Advancements in hair restoration continually improve upon the options available to men for dealing with male pattern balding. From non-surgical pills and topical medications to surgeries, you have choices.
The first published hair transplant took place in 1822. With the help of his college professor, a medical student attempted to transplant hair from one area of the scalp to another. They were successful, but it would take another century before this type of surgery caught on and advancements started to take place.
- Dr. Okuda and Dr. Tamura. In 1939, a Japanese dermatologist turned his sights to grafting of hair follicles in burn victims. He used a “punch technique” to extract healthy follicles and then transplanted them to incisions in the balding area. Using this method, his patients did produce healthy hair. A few years later, another Japanese dermatologist used the same technique to graft hair, but dissected the tissue into individual grafts. This is the foundation for techniques that are still used today.
- Dr. Norman Orentreich. In 1952, a dermatologist in New York transplanted hair follicles in a patient with male pattern baldness. After seven years, he published the results of his transplant with the New York Academy of Science. A focal point of his report was that the hair on the side and back of the head was less likely to develop baldness. There were still advancements to be made, however. Dr. Orentreich’s method used the same punch method that Dr. Okuda used. It didn’t rely on the smaller grafts that Dr. Tamura used. As a result, scarring and incision length were of concern.
- Scalp Flaps. In 1969, an Argentinian doctor developed the scalp flap technique. With a scalp flap, sections of scalp, along with the tissue’s blood supply, are taken from one area and transferred to a surgically prepared section of the scalp. The success depends on how well the section remains connected to a blood supply. The newer techniques make the scalp flap procedure less commonly used.
- Spray-On Hair. Surgical methods are ideal at permanent hair growth, but some men want other options due to financial constraints or fears over the surgery itself. For that reason, many men look for alternative options. Spray-on hair products caught on with men and women who wanted to create the appearance of a full head of hair. The colored spray contained a fine powder that clung to the hairs on the scalp. There were issues, however. Many of the sprays came off in water or on the hands of anyone who touched the hair. Ron Popeil, inventor of many Ronco items, released one of many hair-in-a-can products, including the “Great Looking Hair” Formula.
- Topical Products. Rogaine (Minoxidil) came out in 1988 as a prescription product. It was the first FDA-approved topical solution for hair growth. In 1996, the topical solution became an over-the-counter product, so men no longer needed to get a prescription from their doctor. Rogaine does require a bit of a commitment. You need to use it daily for a period of four months.
- Oral Medications. Propecia and Proscar are two brand names for finasteride, a medication used to help inhibit the enzyme that converts testosterone into DHT, the reason behind baldness. Finasteride is the only FDA-approved oral medication for hair loss. The FDA granted approval of finasteride for male pattern baldness in 1997. The oral medications do not work for everyone. It takes at least three months, sometimes up to a full year, for you to see any improvements, and you must keep taking the Propecia or Proscar.
- FUT Method. The follicular unit transplant (FUT) technique is a common method used by hair transplant surgeons. This method involves removing a small strip of scalp tissue from the back or side of the head. The hair grafts are then dissected under a microscope into grafts containing one to four hairs, while the surgeon creates incisions in the scalp where the hair is supposed to be transplanted. The incisions do leave some scars, but they are easily hidden by the hair. The development of this technique revolutionized hair transplantation and all but banished the large, pluggy, doll hair’s look that resulted from larger grafts.
- FUE Method. Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) is less invasive than FUT. A small device punches out individual hair grafts that are then transplanted to the area on the scalp where new hair growth is desired. The procedure is less painful and doesn’t require incisions. It does take longer to complete this type of transplant.
- Gene Therapy. While the method has not been perfected yet, researchers are working on gene therapy techniques to prevent baldness. In 1998, Dr. Angela Christiano found the gene responsible for a specific form of baldness. Shortly after this discovery, Dr. Elaine Fuchs found a way to genetically engineer mice so that the protein responsible for hair growth never degraded. As a result, the genetically-engineered mice developed new hair follicles from older follicles. The research still needs work because these mice eventually developed tumors in the hair follicles. Finally, in 1999, Dr. Ronald Crystal made dormant hair follicles enter into another phase of growth by introducing the cells to new proteins. As research continues and doctors figure out how to alter the genes to create hair follicles that are resistant to DHT, gene therapy could stop baldness in men.
- Hair Cloning. There is also talk about using the technology of cloning cells to grow new hair follicles. This is still in the early stages because of the complexity of the procedure. To clone a hair follicle, scientists cannot just take a cell from anywhere on the body. The cell must contain the necessary DNA that determines the genetic traits of the hair, without picking up the genetic trait that causes the baldness in the first place. To ensure that the cells used for cloning have the right traits, the use of stem cells comes into play and makes the process of cloning even more complicated. It’s going to take years of research to decide if cloning is going to be a feasible option and to perfect the technique.
If you’ve heard stories about hair restoration from a father or grandfather, rest assured that the procedures they faced decades ago are not the same. Hair transplants and other hair restoration procedures work effectively at restoring your hair. Talk to an expert and learn more about advancements in hair restoration. Dr. Kyle Choe of The Choe Center for Hair Restoration is both a Virginia Beach hair restoration specialist and facial plastic surgeon. Call (757) 389-5850 to schedule a consultaton.