With more than 703,000 surgeries performed in 2021 alone, hair transplants are one of the most popular cosmetic procedures in the world [1, 2]. The number of transplants taking place has exploded by 152% over the last decade, as more people decide to take action to tackle their hair loss.
Most hair transplant patients are men experiencing male pattern baldness. If your hairline is starting to recede, or you’ve noticed a bald spot on your crown, a hair transplant could be the best way to tackle your hair loss.
Hair transplants are one of the safest, most successful cosmetic procedures available. But there’s a lot to learn about the hair transplant procedure before you sign up.
In this article, you’ll find out how hair transplants work, how long they last, and what you need to consider before choosing hair transplant surgery.
The first thing most prospective hair transplant patients want to know is whether hair transplants actually work.
The definitive answer is yes — hair transplants are one of the most successful, long-lasting ways to restore your hair. Unlike old-fashioned hair restoration methods like hair plugs, hair transplants will give you a natural, full head of hair in a matter of months. Learn more about the history of hair loss treatments.
When you work with a reputable clinic and an experienced surgeon, you’re likely to see extremely high success rates. At the Wimpole Clinic, we have a hair transplant success rate of 97-100%.
Premier League footballer Rob Holding before and after a Wimpole Clinic hair transplant.
But there are many cut-rate clinics out there — both in the UK and abroad — ready to take your money without the experience or qualifications they need to provide safe, successful hair transplants [3, 4]. Risks include hair transplant infection, follicle overharvesting, and failed hair transplants.
Hair transplants work by removing the follicles from an area where you have plenty of healthy hair (usually the back of the head, but sometimes the beard or chest) and implanting them in the areas affected by hair loss .
There are 2 main types of hair transplant: follicular unit extraction (FUE) and follicular unit transplantation (FUT). While each type of procedure offers similar results, they achieve them in different ways.
The procedure for a successful hair transplant usually follows a similar pattern:
At your initial consultation, a hair loss specialist known as a trichologist will examine your hair and scalp, and ask you a few questions to diagnose the cause of your hair loss.
This is an important step because not all hair loss conditions are suitable for hair transplant treatment. Patients with temporary conditions like telogen effluvium or alopecia areata are rarely eligible for hair transplants.
If you’re a good candidate for a hair transplant, your trichologist will determine how many hair grafts you need. You’ll then decide whether you want FUT or FUE surgery.
FUT and FUE both achieve excellent success rates, but there are certain differences that may make one technique preferable for you.
FUE works by extracting individual or small clusters of follicles (no greater than 1mm in diameter, but usually 0.81-0.9mm) from the donor area at the back of the head. The surgeon then creates tiny incisions in the balding area(s) and implants the follicles within these cuts.
Tools used to create incisions for hair implantation, alongside follicular units. Image source: Hair Restoration Surgery: The State of the Art 
FUE takes longer than FUT because each follicle cluster is removed individually and usually this results in less scar tissue than FUT, so it’s more suitable for people who want to wear their hair short or shaved.
In an FUT procedure, strips of skin are removed from the donor area. The surgeon then cuts the skin into small groups of follicles which can be implanted into the incisions, in a similar way to FUE. The cut in the donor area is then closed using sutures (stitches) or staples to prevent infection and promote fast healing.
Dissected follicular units in FUT surgery. Image source: Hair Restoration Surgery: The State of the Art 
Because larger areas of skin are removed in FUT, donor area scarring tends to be more significant. But FUT is often faster and better for patients with larger areas of hair loss that need to be covered. Scarring can also be easily disguised with longer hairstyles, so many women with female pattern baldness choose FUT surgery.
FUT requires a highly skilled and experienced surgeon, as well as a larger team of trained medical professionals to assist with the procedure. This is why FUT tends to be more expensive than FUE.
Learn more about the difference between FUT and FUE hair transplants.
No matter which type of surgery you choose, it will usually be completed within 1 day. The length of the procedure depends on how many hair grafts you need.
Your donor area will be shaved and marked so the surgeon knows where to extract the follicles. A local anaesthetic will then be injected into your scalp to numb the area and minimise discomfort.
In an FUT procedure, the surgeon will make a cut approximately 4-5mm deep around the area. They will then peel away the layer of skin containing your hair follicles using a sharp skin hook. The strip of skin is then dissected into tiny follicle clusters.
In an FUE procedure, a sharp punch is used to extract small follicle clusters directly from the scalp. The follicles can be transplanted immediately into the incisions, or kept in a sterile solution to implant later. The punch size is usually small (no more than 0.9mm in diameter) to avoid triggering hair transplant trypophobia.
When the follicles have been extracted, the surgeon will transplant them into the incisions made in the balding areas. They’ll consider graft direction to make sure your hair grows in a way that looks completely natural. When each graft is in position, they’ll apply light pressure to the graft to promote fast healing and stop any bleeding from the cut .
After the surgery, your head will be bandaged to protect your scalp from infection and other post-transplant complications. You’ll be advised to take a few days off work (ideally at least a week) to give your grafts time to recover. You should refrain from any strenuous exercise, and you shouldn’t wash or rub your hair for a few days, as this can dislodge the grafts.
Find out more about recovering from a hair transplant.
Hair transplant recovery is a relatively slow process. Your hair grafts will fall out after a couple of weeks, and a few weeks or months after that you should start to see hair growth in the balding areas.
Recovery times are different for everyone, but most people start to get an idea of how their final transplant will look around 4-5 months after surgery. Final results are usually visible after 12-18 months.
Pre-transplant and results 8 months after surgery. Image source: Hair Restoration Surgery: The State of the Art 
Hair transplants are permanent, and should last a lifetime. But hair loss can continue even after you’ve had a hair transplant. That’s why hair loss management is a vital part of any hair restoration process.
Minoxidil, Finasteride, and Dutasteride can all help minimise ongoing hair loss. Other alternative hair loss treatments are also available if these aren’t suitable for you.
Hair transplants are usually conducted under local anaesthetic. While you’ll be awake throughout your hair transplant, your scalp will be numb, so you shouldn’t feel anything more than mild discomfort. When asked if having a hair transplant hurts, most patients report that the procedure is much less painful than they thought it would be.
Understanding how a hair transplant works is just one of the things you need to know before opting for FUT or FUE surgery. Use this checklist to ensure you have all the information you need before selecting surgery to restore your hair:
At the Wimpole Clinic, we diagnose and treat all types of hair loss with a personalised treatment plan. Book a free consultation at our Harley Street clinic to find out how we can help you manage your hair loss.
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