Bernstein Medical - Center for Hair Restoration - Norwood Class 3 Hair Loss
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Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis - Image c/o Asylum.com
Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis sport “power alleys”

A hair transplant won’t be medically indicated in some patients. Hair loss treatments may not sufficiently restore fullness in every patient. But as an article in AOL’s Asylum.com makes clear, balding can be bad-ass.

Asylum.com reporter Brett Smiley interviewed Dr. Bernstein to get his take on hair loss and the balding pattern known as a “power alley”:

Power alley is an accurate term for that type of balding,” says Dr. Robert M. Bernstein, a clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University and world-renowned hair-transplant surgeon. “It’s Norwood Class III balding, which is the most common type.”

[…]

“People with bald parents are the most susceptible to hair loss,” says Dr. Bernstein. “And it can happen at any age. I’ve seen patients in their late teens begin to lose their hair.”

Even though we have a healthy head of hair, Asylum pays homage below to the many successful men — from athletes to video-game characters — who have proudly sported the power-alley look.

The article cheekily describes the hair loss and “alleys” of several celebrities, including: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, “Iron Mike” Ditka, Jude Law, Danny Glover, ESPN NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., Florida Gators men’s basketball coach Billy Donovan, and everyone’s favorite virtual celeb, Pizza Pasta from Nintendo’s “Punch-Out!!”

If you are a new visitor to our website, Dr. Bernstein personally conducts hair loss consultations in our facility in midtown Manhattan.

Read more about the cause, classification, and diagnosis of hair loss in men.

Image c/o 20th Century Fox and Asylum.com

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Q: It’s a question that greatly concerns me because I’m investigating getting a transplant sometime next year. I’m 28 and thought I started balding at 26, but photographic evidence suggests it had started somewhere around age 24. I’m roughly a Class 2 now, and thanks to finasteride, I’ve stayed almost exactly where I was at 26 with some improvement (not really cosmetically significant though). However, I am convinced I have some crown and top of the scalp thinning too, but not to a visible degree.

These people getting these miraculous jobs from Canada – it is a trick, right? They can’t honestly expect to be able to get away with what they’ve done over the course of their entire lives, can they? — L.M., Great Falls, V.A.

A: I think you have better insights into hair loss than many hair transplant surgeons. Patient ABI was the “rare” patient who seems to be a stable Class 3. I made that judgment due to: almost no miniaturization at the border of his Class 3 recession, no crown miniaturization, and his unusual family history. He had several older family members who stayed at Class 3 their whole lives.

Since we only have about 6,000 movable follicular units on average in our donor area, placing 3,000 at the hairline is obviously a joke and/or the doctor is playing “Russian Roulette” with the patient’s future.

As you point out, in most patients the hair loss will progress and the person will be out of luck. It is similar to the way flap patients were stuck without additional donor hair as their hair loss progressed. An additional problem was that the flaps were low on the forehead and very dense. The situation is analogous to placing 100 grafts per sq cm2 to create a low, broad hairline in a young person.

If you do the math you can see how ridiculous this tactic is. A person’s original density is only 90-100 follicular units cm2. Patient with Class 6 hair loss lose hair over an area of about 300 cm2.

This consists of:

  • 50cm2 in the front (including a 15cm2 hairline)
  • 150 cm2 for the mid-scalp
  • 100 cm2 for the crown

Therefore, 6000 FUs transplanted to this area = 6000/300 = 20 FU per cm2. This is the number we often work with. We put up to 50cm2 at the very most in the mid-frontal forelock area and then proportionately less in other areas.

However, if you put 3,000 FUs at the hairline, in a density of 100/cm2, then you have covered only 30cm. This leaves only 3,000 FUs for the remaining 270cm2 of balding scalp for a density of a little over 11 FU/cm2.

Now, transplanting 11FU cm2 over the back part of the scalp is not a disaster EXCEPT if the front was transplanted at 100 per cm2. In this situation (as you have accurately pointed out) the patient will look very, very front heavy, with an aggressively placed, dense, broad, hairline and little hair to support it towards the back.

The gamble is that the patient’s baldness doesn’t progress, that finasteride or dutasteride can halt the process if it does progress, or that hair cloning methods will be available to save the day.

In my opinion, elective surgery should not be performed when its success depends upon these uncertainties – and particularly since a cosmetically disfiguring hair transplant can be so debilitating (and avoidable).

The reality is that doctors who claim to perform these procedures may not even be performing follicular unit transplantation. In FUT, the surgeon transplants naturally occurring intact FUs of 1-4 hairs. The extreme dense packing techniques preclude the use of 4- and sometimes even 3-hair grafts. What happens is that the larger FU are spit up. This doubles the graft counts (and the cost to the patient) without giving the patient any more hair. It also increases the risk of follicular damage and poor growth.

Patients in whom 10,000 follicular units are available to transplant are very rare and when they are shown on the internet, should be viewed as the exception rather than the rule.

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Q: I wanted you to determine if I would be a candidate for FUE (to camouflage a scar). After reading through your vastly informative website, I had become aware that the Fox test is necessary to determine patient viability for FUE. When I mentioned the test, I believe I heard you say it was unnecessary. Unfortunately, I can’t help but think there was miscommunication between us, as your letter states that I should schedule a Fox test if I am considering FUE. Please confirm if a Fox test is, in fact, necessary. — N.S., Garden City, N.Y.

A: I perform FOX tests on all patients when I am considering a FUE hair transplant. I do not routinely perform FOX tests before repairs (or on eyebrow transplants) where the number of grafts is relatively small.

The purpose of FUE is to identify those patients in whom FUE is inefficient — i.e. there is a greater than average risk of damage during the harvest. If this is the case, I would not perform the hair transplant since even slight inefficiencies create a significant problem when thousands of grafts are transplanted.

Remember, compared to Follicular Unit Transplant (FUT), FUE is a relatively inefficient procedure. Even when a small FUE hair transplant is performed (i.e., in a Norwood Class 3) we have to anticipate that eventually the person will need a large amount of grafts, so a FOX test is still important.

However, when the total number of grafts is small, such as in scar revisions or eyebrow restoration, small inefficiencies are not as important.

In addition, with repairs, the donor area is altered so that extraction in different areas may be very be different, rendering a FOX test in scar revisions far less useful.

Finally, if a FUE hair transplant is started, but then aborted due to extraction difficulties, the patient must either be reverted to a strip (which was not the preferred means of harvesting or a FUT would have been planned to begin with) or the patient will be left with a partial procedure – both less than ideal situations. However, if a FUE repair has to be aborted due to the inability to efficiently harvest hair, no harm was done; we just won’t be able to achieve our goal.

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Q: I am 28 years old and was told that I have early Norwood Class 3 hair loss. I want to have a hair transplant but my doctor told me to use Propecia for 6 months and then come back to discuss surgery. I don’t want to wait that long, what should I do? — L.B., Oyster Bay Cove, NY

A: Actually, you should wait a full year. If you are an Early Norwood Class 3, the Propecia can work so well (in actually growing hair back) that you may not even need a hair transplant. The important point is that Propecia only starts working at 3-6 months and during this time there may actually be some shedding as the new growing hair literally pushes out the old.

A hair transplant performed at 6 months may not only be unnecessary, but growth from the medication may be attributed to the hair restoration surgery. I suggest to wait and see what the medication can do before going for hair restoration surgery.

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Q: I am 27 years old and have a Class 3 degree of hair loss. Should I do a hair transplant or consider non-surgical methods of hair restoration? — Y.B., Lake Forest Illinois

A: At age 27 with early hair loss, you should consider non-surgical options first.

Propecia is the most important medication, but you need to be on it for one year at the full dose of 1mg a day to assess its benefits.

If you have done this and other parameters are OK for a hair transplant, such as adequate donor hair density and scalp laxity and you have little evidence that you will become extensively bald (i.e. no donor miniaturization and no family history of extensive baldness), then hair transplantation can be considered.

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