Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration - Camouflage Donor Scar
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Q: I have read that some doctors perform something called a trichophytic closure. What is this? — M.S. ~ Thornwood, N.Y.

A: Trichophytic closure is a way to minimize the appearance of the donor scar in a hair transplant using a strip incision. The technique provides improved camouflage of a linear donor scar in Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT). Normally, in FUT, the surrounding hair easily covers the scar. For some patients with very short hairstyles, the resulting donor scar may be visible. With the trichophytic closure technique, Dr. Bernstein trims one of the wound edges (upper or lower), allowing the edges to overlap each other and the hair to grow directly through the donor scar. This can improve the appearance of the donor area in patients who wear their hair very short.

The trichophytic donor closure can be used on patients who have had previous hair transplant procedures and are looking for improvement in the camouflage of their donor scar. It is particularly useful in hair transplant repair or corrective work. Trichophytic closures work best with sutured incisions. Stapled closures have their own advantages. The doctor will recommend which type is best in your case.

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Q: In hair transplant repairs do you always harvest additional hairs to give the hair restoration a better result? Which is better for repair procedures, FUT or FUE? — E.Z. ~ Fairfield, C.T.

A: We do not always harvest additional hair in repair procedures, but we do if possible because it can improve the aesthetic outcome by adding additional density and camouflage. This is called Combined Repair. As for whether we use FUT or FUE in repair procedures, the answer depends on the clinical situation. For example, a loose scalp favors FUT. If the person wants to wear their hair short, that favors FUE. If donor scars from the plugs need to be removed, that favors FUT. If scarring in the donor area needs to be camouflaged rather than removed, that favors FUE.

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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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Q: Is the recovery time a lot longer with FUT compared to FUE? — C.W., Chicago, I.L.

A: Cosmetically, the recovery for FUT is actually shorter, since the back and sides do not need to be shaved and the longer hair can completely cover the donor incision immediately after the Follicular Unit Transplant procedure. In large Follicular Unit Extraction procedures, the entire back and sides of the scalp need to be clipped very close to the scalp. It can take up to 2 or 3 weeks for the hair to grow long enough to completely camouflage the harvested area. Once the healing is complete and any redness has subsided, the hair can be cut shorter.

For strenuous physical activity, however, the recovery is longer with FUT due to the linear incision. This is a major reason why professional athletes or very physically active people prefer FUE. However, many business professionals prefer FUT hair transplantation as there is significantly less down time from work (for the cosmetic reasons discussed above).

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Q: I never kept my hair really long, what length can I wear my hair after a hair transplant to hide that I had a procedure? — D.F., Chappaqua, N.Y.

A: Hair transplants, whether using the strip method to harvest the donor hair or by extracting individual follicular units one-by-one directly from the scalp, will leave some scarring. If the hair is long enough so that the underlying scalp is not visible, these scars will not be seen.

The quality and density of a person’s donor hair will affect this coverage and determine how short a person may keep his hair. In some cases the back and sides can be cut to a few millimeters, in others it would need to be kept longer. Since there is no scarring in the recipient area (the front and top of the scalp where the grafts are placed) the hair in these areas may be kept at any length.

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Q: Why should a doctor measure miniaturization in the donor area before recommending a hair transplant? — E.B., Key West, F.L.

A: Normally, the donor area contains hairs of very uniform diameter (called terminal hairs). In androgenetic hair loss, the action of DHT causes some of these terminal hairs to decrease in diameter and in length until they eventually disappear (a process referred to as “miniaturization“). These changes are seen initially as thinning and eventually lead to complete baldness in the involved areas.

These changes affect the areas that normally bald in genetic hair loss, namely the front and top of the scalp and the crown. However, miniaturization can also affect the donor or permanent regions of the scalp (where the hair is taken from during a hair transplant). If the donor area shows thinning, particularly when a person is young, then a hair transplant will not be successful because the transplanted hair would continue to thin in the new area and eventually disappear. It is important to realize that just because hair is transplanted to another area, that doesn’t make it permanent – it must have been permanent in the area of the scalp it initially came from.

Unfortunately, in its early stages, miniaturization cannot be seen with the naked eye. To detect early miniaturization a doctor must use a densitometer, or an equivalent instrument, that magnifies the surface of the scalp at least 20-30 times. This enables the doctor to see early changes in the diameter of the hairs that are characteristic of miniaturization. If hairs of varying diameter are noted (besides the very fine vellous hairs that normally occur in the scalp), it means that the hair is being affected by DHT and the donor area is not truly permanent.

In this situation, a person should not be scheduled for hair transplantation. If the densitometry reading is not clear, i.e. the changes are subtle and the doctor is not sure, then the decision to have surgery should be postponed. By waiting a few years, it will be easier to tell if the donor area is stable. Having surgery when the donor area is miniaturizing can be a major problem for a patient, since not only will the transplanted hair eventually disappear, but the scar(s) in the donor may eventually become visible. This problem will occur with both follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE).

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Q: When a second hair transplant is performed, should there be a second incision or should it be incorporated into the first? – D.V., Inwood, N.Y.

A: It is a very common practice to make a second separate scar in the second hair restoration procedure. This is done to maximize the hair in the second session, and it is technically the easiest to perform. If you incorporate the old scar in the new incision, there will obviously be less hair. As long as the upper incision is still in the permanent zone, the hair quality will be good.

That said, in my practice I almost always use only one scar. The subsequent procedure would incorporate the first and extend the scar to one side or the other (or both). I generally use the old scar as one edge of the new strip so that there is only one incision into virgin scalp (rather than two).

There are a number of reasons for this technique.

  1. The hair will always be taken from the mid-portion of the permanent zone, so we utilize the thickest, most stable hair
  2. A line scar in this location is generally the least visible and most easily camouflaged with the persons existing hair
  3. One avoids making a scar too low that increases the risk of widening the scar
  4. One scar will be easier to camouflage with Follicular Unit Extraction (if this is ever necessary)
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