Tips For Finding A Qualified Hair Restoration Surgeon

 Photo credit: Hero Images/Hero Images/Getty Images

Photo credit: Hero Images/Hero Images/Getty Images

Even as researchers try to develop an effective treatment that can prevent hair loss, dramatic advances in hair restoration surgery in the past decade have increased the procedure's popularity for men and women with thinning hair.

Hair loss is a fact of life for many men and women. Noticeable hair loss affects about 40% of all men by age 35. By age 60, 65% of men have thinning hair. There are 35 million men and 21 million women in the U.S. experiencing hair loss. Although the majority of these individuals treating their hair loss opt for drugs such as ROGAINE® or PROPECIA®, hair restoration surgery is the most effective way to combat hair loss. And it seems to be on the rise.

Better Hair Restoration Techniques

The main reason more people are now seeking hair transplant surgery is that the results look more natural, especially compared to the hair plugs that dotted the scalps of an earlier generation of patients.

"Recent years have seen several exciting, new medical advances that have given hair restoration specialists more tools in slowing down hair loss — and even reversing it — without surgery," Dr. Haresh Yalamanchili, a hair transplant specialist in Houston, says on his website.

Surgeons can now harvest hair follicles from the back of the head — an area that's unaffected by the male pattern baldness that causes the vast majority of hair loss cases — and then implant them in the balding area.

Most doctors who perform hair transplant surgery use one of 2 primary restoration techniques — follicular unit transfer (FUT) or follicular unit extraction (FUE). The FUT procedure involves removing a horizontal strip of skin from the scalp, usually from the back of the head, which provides the donor follicles. The procedure includes sutures or staples to close the wound and a linear scar that stretches across much of the scalp.

The FUE technique, on the other hand, uses a specialized punch to remove 1 to 4 hair follicles at a time. An automated restoration system called NeoGraft™ represents the state-of-the-art technology in this style of transplants, and it is favored by many top surgeons.

But no matter the specific technique used, finding a qualified hair restoration surgeon can be more difficult than expected because there is no specialty board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties that certifies practitioners.

"In the U.S. any licensed physician can legally perform hair transplant surgery without any prior surgical training or accreditation of any kind," says the American Hair Loss Association®, a national organization whose mission is to educate consumers about the field. "Every physician, M.D. or D.O., has the legal right to pick up a scalpel and proclaim him/herself a qualified hair transplant surgeon."

Finding the Right Surgeon

So where do you begin looking for a qualified hair restoration surgeon?

Typically, the procedure is offered by plastic surgeons, dermatologists, and other doctors who work in aesthetic medicine. But, as the American Hair Loss Association points out, a doctor with no background at all in aesthetics can perform hair restoration surgery. To help your search, here are some tips on ensuring the doctor you select is qualified:

  • Ask to see before-and-after photos of at least 10 patients. The photos should be taken from the same angle and with the same lighting.
  • Check the surgeon's credentials, paying close attention to how many years the physician has been performing hair transplant surgery. Also, ask how many procedures the surgeon performs in a month.
  • Be cautious about a practice that markets itself as the "largest" group of hair restoration surgeons, or makes similar claims about the size of the practice. You may be less likely to get the personalized attention you want.
  • Be wary of a surgeon who claims to have completed a hair restoration surgical residency or claims to be a "board-certified" hair transplant surgeon. Although there are organizations that certify hair restoration surgeons, they don't require surgeons to meet the same rigorous standards as other specialty boards.
  • Ask the physician to provide names of previous patients who would be willing to talk about their experiences.

Finally, even if the surgeon appears qualified and experienced, you should feel comfortable with the physician and the staff at the practice. As they say, "trust your gut."