Hair loss can inflict such trauma on those who experience it that an entire industry has sprung up to do battle with baldness: An estimated $1 billion a year is spent on efforts to re-grow hair.
Hair replacement surgery, which averages more than $7,000, is one of the more costly options. But experts say that it’s gotten a lot more sophisticated.
In the old days, surgeons would remove small circles of tissue from the back of the head, where hair growth is stable. Then to transplant those clumps of up to 30 hairs, the surgeon would remove a matching circle of tissue from the top of the head and put in the graft.
The procedure worked, but the results looked unnatural. Still, surgeons were on the right track.
“The hair transplant is really extraordinarily successful,” Dr. Robert Bernstein, medical director of New Hair Institute, told Good Morning America.
“In fact that has always been the problem," he said. "The grafts that were done 25, 30 years ago are still around. So really the idea is not to get the hair to grow. That’s the simple part. The problem has been to do it in a way that it looks natural.”
Today, hair replacement surgery involves single follicular unit transplants.
The surgeon removes a strip of hair-producing tissue from the back of the head, and dissects it under the microscope into units of one to four hairs, the way hair grows naturally. The surgeon uses a needle to make tiny incisions at the exact place and angle where the hair will grow.
A Gift to Themselves There are many reactions to losing one's hair.
Some men let nature take it's course, and adopt the motto that bald is beautiful.
Others head for the drugstore to get the latest lotions and pills. Some take a pre-emptive strike and shave their heads clean. And still others look for surgical alternatives.
Greg Morrone, a 50-year-old probation officer from Philadelphia, started losing his hair about five years ago. It wasn’t too much of a surprise, since his dad was bald, but he wanted to do something about it.
He tried minoxidil (sold in drug stores as Rogaine), but it didn’t work for him.
Two years ago, he made the decision to go to Bernstein for hair-replacement surgery.
“I started noticing in pictures of myself and home videos that there was a dramatic difference in my hair,” Morrone says. “It’s bad enough getting older without worrying about losing your hair too.”
In Marrone’s case, he was experiencing what is known as "class 6 male pattern baldness," with loss of hair in the front of the head, and a large bald spot toward the back of his head.
After the surgery, his hair grew back so gradually that his co-workers couldn’t quite put a finger on what was different. (Some even asked him if he’d lost weight.) His wife, who thought he looked good the way he was, enjoys the new look.
Usually it takes about six months after the surgery to really see a difference.
“I feel great — more like I used to feel,” Marrone says.
Like most patients, he had two procedures done. The first surgery is more dramatic, the second is more filling-in type work. Though it was costly, Marrone considers it wise purchase — and an investment, like buying a house, which appreciates in value as the years go by.
Trying to Look as Young as They Are A 40-year-old mechanical engineer who lives just outside New York City also visited Bernstein nearly two years ago. He had started losing his hair when he was 19 and as the problem got worse, he felt less and less attractive.