Evolution of Hair Transplants – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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Ever think hair loss is a modern day problem? That, years ago men just accepted their thinning hair and embraced it? Or how about the opposite sex is only more judgmental now that they have actors like George Clooney to compare their partners to? If this has been your train of thought then I believe we need a history lesson.

Hair Loss a History

Hair has been a symbol of youthfulness and vitality for thousands of years. Men and woman of all ages, races and countries have suffered from premature hair loss and have searched for a cure. Each culture had its own method to preserving ones hair. Egyptians used animal fat and chopped lettuce to re-grow hair because even though they had wigs they still needed to show their strength (somehow through hair).

Hair has been a symbol of youthfulness and vitality for thousands of years. [tweet this]

Julius Caesar was so embarrassed about his hair loss that he used to wear laurel wreaths to try to hide it. Ironically the Latin word “caesaries” translates to “long/flowing/luxurious hair”. If your name represented the fabulous hair that you didn’t have you would also run around cutting off your enemy’s hair to prove your manhood.

In 400 B.C Hippocrates the Father of Medicine (and also a sufferer of hair loss) would prescribe a mixture of cumin, pigeon droppings, horseradish and beetroots. This was his cure for hair loss; please don’t try it at home. Considering the fact that he had no hair and pigeon poop is not a cure for anything, it obviously didn’t work.

He then tried using Spanish fly, aka the blister beetle, because its secretions were an irritant. He thought that because it caused the head to blister and bleed this would wake up dormant hair follicles. It also never worked and was later found out that these secretions are actually poisonous to humans.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

In doing my research on hair transplant history I came across something that surprised me. The industrial age brought many little machines and gadgets to people’s lives to make them easier. One of these “little gadgets” was produced in 1905 by the St Louis Vacuum Cap Company. This machine, so aptly named a Vacuum Cap, literally sucked your head. I’m not making this up, you can Google it. Safe to say this also didn’t work, although I’m sure it forced a lot of men to walk around with red rings around their bald heads.

Let’s proceed to the 1930’s to the 1950’s. These years were crucial to hair transplant history because in 1939 an article in the Japanese Journal of Dermatology was published by a Dr. Shoji Okuda. He was the first doctor to successfully transplant grafts from the back of his patient’s heads and planted them elsewhere. Unfortunately due to WWII no one in the West cared to know anything productive the Japanese were doing.

In the 1950’s more attention was paid to medical science since the war was over and the economy was reviving. Hair transplant was rediscovered by Dr. Norman Orentreich from New York. He moved follicles from the back and sides of the head to the balding scalp to determine if these follicles would live forever. When he proved that they would, he named it Donor Dominance. Basically, it didn’t matter where these follicles were planted, they would grow because they are genetically programmed to keep growing hair.

The 1960’ and 1970’s are to blame for “Barbie doll plugs”. If you take a Barbie and cut off her hair you are left with round patches of hair and funny looking Barbie (and a very angry mom). The same goes for transplants. Back then, because of the method they used, men ended up with a “clumped” or “bristle brush” look.

Surgeons used to perform transplants using pencil eraser sized grafts which contained about 15 to 25 hairs. People did have hair, but it was definitely not natural looking and worse, it was permanent. Being the only option at the time people accepted this scary treatment as a solution.

Improvements began in the 1980’s and 1990’s because hair transplantation techniques changed for the better. Smaller clumps of hair were used (five to eight hairs) and produced a slightly more natural look. These “minigrafts” were an improvement and yet, some surgeons were still using the larger grafts.

Even more disturbing is that even with all these advancements there were surgeons doing synthetic fiber hair implants. Meaning they took synthetic hair similar to a wig and actually planted into patients heads. Now, I’m not a doctor and even I thought this was bad idea. Fortunately the FDA quickly banned this one because patients ended up with bumps, inflammation, infection, scars, and get this; hair loss.

Back to the Future

Welcome to 2012, where you can rewind TV and hair transplantation has finally reached a point where grafts now contain one to four hairs. So with a great physician, (like the ones at RAHAL!) men and women can have natural looking transplants.

There are three unique and undetectable Follicular Unit hair transplant procedures; the gold standard in the field of hair restoration. The main difference between each procedure is the method used to harvest the hair from the donor area.

Follicular Unit Transplant or FUT is one method, where a strip is taken from the donor area and the grafts are harvested under microscopic control. It can leave a fine linear scar that is barely noticeable and can be hidden by the rest of your hair.

Follicular Unit Extraction or FUE is another method. This time, the grafts are taken from the donor area using a small 0.8mm in diameter instrument. This procedure is minimally invasive and won’t leave you with a scar. The recovery time is also quicker because there are no sutures or staples.

Lastly, we have the Robotic Assisted Hair Transplant. Similar to FUE but the grafts are individually harvested from the donor area using computer and imaging technology. This procedure is also minimally invasive and has a quicker recovery time. (And I bet you thought the Terminator was cool)

All 3 outpatient procedures are available at RAHAL. We are the first and only ones in Canada who offer Robotic Assisted Hair Transplants.

So hair lines can be redesigned and lowered, eyebrows can be filled in and men and women can look young once again without the fountain of youth; yes, the new millennium has made the people of the world more beautiful. Think of what we can accomplish in the years to come. There are rumors of hair cloning and genetic engineering so stay tuned…

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About Jessica Marini

Jessica Marini is a Patient Care Coordinator at Rahal. She is always looking out for the latest industry news to help better educate patients. In her free time she enjoys spending time with her family and her two rescue dogs Benji and Lily.

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