Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration - FUE Scarring
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Q: I was wondering if it was possible to use Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) on the old plugs instead of graft excision. — N.B. ~ Westport, C.T.

A: Graft excision generally works better than FUE in removing old plugs and mini-grafts. The reason is that, in these grafts, the hair is not aligned due to the scar tissue that tugs on, and bends the hair. Because the hair direction is altered from the scar tissue, there is much more damage when the grafts are removed with the tiny FUE punches. In addition, FUE only removes a very small part of the plug. If the hair in the plug is pointing in the wrong direction or the plug is in the wrong location, the entire graft needs to be removed.

Another benefit of graft excision is that we can remove the underlying scar tissue and improve the appearance of the underlying skin. In FUE, only a tiny bit of the scar tissue is removed and, since FUE holes are left open, FUE actually causes its own scarring. With graft excision, the sites are sutured closed so some scar tissue is removed and the quality of the underlying skin looks more natural.

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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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Restoration Robotics

Restoration Robotics, the company that developed the ARTAS® Robotic Hair Transplant system, has published a white paper case study on how Dr. Bernstein utilizes the robotic system’s tools to minimize scarring after Robotic FUE.

The paper describes how a Bernstein Medical patient — a 45 year old man with Norwood Class 5A male pattern baldness — had 2,540 follicular units harvested with the ARTAS robot, generating a total of 2,768 grafts. Some of the tools and techniques that Dr. Bernstein employed include:

  • Small 19g dissecting needle — the small needle leaves a smaller wound that heals more rapidly than previous needles.
  • Software programmed to avoid 1-hair follicular units — the extraction of follicular units with more than one hair maximizes the number of hair follicles per graft and reduces the number of donor wounds that need to be made.
  • Minimum distance between harvest sites — by increasing the distance between harvested follicular units (from 1.7mm to 2.0mm), Dr. Bernstein enabled “feathering” between harvested and non-harvested zones. This blending of harvest zones into non-harvested zones makes the harvested area less noticeable.

In the third month after his Robotic FUE hair transplant surgery, the patient’s donor area was reviewed for scarring with hair shaved at four different lengths.

See images of the patient’s donor area below:

Before Robotic Hair Transplant
Before Robotic Hair Transplant
Day 2 Following ARTAS Procedure
Day 2 Following ARTAS Procedure
3mo Post-op: Shaved with #2 Clipper
3mo Post-op: Shaved with #2 Clipper
3mo Post-op: Shaved with #1 Clipper
3mo Post-op: Shaved with #1 Clipper
3mo Post-op: Shaved with Peanut Clippers
3mo Post-op: Shaved with Peanut Clippers
3mo Post-op: Shaved with Peanut Clippers (Close Up)
3mo Post-op: Shaved with Peanut Clippers (Close Up)
3mo Post-op: Shaved to the Skin
3mo Post-op: Shaved to the Skin
3mo Post-op: Shaved to the Skin (Close Up)
3mo Post-op: Shaved to the Skin (Close Up)

The case study illustrated that the ARTAS Robotic Hair Transplant system’s suite of tools can minimize the detectability of scars after an FUE hair transplant.

Dr. Bernstein describes advanced Robotic FUE techniques used at Bernstein Medical (VIDEO)
Read about Robotic Hair Transplantation

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Q: I heard FUE is a scarless surgery. Is this true using any of the current FUE methods (ARTAS® robot, Neograft, manual FUE)? — V.S., Weston, C.T.

A: All hair transplant procedures, follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit extraction (FUE), leave scars. FUT produces a linear scar at the back of the scalp that may be visible if you keep your hair short. FUE, on the other hand, leaves small dot scars at the back of the scalp that are not visible if you keep your hair short. These tiny scars will happen regardless of which FUE method is used, i.e., ARTAS robot, SAFE system, Neograft, or manual FUE. Some physicians who use the Neograft method advertise that there is no scarring involved when using the Neograft; however, this is not true: however, this is not true: there is some scarring associated with all FUE methods that increases with the total number of grafts harvested.

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Q: If I have no linear scar and I can exercise right away, why would you ever recommend FUT instead of FUE? — H.T., Dover, M.A.

A: I advise FUT because the grafts are of better quality (less transaction and more support tissue surrounding the follicle) and because more hair can be obtained from the mid-portion of the permanent zone –- which is where the hair is the best quality and most permanent. For the majority of patients a linear scar buried in the donor hair is not an issue. Each patient has to weigh the pros and cons of each procedure when making a decision.

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Q: What are the chances of the donor scarring being visible long-term in FUT compared to FUE? — M.M., Altherton, C.A.

A: Both FUT and FUE produce donor scarring; FUT, in the form of a line and FUE in the shape of small, round dots. With FUT hair transplantation, the line is placed in the mid-portion of the permanent zone, whereas in FUE the dots are scattered all over the donor area.

If a patient becomes extensively bald (i.e. the donor fringe becomes very narrow), the line of FUT will generally still remain hidden, whereas the dots of FUE will be seen above the fringe of hair. In the less likely scenario of the donor hair actually thinning significantly, both the line (of FUT) and the dots (of FUE) may become visible.

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CBS News Report On Robotic FUE Features Dr. BernsteinDr. Bernstein was featured in a CBS News report on robotic hair transplantation. During Dr. Max Gomez’s visit to the Bernstein Medical – Center for Hair Restoration, Dr. Bernstein discusses with Dr. Gomez the difference between FUT and FUE hair transplants, how the robotic system works, and the benefits of extracting hair follicles using robotic FUE rather than by traditional hand-held methods.

Read a transcript of the piece:

CBS 2 News Anchor Chris Wragge: These days we’ve seen robots doing everything from vacuuming our floors to building cars. You may have even had surgery done with the help of a robot. But what about something personal and cosmetic like a hair transplant? Our Dr. Max Gomez tells us about a robot doing just that.

Dr. Max Gomez: Well that’s right Chris. Now first we should make clear that robots in medicine don’t act alone, at least not yet. They’re always under the direction of a doctor. Now, that said, what robots are really good at are tedious, repetitive tasks that need to be done quickly and accurately. Something like a hair transplant.

Dr. Gomez: A full head of hair is called a person’s “crowning glory”. Sure, going bald is a common fashion statement, but most people are like Sam.

Sam, Hair Transplant Patient: I wanted more hair on my head, obviously, and I didn’t want to be bothered with any of the other treatments that are available.

Dr. Gomez: For Sam that meant a hair transplant, where donor hair follicles are taken from the back of the head and transplanted to the thinning areas, usually on top or the former hairline.

Dr. Robert M. Bernstein: The hair on the back and sides of the scalp are not effected by the same genetic process that the hair on the top of the scalp is.

Dr. Gomez: That donor hair is typically taken from a strip of scalp that is cut out and then sutured closed, but that’s not the best choice for everyone.

Dr. Bernstein: Some patients, who want to wear their hair very short, that line can be a problem. Also, there are some people who are at risk of having a wider scar.

Dr. Gomez: The solution is to randomly extract individual follicular units, small groups of one to four hairs.

Dr. Bernstein: The procedure is very labor intensive and you have to do thousands of these in a single session.

Dr. Gomez: Enter the ARTAS robot. It’s a sophisticated hair mapping and extraction system. Once the donor area is identified, the robot maps all of the follicles, and then randomly extracts them with a series of punches. It can even tell the angle the hair is growing at to avoid damaging it.

Dr. Bernstein: It is much more precise than the human hand. It doesn’t tire if you’re doing thousands of grafts. It’s the same every single time.

Dr. Gomez: And here’s the result a few weeks later. Even with short hair, the random extraction means it’s virtually impossible to tell where the donor hairs came from.

Now, the rest of the transplant procedure is pretty much the same as without the robot. That’s where the art comes in. Deciding where, how many, how dense, and at what angle the donor hairs are inserted, that’s what makes a hair transplant look natural. And a well-done transplant is amazingly natural.

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Q: Dr. Bernstein, can you please comment on leg and body hair transplants? — J.R., Ridgewood, NJ

A: I’ve tried the technique in the past but have been dissatisfied with the results. Scalp hair, unlike the rest of the body, has multiple hairs rising out of each follicle. With leg and body hair, you have only one hair per follicle, not follicular units of multiple hairs. Leg hair is also very fine. It might thicken up a little bit after it is transplanted, but not enough to be clinically useful. In men you want full thickness hair, so fine hair can make it look like it is miniaturizing, as it does when you’re losing it.

Body hair has been successful in softening hairlines, but most people have enough scalp hair to due this, since it often requires very little if properly placed. Another issue is that because leg hair emerges from the skin on a very acute angle, more wounding of the skin occurs as each hair is individually extracted and this leaves marks.

Body hair, from the chest or back, does hold better potential for success than leg hair, particularly if it is plentiful, but it still is extracted one hair at a time and can leave significant scarring when done in large numbers.

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Q: I recently saw an episode of the Rachel Ray Show where her guest, Dr. Anthony Youn, said that the Neograft machine for Follicular Unit Extraction is painless and uses a vacuum rather than surgery to remove the grafts. Can this be true? — A.B., Old Greenwich, C.T.

A: Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) using the Neograft machine is not painless and, while it does not produce a linear scar, it is surgery and there is significant scarring in the form of thousands of tiny holes that heal with round white marks.

In the video, Dr. Anthony Youn asks: “Do you wanna take a feel? It’s just a vacuum.” Rachel Ray states: “You don’t feel a thing.” Youn replies: “No [you don’t].”

This is very deceptive on the part of the doctor, since the instrument is basically a cutting instrument with the suction being used to remove and insert the grafts. Although the suction part would not be painful, the cutting part certainly is and requires the same anesthesia as a traditional hair transplant.

Our main concern is that the machine produces grafts that are sub-optimal with respect to quality and potential growth, as the Neograft’s suction apparatus tends to strip follicles away from their surrounding protective tissue and tends to dry the grafts out.

For in-depth information on this topic, read our pages on Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) and the Neograft Machine for FUE.

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Q: What is Follicular Unit Transplantation and how is it different from Follicular Unit Extraction? — H.L., White Plains, NY

A: Follicular Unit Hair Transplantation, called FUT for short, is a procedure where hair is transplanted in the naturally occurring groups of one to four hair follicles. These individual groups of hair, or units, are dissected from a single donor strip using a stereo-microscope. The area where the donor strip was removed is sutured closed, generally leaving a thin, fine, line scar.

In Follicular Unit Extraction, or FUE, the individual units are removed directly from the back or sides of the scalp through a small round instrument called a punch. There is no linear scar. There is, however, scarring from the removal of each follicle. Although the scars of FUE are tiny and round, the total amount of scarring is actually more than in FUT.

In addition, since in FUE the bald skin around each follicular unit is not removed, the total amount of hair that can be removed in FUE is substantially less than in FUT. This is because if one were to remove all the hair in an area, it would be bald. In FUT, the intervening bald tissue is removed along with the follicles in the strip.

Read our page on FUE vs. FUT

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Q: Can you use beard hair for a hair transplant using Follicular Unit Extraction? — A.C., San Francisco, CA

A:It is possible to use beard hair for a hair transplant, but there are three main differences between harvesting from the donor area and harvesting from the beard that should be taken into account. These are: 1) scarring 2) ease of extraction and 3) hair quality. Let’s explore these differences in turn.

First, in FUE, although there is no linear scar, there are small white round scars from where the hair is harvested. Normally these marks are hidden in the donor area and are not visible, even if the hair is clipped very short. However, if the scalp is shaven, these marks will become visible. When the beard is used as the donor source for the hair transplant, the patient must continue to wear a beard after the restoration, even if it is tightly cropped, or the faint white marks will show. The tiny round scars from FUE will generally be visible on a clean shaven face. As each person heals differently, we would perform a test before doing the actual procedure to make sure the marks from the extraction are not noticeable at the length that the person wants to wear his beard.

Second, FUE performed on beard hair differs from extraction from the scalp because of the greater laxity — or looseness — of facial skin. This makes extraction with minimal transection more difficult in some cases. A test prior to the hair transplant is particularly important in beard FUE so that the ease of extraction may be determined in advance.

Third, beard hair is coarser than scalp hair. Although the hair seems to take on some of the characteristics of the original hair in the transplanted area, the transformation is not complete. This makes beard hair an imperfect substitute for scalp hair.

A solution to the problem is to transplant beard hair behind the hairline for volume and scalp donor hair at the hairline for naturalness.

Read about FUE Hair Transplants

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Q: If someone doesn’t have enough donor hair, do you ever perform an FUE hair transplant using donor hair from outside the permanent hair zone? — M.V., Nashville, TN

A: No. If hair was taken from outside the permanent zone as the surrounding hair continued to bald, the scars from FUE, although small, would become visible.

In addition, the transplanted hair would not be permanent, and over time would eventually fall out.

Read more about FUE hair transplant procedures

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