Crown - Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration
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Q: What is the problem with transplanting the crown too early? — P.L., Newark, NJ

A: If a person’s hair loss continues – which is almost always the case – the crown will expand and leave the transplanted area isolated, i.e. looking like a pony-tail. The surgeon can perform additional hair transplant procedures to re-connect the transplanted area to the fringe, but, as one can see from the photo below, this is a large area that can require a lot of hair. It is often impossible to determine when a person is young if the donor supply will be adequate. If there is not enough donor hair, then the island of hair may remain isolated. Most importantly, it uses up a lot of hair that might be better transplanted to the front and top of the scalp – areas that are far more important cosmetically.

Patient who visited us who had an early crown transplant

The front and top of the scalp are more important to one’s appearance than the crown, and these areas should be the first priority when planning hair restoration surgery.

As an exception, if a person has a family history of baldness limited to the crown, even at an advanced age, and the person in question is following this pattern, then earlier treatment of the crown may be considered.

Lastly, if you do treat the crown in a younger person, or one with whom the extent of hair loss is uncertain, the crown should be transplanted with light coverage only. That way a limited amount of hair will be used up in this area and there will be enough left over for the more cosmetically significant top and front of the scalp.

For a complete review of this topic please read: Follicular Transplantation: Patient Evaluation and Surgical Planning. Dermatol Surg 1997; 23: 771-84. A copy in PDF format, and other hair transplant publications, can be downloaded at the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration Medical Publications page.

View the Crown (Vertex) topic, the Age topic or see posts tagged with Early Hair Loss for further reading.

View Before and After Photos of some of our crown hair transplant patients

Read about candidacy for a hair transplant in young patients

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Q: I have done a lot of research over the past year including seeing a dermatologist and receiving consultation from a surgeon. Both recommended Propecia and Rogaine. After my consults I researched these products online and read that they do not work on the front of the scalp to improve my receding hairline, only to regrow hair in the crown area. Can you settle the issue once and for all? Do Propecia and Rogaine work on the front of the scalp? Can they improve my receding hairline? — J.S., Great Falls, Virginia

A: Both Propecia and Minoxidil definitely can work in the front of the scalp as long as there is some hair in the area. Although their mechanisms of action are different, both Propecia (finasteride) and Rogaine (minoxidil) act to thicken miniaturized hair regardless of where it is on the scalp. In fact, there are published data ((Leyden, James et al. “Finasteride in the treatment of men with frontal male pattern hair loss.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 1999 Jun;40(6 Pt 1):930-7.)) demonstrating this improvement with finasteride in a controlled clinical trial of men with frontal hair loss.

The source of the confusion is that the FDA limited the application of the drugs to the crown on the package inserts for both Propecia and Rogaine. The FDA did this because Upjohn (the company that introduced Rogaine) and Merck (Propecia) only tested the medications on the crown in the clinical trials. Logically, the fact that DHT causes frontal hair loss and Propecia works by blocking DHT gives a reasonable explanation for the efficacy of the drug on the front of the scalp. Also, a side effect of the use of minoxidil is facial hair, so how could it not also work on the front of the scalp? It is regrettable that some doctors and many patients think that these medications won’t work on the front of the scalp. Unfortunately, many hair restoration surgeons have done little to educate the public and dispel this myth.

To reiterate, yes, both of these medications can work on the front of the scalp to prevent hair loss and thicken a thinning hairline. However, it is important to note that neither of these medications can grow hair on a totally bald scalp or lower an existing hairline. Hair follicles must exist for the medications to work. It is also important to stress that the best results come from using both finasteride and minoxidil together.

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Crown Balding and Heart Disease Linked in British Medical Journal Study

A new meta-analysis of six studies, published in the British medical journal BMJ Open, has found a linkage between balding at the crown and coronary heart disease. While the top-line result of the study may be alarming, let us look first at some of the key facts.

  • While the study showed a modest link between crown balding and heart disease, the link was not as strong as for other heart disease indicators such as smoking, obesity, cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
  • There was no link established for men with a receding hair line.
  • Key indicators of heart disease — high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking — are present in about half of Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control in America. So this is a health issue faced by many Americans, hair loss or not.
  • Importantly, the most appropriate response if you have balding at the crown (and particularly crown balding at an early age), is not to worry first and foremost about your hair, but to concentrate on basic heart health and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Discuss these issues and any concerns with your primary care physician.

Researchers at the University of Tokyo in Japan compiled information from six different studies with a combined total of almost 37,000 male participants. The studies were published between 1993 and 2008. Although one of the six studies did not find a link between baldness and coronary heart disease, the other five studies did find a link with the strength of the association differing in each study. In general, the more severe the balding at the crown, the more likely there was an association with heart disease. In addition, early onset of vertex balding — i.e. early balding at the crown — was found to be associated with the early development of more significant heart disease.

More research needs to be done to investigate the actual medical causes of the linkages shown.

An article on the BBC News website quotes a cardiac nurse from the British Heart Foundation discussing the findings:

“Although these findings are interesting, men who’ve lost their hair should not be alarmed by this analysis. Much more research is needed to confirm any link between male pattern baldness and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. In the meantime, it’s more important to pay attention to your waistline than your hairline.”

Image c/o BBC online

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Dr. Bernstein on CBS - Eye on NY

Dr. Bernstein was interviewed by Dana Tyler, host of the television program “Eye on New York” on CBS, for the show that aired on April 17th. The wide-ranging interview was the feature in a 9-minute segment on hair transplantation and hair loss.

Below is a partial transcript from the interview.

Hair Loss – Men vs. Women:

DT: How big a problem is it, men versus women? We heard the statistics but is it worse for one group or the other?

RB: It seems to be worse in women emotionally. Statistically it’s obviously more common in men, but the pattern is very different. When men lose their hair they lose it mostly in the front. And they can start in two different patterns. One is in the temples and in the crown or it can just go front to back. That’s called patterned hair loss and it’s pretty obvious. Women have a more diffuse pattern so it would be many years before you even notice it.

DT: What about the influence we hear, if it’s your mother’s father or your mother’s grandfather was bald then therefore, men, you will be. Is there any truth to that?

RB: Like many myths there is a little bit to it. There is a slight predominance coming from the mother’s side of the family. There is something called an androgen receptor gene, that has been found on the X chromosome, which accounts for the slight difference between inheritance from the mother’s side versus the father’s side. But most of the genetics is on the regular chromosomes, called the autosomal chromosomes, which is the same from both sides. So you can get it from either your mother or your father or your uncles or grandparents.

Early Hair Loss:

DT: Age-wise. Are there certain times – I mean, we talked about earlier in the 30s, but some young men it happens earlier.

RB: It seems that when people start to lose their hair early, it has a tendency to be much more severe. So the people who start to thin around 16, 17 usually become very bald. Time is usually on your side if you have hair into your 30s and 40s, [it’s] more likely you’ll have a full head of hair.

Hair Loss in Women:

DT: Speaking about women and the reasons behind women’s hair loss. A little different than for men.

RB: It’s genetic, as with men for the most part, but there are two different systems. Where in men it’s related to androgens directly, which causes the front-to-back pattern, in women they have another enzyme pathway which kind of evens it out and keeps their hairline longer. Also, because women have a tendency to thin all over, their genetic hair loss can be mimicked by other things, such as diseases that cause hair shedding or thinning — so anemia, thyroid disease, medications such as birth control pills — all those things can also contribute to hair loss, and it seems that those factors are much more common in women than in men.

DT: And then in trying to determine if a woman is going through that, because there are more factors is it hard to figure out why there is the hair loss?

RB: It’s a little bit more difficult [in women]. The main thing that you do is to look at the hair diameters. In genetic hair loss the hairs have different diameters. In [conditions] like anemia, or where there is shedding on medication, the hair comes out at its root. Where people think of hair loss as losing hair, most of hair loss is thinning because the hairs are actually thinner in diameter.

Preventing Hair Loss:

DT: Preventing baldness… is there anything that can be done?

RB: There are… But it’s not what you think. It’s not hats and combs.

DT: Fertilizing your head. (laughs)

RB: There are two medications, main medicines. One is Propecia, or the generic term is called finasteride, and what that does is it blocks DHT. And DHT is what causes these hair follicles to gradually miniaturize, or get smaller, and disappear. And the other is Rogaine, which actually stimulates hair follicles directly. Unfortunately, Propecia can’t be used in women because it can cause birth defects during child bearing years and it can also stimulate breast tissue, but it is very effective in men.

DT: So what does a woman do?

RB: Well, Rogaine will help a little bit. Lasers can help a little bit, perhaps not as much as the initial studies have suggested. And then, once you’ve lost your hair, surgical options are available.

Hair Transplantation:

DT: Hair transplants. I know that’s a complicated procedure. And Dr. Max [Gomez] was talking about the art of it, too, when you’re finding someone. Tell me a little bit more…

RB: The main thing in hair transplants is really to determine who is a good candidate. And the interesting thing is that because of the pattern of [hair loss] in men, men usually have a very permanent area on the back and sides of the scalp. So when you move that to the front and top, it will continue to grow. Because women’s hair loss is more diffuse, the back and sides are not always stable. So, when you’re trying to decide if a woman is a good candidate, you have to make sure that the hair, where you get it from, is going to last their lifetime. And only a small percentage of women are really good candidates for that transplant.

The Future of Hair Restoration – Medications & Cloning:

DT: What about the future? Are you optimistic about new options on the horizon?

RB: First of all, new medications are coming out. Latisse is a medication that can grow eyelashes. And we’ve just started studying it in eyebrow hair, and it seems to grow eyebrows as well. There are studies to see if you can grow hair on the scalp. And it certainly will, it’s just whether it’s practical and how well it works. It probably will be of some benefit.

DT: There always is progress, right?

RB: Right. And then [there are] hair transplants where we can take individual follicles rather than having to take a long thin strip, although that still seems to give you the best volume. And then we’re trying to multiply hair. In other words, the limitation of transplants is always that we don’t have [as much] hair as we’d like. So we’re working on cloning. We’re working on multiplying hair that can actually be plucked from the scalp. So that [the original hair] will regenerate, and you then can get the plucked hair to grow into new hair follicles.

For more interviews with Dr. Bernstein, and other media appearances, visit our Bernstein Medical “In The News” section.

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Q: How are grafts distributed in a hair transplant? Are they distributed evenly? — B.V., Jersey City, NJ

A: Actually, we don’t make the transplanted hair evenly distributed. It is usually front weighted, so that the hair restoration will look most full when looking at the person head on.

Framing the face is the most important part of the restoration. Covering the top is the next most important region and, if the patient has enough donor supply, then hair can be added to the crown.

For a more detailed discussion of this topic, view our page on recipient sites in a follicular unit hair transplant. Also, read the publication written by Dr. Bernstein in 1997 which became the industry benchmark for aesthetics in hair transplant surgery, “Aesthetics of Follicular Transplantation.”

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Q: You mentioned that the hair at my crown and other areas where I now have baldness hasn’t really fallen off but has thinned to a great extent and that taking Rogaine and Propecia might help increase their thickness. If the medications do restore the hair thickness, I’m curious why you said that I could look like how I was 1 to 2 years ago. Technically, shouldn’t I be able to regain much more of my hair (and look like how I was longer than before that) since the follicles are all still there? — H.D., Park Slope, NY

A: Although Propecia is much more effective than Rogaine, even when used together, the medications are just not that effective in reversing the miniaturization process. They may bring you back to the way you were a few years ago, but will not restore your adolescent density.

Read more about hair density and miniaturization, Propecia, Rogaine, and other hair loss medication.

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Q: At what level of thinning should the hair transplant be done? — V.K., London, UK

A: A hair transplant should be considered in an area of thinning when:

  • The area has not responded to medical therapy (finasteride 1mg a day orally and minoxidil 5% topically for one year).
  • The thinning is significant enough that it can’t be disguised with simple grooming (i.e. is a cosmetic problem even when the hair is combed well).

Other factors that are important include:

  • the age of the patient
  • the donor supply
  • whether the thinning is in the front of the scalp or in the crown
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Q: Dr. Bernstein, I think that you have established a great monument in the history of hair transplantation. Especially, your historical works about Follicular Unit Transplantation, which you published about 15 years ago, have contributed greatly to the spread of modern hair transplant technique in the whole world.

In the past days, there might have been many physicians who did not care much about the importance of the follicular unit and they have only cut the grafts to size. Now, every hair transplant physician believes the importance of follicular unit, and there is no one who cut the grafts to size ignoring each follicular unit.

However, there are some physicians who shout that a hair transplant procedure can be called FUT only when people use all single FU exclusively, and the procedure cannot be called FUT, if mixture of single FU and double FU are used in a session.

I would like to ask you, if you could accept the usage of combination of single FU and double FU under the name of FUT, as long as the grafts were cut according to each FU and intact FU are used throughout the procedure. Could you accept easing of the very strict definition of FUT, which you published about 15 years ago? Could you agree to use mixture of single FU and double FU under the name of FUT? — N.W., Huntington, N.Y.

A: Thank you for the kind words. In thinking about hair transplantation in general, it is important to consider that a hair restoration procedure spreads hair around and, as a result, the transplanted hair will be less dense than the person’s original hair. Therefore, one would never want grafts larger than the largest original follicular units or the results will not look natural. The artificially large grafts will stand out in relatively thin surroundings. If one were to try to fix this by transplanting the doubled FUs very close together (over one or more sessions) one risks running out of grafts for other areas of the scalp. In other words, you can’t fool mother nature.

For example, if a person has thin hair and has only 1-, 2- and 3-hair units occurring naturally in his scalp, then creating 4-hair grafts (by combining two 2’s or 1’s and 3’s) can result in an unnatural, tufted look. Doubling larger follicular units also necessitates larger wounds to receive the grafts which defeats one of the main advantages of FUT, namely to minimize recipient wounding.

That said, it is not unreasonable to place two 1-hair FUs in a single site (if there are extra 1s from the FU dissection) in order to increase density in an area and to eliminate an extra wound.) We do this for crown hair transplants when we are not doing a hairline and there is no need for 1-hair grafts. However, this is the exception.

Technically speaking, anything other than transplanting individual, naturally occurring follicular units is not FUT. However, a physician should make modifications to the procedure for the specific needs at hand. This is the art of medicine. By understanding and applying the underlying principles of Follicular Unit Transplantation, rather than being limited by its nomenclature, the physician will serve his patient best.

In addition to exploring Hair Restoration Answers to learn more about this topic, visit the Follicular Unit Transplant (FUT) section of our website and read detailed information about the hair transplant evaluation, the hair restoration procedure, follicular unit grafts, the donor area, and more.

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Q: Can the crown be transplanted first instead of frontal area? Why is the crown the last choice? Any reasons behind it? — H.H., Ladue, M.I.

A: The crown can be transplanted first in patients who have very good donor reserves (i.e., high density and good scalp laxity). Otherwise, after a hair restoration procedure to the crown you may not be left with enough hair to complete the front and top if those areas were to bald.

Cosmetically, the front and top are much more important to restore than the back. A careful examination by a trained hair restoration surgeon can tell how much donor hair there is available for a hair transplant.

For more information on this topic, see my publication on surgical planning of hair transplants, “Follicular Transplantation: Patient Evaluation and Surgical Planning.”

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Q: Have there been any studies showing the difference between men and women in their response to laser treatments for hair loss?

A: In the International Journal of Cosmetic Surgery and Aesthetic Dermatology (Vol. 5, Number 2; 2003), a study on low level laser therapy (LLLT) was conducted which indicated that there was a 55% increase of growth (hair count) in the temporal area as well as 64% in the vertex of the female subjects who were treated with LLLT for hair loss. The study also indicated a 74% increase in the hair counts of the male subjects in the temporal area and 120% in the vertex region. These results would initially indicate that LLLT works better in men than in women, but there were four times as many men in this study so the results might be different in a larger test group.

However, even in this notably smaller female group, the tensile strength of the hair increased dramatically over the tensile strength observed in the male subjects after treatment. This would indicate that, at least in this study, there was not only an increased hair count in women, but the tensile strength of that hair was greatly improved as well. This would be initially indicative that LLLT may be found to be more beneficial to women than to men.

It is important to note that this study was published in 2003. Further studies need to be conducted to confirm the initial results and to further elucidate the possible mechanisms of low level laser light therapy in both men and women with alopecia. As important, long term data needs to be accumulated to show the continued efficacy of this treatment. It had been our clinical experience that LLLT is not as effective as one would assume from the results of the initial studies.

Visit the page on Laser Therapy for more information, or read more answers to questions about laser therapy.

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Q: I am 26 years old, have had two successful hair transplants, but am still losing hair in the crown area. The doctor I have worked with told me that he does not do crown work on anyone until they are at least 40 (due to lack of donor area). I have very thick hair and the transplanted area looks as if nothing was lost. Would you do work on someone my age in their crown area if they have enough donor hair? — A.W., Brooklyn, N.Y.

A: Although I am hesitant to start with the crown when transplanting a younger person, if you have good coverage on the front and top of your scalp from the first two sessions then extending the hair transplant into your crown may be reasonable. It depends upon your remaining donor supply and an assessment of how bald you will become. I would need to examine you.

If it is likely that you will progress only to a Norwood Class 6, then transplanting your crown can be considered. If you will progress to a Class 7 then you should not since, in the long term, hair that was placed in the crown might be better used for other purposes, such as connecting the transplanted top to receding sides.

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Q: I had my second hair restoration procedure nearly 5 months back. New hair in the front part of the head is growing well, but the crown is growing slow. Is this common? Also does the new hair grow more slowly after second hair transplant procedure? — B.V., Richmond, U.K.

A: Yes, it is typical for hair in the crown to grow more slowly than the front and top of the scalp and the second procedure generally grows more slowly than the first.

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Q: I heard that Rogaine only works on the crown and not on the front or top of the scalp. Is this true? — D.D., New Haven, Connecticut

A: Rogaine (Minoxidil) has the potential to work where ever there is miniaturized hair, either the front, top or crown (however, it will not work in areas that are completely devoid of hair).

The reason for the misconception that it will not work in the front is because the clinical trial performed by Merck in the 1980’s, that led to FDA approval, only studied the vertex (crown) and thus the company was limited to this labeling. Several years later, Merck realized that this was a misjudgment in the design protocol and ran a new study (approximately one fifth the size of their Phase III vertex trial) to document effectiveness of the drug in the front of the scalp. This allowed them to avoid the vertex restriction in their label.

Another reason for the confusion is that since the hair in the crown seems to have a longer miniaturization phase than hair in the temples, there is a greater window of time in which the medication can act on these hairs. This goes for both minoxidil and finasteride (Propecia).

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Q: I am in my early 20’s and I was told my hair loss pattern is a Norwood Class 6, on its way to becoming a Class 7. My hair is brown in color and medium to coarse and I was told I have high density in my donor area. Although I was told I could have hair transplants, do you think that I should based upon what I have told you? — D.W., Pleasantville, N.Y.

A: The main concern I would have is that when someone is already a Class 6 by their early 20’s, he may eventually be left with only a very thin see-through fringe as he ages. A high donor density now does not ensure that this will not occur – and coarse donor hair at age 22 does not ensure that it will not become fine over time. In fact, there is a significant chance that it will.

Since the hair restoration would require one or more large sessions, there is a risk that the donor scar(s) will not be hidden over time. If you had a widened linear donor scar from an FUE-strip procedure, you would need to grow your hair longer on the back and sides to cover it (if that is even possible). And this look of longer hair on the back and sides would not be a good one for a young person, especially if there was not enough donor hair to fill in the crown.

On the other hand, large FUE sessions leave a very wide band of small round scars in the back and sides of the scalp that can become visible if the anticipated permanent donor zone was not truly permanent and narrowed over time.

When we are younger, our decisions are often more emotion-based and impulsive. When one is older, and our tastes change, we may change our mind about having had surgical hair restoration, but the hair transplant, once performed, is not reversible.

Read about the Candidacy for a Hair Transplant

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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: I have some early thinning in my crown and the doctor said I am too early for a hair transplant. I don’t want to take Propecia, but using Rogaine twice a day is a big nuisance. Can I use Rogaine once a day? — L.B., Cleveland, Ohio

A: The tissue half-life of minoxidil is 22 hours.

This means that 22 hours after it is applied, about 1/2 of the compound is still bound to the skin and exerting some effect. Because of this, once a day dosing is probably OK.

Please note that this is hypothetical and that there have been no controlled studies to confirm this.

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Q: What exactly is compression in a hair transplant? — D.O., Short Hills, N.J.

A: Compression refers to the visible tufting of grafts due to the contraction of the grafts from the normal elasticity of skin around it, after it has been inserted into the recipient site. Compression is most commonly seen when minigrafts are used in the hair restoration (minigrafts contain more than four hairs each). Follicular units don’t show visible compression, since they are already naturally compact. However, if more than one follicular unit is placed into the same site, it can exhibit this phenomenon.

Compressed grafts will become less visible as more hair is transplanted to the area, but if they are close to the hairline or in areas where a lot of density may not be planned (such as in the crown) they may have to be removed. In this case, they can be placed under a microscope, divided up into smaller grafts and re-implanted.

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Q: Should you perform a hair transplant on a crown that is just starting to thin? — R.R. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

A: A “thin” crown should first be treated with Propecia, as it may thicken the hair to a cosmetically acceptable degree without the need for surgery. If Propecia is ineffective in restoring enough hair, then surgical hair restoration can be considered.

The surgeon must also factor whether or not the patient has enough donor reserves to transplant the front and top part of the scalp if the patient becomes very bald. This is hard to predict in patients who are still in their twenties.

See the paper Follicular Transplantation: Patient Evaluation and Surgical Planning for a more complete discussion.

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Q: I’m currently 24 years old. Ever since turning 20, my hair on top began to thin little by little. I have noticeable thinning on the top part of my scalp and on my crown, but have no recession at the temples. My hairline looks amazingly young and hair on the donor areas seems quite thick. Am I in the early stages of male patterned baldness? I cannot place myself in the Norwood scale since my thinning doesn’t seem to follow the classic pattern. I just started on Propecia. Should I be considering a hair transplant? — B.R., Landover, MD

A: From the description, it sounds like you have typical Diffuse Patterned Hair Loss or Diffuse Patterned Alopecia (DPA). In this condition, the top of the scalp thins evenly, the donor area remains stable, and the hairline is preserved for a considerable period of time. Please see: Classification of Hair Loss in Men for more information.

Propecia would be the best treatment at the outset. When the hair loss becomes more significant, patients with DPA are generally good candidates for surgical hair restoration. It is important, however, that your donor area is checked for miniaturization to be sure that it is stable before a hair transplant is considered.

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Cosmetic Surgery Times features Dr. Bernstein’s presentation to the 55th annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology in their April 1997 issue.

The article entitled, “Follicular Transplants Mimic Natural Hair Growth Patterns,” describes Dr. Bernstein’s introduction of his new procedure, Follicular Unit Transplantation, to the academy as well as the keys to making the technique successful. Find the complete article below:

Form Follows Function: Follicular Transplants Mimic Natural Hair Growth Patterns

By Neil Osterweil
Contributing Editor

SAN FRANCISCO – In recent years, many hair replacement surgeons have adopted the modem architecture philosophy that “less is more,” moving from the use of hair plugs, to split grafts, to minigrafts and, finally, micrografts. But at least one hair transplant specialist contends that a more appropriate architectural dictum is “form follows function.”

In other words, the surgeon should let the technique fit the head, and not the other way around, suggested Robert M. Bernstein, MD, at the 55th annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Dr. Bernstein is an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University in New York. He described his “follicular transplantation” technique in a meeting presentation and in an interview with COSMETIC SURGERY TIMES.

Natural Hair Groups Used

Dr. Robert M. Bernstein“Hair doesn’t grow singly it grows in naturally occurring groups of from one to four hairs. In follicular transplantation, we use these naturally occurring groups as the unit of the transplant,” he told CST.

The typical follicular unit consists of one to four terminal hairs, one or two vellus hairs, sebaceous glands, subcutaneous fat and a band of collagen which circumscribes and defines the unit. In the follicular transplant technique, the follicular unit is carefully dissected and removed, and then the intervening skin is discarded. This enables the donor site to be small, allowing implantation through a small needle poke. Because trauma to the recipient sites is minimal, the entire procedure can be performed at one time. Dr. Bernstein and colleagues have implanted as many as 3,900 follicular units in a single, 1 day session.

Keys to the follicular transplant technique are:

Identify the patient’s natural hair groupings and isolate the individual follicular units – Hair groupings are assessed with an instrument called a densitometer, and the average size of a person’s groups can be easily calculated. This information is critical in the planning of the transplant. The density of hairs in an individual measured as the number of hairs per square millimeter of skin is quite variable, but the density of follicular units is relatively constant within individual races.

Most people of Caucasian ancestry have a density of approximately one group per millimeter; people of Asian and African descent tend to have slightly less dense growth patterns, although the characteristics of the person’s hair (such as wavy or wiry hair), can give a full appearance even with low density.

If a patient has an average hair density of two, he will receive mostly two hair implants, with some one-hair and three hair implants mixed in. “If you try to make the groups larger than they occur naturally, they will look pluggy. If you try to make them smaller than they naturally occur, they’re not going to grow as well, because each group is actually a little biologic machine that makes the hair — it’s an anatomic unit. If you break it up it just doesn’t grow as well,” Dr. Bernstein observed.

Form Follows Function: Follicular Transplants Mimic Natural Hair Growth Patterns
A 38-year old man with a Norwood Class 5A/6 hair loss pattern undergoes a single procedure of 2,500 follicular implants. The result 11 months later. (Photos courtesy of Robert M. Bernstein, MD)

Harvest meticulously – The acquisition and preparation of grafts must be carefully performed to ensure success for this demanding technique. Highly trained, skilled assistants are essential to the success of the procedure. Dr. Bernstein noted that he uses a highly trained team of up to 10 assistants to produce the implants for a single case. “The assistants, who range from medical technicians to registered nurses, are such an integral part of the procedure that they must become expert in their specific tasks for the surgery to be successful.” The physician must be able to skillfully harvest the donor strip and must be able to make accurate judgments about the size of grafts intra-operatively and adjust the technique accordingly. Dissection and placing of the follicular units is the most labor intensive part of the procedure.

Design the recipient area well – The recipient sites are carefully distributed so that a natural looking pattern is maintained throughout the recipient area. An important consideration for this stage of the procedure is to “frame the face and spare the crown” so those facial features are kept in correct proportion. A common mistake in hair replacement, said Dr. Bernstein, is to create a hairline that is too high thereby elongating the forehead and accentuating, rather than minimizing, the patient’s baldness. It is also important to avoid or eliminate contrast between the implants and surrounding skin by creating a soft transition zone of single hairs and to have the hair emerge from the scalp at natural angles.

Procedure Lowers Cost

Although the procedure is highly labor intensive, it can actually be less expensive than conventional hair replacement surgery, because it can be performed in a single, but lengthy, session.

“It is also much more efficient and conserves donor hair much better than conventional hair transplants. Every time you make an incision in the person’s scalp you waste some hair and make the remaining hair more difficult to remove. Accessing the donor area just once or twice will increase the total amount of hair that is available for the transplant,” Dr. Bernstein told CST.

“In the very near future, the procedure will be improved and made more affordable with automated instruments that will enable the surgeon to make sites and implant the hair in a single motion. This will also decrease the possibility of injury to the implants by reducing handling and keeping the grafts uniformly cool and moist. It is possible that someday hair follicles may be cloned to provide a virtually unlimited supply of custom follicular units, but until then the finite nature of a person’s donor supply must be respected,” concluded the doctor.

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