 2015, 8(3): 35-42.)) scalp micropigmentation (SMP) is an effective cosmetic solution for millions of men and women who currently have significant scalp deformities for which there are few, if any, good medical treatment options.

Scalp Micro-Pigmentation is a Permanent Hair Loss and Scar Concealer

SMP is a permanent cosmetic tattoo of carefully selected pigments applied to the scalp in a stippling pattern to mimic closely cropped hair. This technique allows a physician skilled in SMP to effectively conceal a variety of alopecias and scars.

SMP can address the following situations:

  • Female hair loss not responsive to minoxidil or cannot be treated with a hair transplant
  • Hair loss due to chemotherapy
  • Deformities from autoimmune diseases, such as refractory alopecia areata or alopecia totalis
  • Scalp scars from scarring alopecias
  • Scars from neurosurgery or head trauma
  • A visible scar from a strip harvesting procedure or punctate scars from an FUE procedure
  • Visible open donor scars from older harvesting techniques – usually those from the 1950s through the early 1990s
  • A pluggy or corn-row look from older hair restoration procedures

Scalp micro-pigmentation can also create the appearance of fullness on an otherwise thinning or bald scalp with or without a shaved head.

The Scalp Micro-Pigmentation Process

The physician skilled in SMP has a variety of tools at hand, including pigments of different colors and viscosities. The pigments can be introduced into the skin using a number of different needle types and sizes.

The physician begins by taking a needle and inserting a tiny droplet of pigment through the top layer of the skin and into the upper dermis. Because the thickness of the top layer of the skin varies across the scalp, the doctor must judge the appropriate depth at each location by both “feel” and visual cues. For example, a portion of the outer skin layer that has more fat and hair follicles will have a different look and will produce a different feel when inserting a needle compared to a scarred or bald scalp.

To place the correct amount of pigment at the correct depth at a particular location on the scalp, the operator of the tattooing instrument must take into account the following variables:

  • The angle and depth of the needle
  • The time the needle is left in the scalp (in order to place the pigment into the upper dermis)
  • The resistance of the scalp, which varies locally across the scalp
  • The particular color and viscosity of the pigment
  • The size and shape of the particular needle

In order to produce the desired shading and create the desired illusion of texture and fullness, the doctor must vary the density of the stippling across the area of application. Because every patient is unique and every area of the scalp is different, the doctor must proceed carefully in order to achieve the desired aesthetic effect and to minimize the chances of the pigment bleeding into the area surrounding the point of application.

The complete SMP process usually takes two to four sessions.

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Hair restoration physicians William R. Rassman, Jae P. Pak, and Jino Kim have outlined a practical, permanent cosmetic treatment for hair loss, called scalp micro-pigmentation (SMP) in a paper published in the journal Hair Transplant Forum International. ((Pak JP, Rassman WR, and Kim J. Scalp micro pigmentation (SMP): novel application in hair loss. Hair Transplant Forum International, Vol. 21, No. 6, Nov./Dec. 2011, p. 1, 186-87. ))

Scalp micro-pigmentation, first described in the medical literature in 2001, ((Traquina AC. Micro-Pigmentation as an adjuvant in cosmetic surgery of the scalp. Dermatologic Surgery, Vol. 27(2) 2001: 123-8)) is a cosmetic tattoo that creates the appearance of the short hairs of a closely shaved head on an otherwise bald or thinning scalp. SMP (also referred to as ‘cosmetic transdermal hair replication,’ ‘scalp pigmentation,’ ‘cosmetic hair follicle replication,’ or ‘micro hair technique’) is an option for patients who are not candidates for a hair transplant and who are willing to keep their hair cut short or shaved. It is can also serve as a “filler” for those with longer hair.

The paper discussed case studies of six hair loss patients of varying age and hair loss condition who used SMP to camouflage scalp scars or areas of hair loss:

  1. A man in his mid-30s, who was diagnosed with scarring alopecia in his teens, used SMP to camouflage his scarring.
  2. A 30-year-old male, who had worn a hat continually since being diagnosed with alopecia totalis in his teens, used SMP to frame his face and re-build his self-esteem.
  3. A 55-year-old man, who had large-graft (“hair plug”) hair transplants and several scalp reductions, used SMP to fill in plug scars and re-define his hairline.
  4. A 32-year-old man used SMP to cover donor area scars from previous FUT procedures, fill in his thinning crown, and create a smooth hairline.
  5. A 22-year-old man filled in scars from a previous FUE hair transplant using scalp micro-pigmentation.
  6. A 45-year-old man, who had always shaved his head and refused hair transplantation, used SMP to create a hairline with an overall look of a clean-shaven head.

SMP can be applied to patients with alopecia areata, alopecia totalis, or pattern baldness. SMP can also help hide the scar tissue from several types of scarring alopecia. Finally, it can help to camouflage the scar tissue caused by large-graft “plug” transplants, scalp reduction procedures, or poorly performed or failed hair transplant procedures.

The authors note that adoption of SMP by physicians and potential patients has been slow because of the highly variable outcomes due to a lack of standardized SMP techniques and materials. However, the authors say a standardized SMP technique is being formalized that should support consistent high quality outcomes.

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Q: Hi Dr. Bernstein, I am a 30 year old man with a balding crown. I’m 99.9% sure its male pattern baldness (I’m currently on Propecia and Rogaine). I recently read about how people going bald are getting tested for LPP (lichen planopilaris). Do you perform this test? — F.L., Scarsdale, NY

A: Lichen Planopilaris (believed to be a type of autoimmune disease) occurs more frequently in women than in men and more commonly in African-Americans than in Caucasians. The variation that could be confused with androgenic alopecia in men is central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (or CCCA). While definitive testing would involve a scalp biopsy, this is rarely necessary as the doctor can easily tell by just examining you with the naked eye using magnification (densitometry).

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Dr. Christiano Interviewed on Alopecia, Hair Loss by New York TimesDr. Angela Christiano, a colleague of Dr. Bernstein’s at Columbia University, has been studying the causes of alopecia areata and genetic hair loss for many years. She, in fact, suffers from the disease as well.

The New York Times has published a question and answer interview with Dr. Christiano which covers her own struggle with alopecia, her research into the causes of genetic hair loss, and where she sees the field going in the future. Here is one exchange that offers a window into how her research is breaking new ground in the field of hair loss genetics:

Q. When were you able to actually do the study?

A. In 2008. We published our findings this past July. Ours was the first study of alopecia to use a genome-wide approach. By checking the DNA of 1,000 alopecia patients against a control group of 1,000 without it, we identified 139 markers for the disease across the genome.

We also found a big surprise. For years, people thought that alopecia was probably the stepchild of autoimmune skin diseases like psoriasis and vitiligo. The astonishing news is that it shares virtually no genes with those. It’s actually linked to rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes 1 and celiac disease.

Continued discovery by Dr. Christiano and others in the field of hair loss genetics will lead to clues like these, which will shape the future of hair loss treatment. The hope for hair loss sufferers around the world is that a medical treatment can be developed which will effectively cure androgenetic alopecia, or common baldness. There is a lot of ground to be covered and there are many studies yet to be conducted, but progress is being made.

You can read more about Dr. Christiano’s research on our Hair Loss Genetics News page.

Read the article and listen to a two minute audio stream of the interview at the NYT.

Photo c/o Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

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Q: I just started to lose my hair but it’s just in one spot, like a circle on the left side of my head. Do you ever do a hair transplant just into a bald spot and not the whole head? — D.F., Esher, U.K.

A: It is possible to have a hair restoration procedure into a single bald spot. However, it would be most beneficial to first determine the cause of the condition.

Bald spots caused by alopecia areata (an autoimmune disease) are best treated with injections of steroids into the scalp, rather than with a hair transplant. In fact, the transplanted hair can be rejected in patients with this condition.

Traumatic scars (i.e. from an accident) can be treated with follicular unit hair transplantation as the hair grows quite well in scar tissue, as long as the scar is not thickened (hypertrophic).

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Q: I am a 34 year woman with a patch of hair loss by my temple. I went to the salon to have my hair done and to my surprise my hairdresser told me that I have Alopecia? First time I’d heard of it, my G.P is not very concerned about it but having read so much about it on this site I am becoming a bit concerned. The rest of my hair is healthy any suggestions and diagnosis? — M.V., Williamsburg, Brooklyn

A: “Alopecia” is just a generic term for any kind of hair loss.

It sounds like you have a specific condition called alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease that presents with the sudden appearance of well localized bald spot(s) on the scalp or other parts of the body. The underlying skin is always normal.

The treatment is injections with cortisone. Hair transplant surgery is not indicated for this condition.

You should see a dermatologist to confirm the diagnosis and treat.

Other diagnoses to consider are triangular alopecia (which would have been present since childhood) and traction alopecia (that is cased by constant tugging on the hair).

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Q: I have a bald patch on my scalp diagnosed as DLE, can this be corrected with a hair transplant? – V.Q., Scarsdale, N.Y.

A: DLE or discoid lupus erythematosus is a type of autoimmune disease where the body produces an inflammatory reaction to components of the skin, causing it to scar and lose hair.

The skin in the area of hair loss generally has a smooth appearance with tiny empty hair follicles, redness, and altered pigmentation. These skin changes help to differentiate it from the more common condition alopecia areata where the underlying skin appears normal.

The diagnosis of DLE can be confirmed by biopsy. Because DLE may exhibit a property called Koebnerization, where direct trauma can make the lesions enlarge, surgical hair restoration risks making the condition worse and is, therefore, not indicated.

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Q: Can a hair transplant into bald areas caused by alopecia areata ever be successful? — R.K., Providence, R.I.

A: Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks its own hair follicles. It generally appears as round patches of smooth bald areas scattered in the scalp or beard. Less commonly, it can involve the entire scalp (alopecia totalis) or all facial and body hair (alopecia universalis). Unless the condition is well localized and totally stable, hair transplantation is not likely to be effective because the transplanted hair would be subject to the same problem.

We prefer that one have no new lesions for a minimum of two years before considering surgical hair restoration, although this does not ensure that the procedure will be successful.

You may find more information on this relatively common condition at the National Alopecia Areata Foundation (NAAF). For more information, visit: www.naaf.org.

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The highly-rated CBS television program “The Early Show” interviewed Dr. Bernstein as part of a three-part series on hair loss in women. View a clip of the video here:

Watch the video at YouTube or go to the Bernstein Medical YouTube Channel to see more videos on hair loss in women and other hair restoration topics.

Read the full transcript here:

Julie Chen: There are many treatments available for serious hair loss including surgical options like hair transplants. That may sound scary, but for one woman, it was the answer she’d been waiting for.

Narrator: Marian Malloy is used to being in control. As the duty manager for an international terminal at Newark Airport, it’s her job. But Marian wasn’t always so self-confident. Due to a condition called alopecia areata, Marian began losing her hair back in college.

Marian Malloy: I was on my own for the very first time and I was learning about life and learning about my hair loss. And it just devastated me. So I started out picking out methods to improve my hairline. Initially, I went to a dermatologists who put me on a prescription of injections, actually. I would go over weekly and he injected my head, and I got results, but I also started growing facial hair, which wasn’t something that I wanted. After that, I decided to start with the Rogaine and once again I saw results, but Rogaine was something that I had to do every day for the rest of my life, and I just didn’t want to be that dependent on a medication.

Narrator: Marian continued to search for an acceptable treatment to her condition, even trying hair plugs, until she heard about Dr. Robert Bernstein’s new method of Follicular Unit Transplantation, or in layman’s terms, a hair transplant.

Marian Malloy: I wasn’t scared at all. I was desperate, so that overrode everything.

Julie Chen: Marian Malloy is here along with her hair transplant surgeon, Dr. Robert Bernstein, to help us look at some of the medical options that are available to women suffering from this affliction.

Good morning to both of you.

Dr. Bernstein: Good morning.

Marian Malloy: Good morning.

Julie Chen: Marian, thank you for speaking out about this very private problem. How has your life changed since getting the hair transplant?

Marian Malloy: Well, I just feel better about my appearance, and appearance is very important to me in my line of work. I just feel a lot better and I think I look better. My hairline looks better.

Julie Chen: Boost in the self-confidence department?

Marian Malloy: Actually, yes.

Julie Chen: And your friends and family see a difference in it?

Marian Malloy: You know, my friends and family really didn’t notice a difference before, and they thought I was crazy for harping on it the way that I did.

Julie Chen: But if you see it, that’s all that —

Marian Malloy: And it was all about me. It’s not about my family and friends. It’s about how I feel.

Julie Chen: Right.

Marian Malloy: Yes.

Julie Chen: Dr. Bernstein, I want to go through all the options that are available for women, but what is the difference between female and male hair loss option-wise. What can we do to treat it?

Dr. Bernstein: The main difference medically is that women have hair loss often from hormonal changes and it’s due to an imbalance between progesterones and estrogens. That equilibrium can be reestablished with medication. Often birth control pills can do that.

Julie Chen: So that’s one option.

Dr. Bernstein: One option. For the most common cause of hair loss, genetic hair loss, Minoxidil can be used for both men and women, but the most effective medication for men, Propecia, can’t be used in women. And the reason –

Julie Chen: Why not?

Dr. Bernstein: The reason is that it causes birth defects if taken during pregnancy and postmenopausally it doesn’t seem to work.

Julie Chen: Oh, okay. So talk to me about Minoxidil, also known as Rogaine .Just as successful for women as in men?

Dr. Bernstein: It seems to be similarly successful, but the success rate is not very good, and one of the problems with its use in women is that you can get hair at the hairline on the forehead. So the usefulness is a little bit limited.

Julie Chen: So is it promoting hair growth if it does work, the Rogaine, or is it just making your existing hair grow in thicker? I’ve heard both.

Dr. Bernstein: It actually stimulates the growth of existing hair.

Julie Chen: Okay so you got to be really careful topically what you touch after you’re rubbing it into your scalp.

Dr. Bernstein: Yes.

Julie Chen: Another option is topical Cortisone and Cortisone injection.

Dr. Bernstein: Yes many people think that Cortisone can be used for genetic hair loss or common hair loss and it really can’t. It’s a good treatment for specific types of diseases, the most common one is alopecia areata. In that condition, the body actually fights off its own hair follicles. And then the Cortisone is used to suppress the immune system and actually allows the body to permit the hair to grow back.

Julie Chen: Now, Marian tried these options that we’re talking about. You weren’t satisfied, so you had a hair transplant.

Marian Malloy: Yes.

Julie Chen: Describe exactly what you did for Marian.

Dr. Bernstein: In the past, hair transplantation was not a good option for women because hair was transplanted in little clumps. With Follicular Unit Transplantation, we can now transplant hair exactly the way it grows, which is in little tiny bundles of one to four hairs. With Marian we took a strip from the back of her head, in other words, right from the back of the scalp where you can’t see it.

Julie Chen: Where there’s more hair?

Dr. Bernstein: Yes, we remove that strip and place it under a microscope and dissect out the individual follicular units – the hair is transplanted exactly the way it grows in nature. And that hair is then put in needle-poke incisions all along the hairline, and because the grafts are so small, you can actually mimic the swirls and the change in hair direction exactly the way the hair grows naturally.

Julie Chen: And it stays?

Dr. Bernstein: Yes, it stays. We make a very snug fit between the graft and the needle-poke incision. And so it really holds on to the grafts well. In fact, the patients can shower the next morning.

Julie Chen: The next morning? Marian, what was your experience like having this hair transplant? No problems since?

Marian Malloy: No problems, absolutely no problems.

Julie Chen: Did insurance cover any of this?

Marian Malloy: No, absolutely not.

Julie Chen: How costly is this?

Dr. Bernstein: The average procedure is about $7,000.

Julie Chen: And it’s one procedure and you’re done?

Dr. Bernstein: Usually one to two procedures.

Julie Chen: $7,000 a pop. Well, you found it was worth your money, is that right, Marian?

Marian Malloy: Absolutely, yes.

Julie Chen: Dr. Bernstein, Marian Malloy, thank you both for coming on the show talking about this.

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