Synthetic Hair Transplantation vs Follicular Unit Hair Transplantation

The sudden onset of hair loss can leave individuals feeling isolated and alone, but the truth is androgenic alopecia (genetic hair loss) is the most common form of hair loss and millions suffer from this condition worldwide. Hair loss can leave individuals feeling vulnerable and insecure, it is no surprise that the hair loss industry continues to grow each year. Currently, the only way to truly restore hair on a completely bald scalp is through hair transplantation, but recently synthetic hair restoration has garnered attention from hair loss sufferers worldwide. In this article, we will go over the differences between synthetic hair restoration and follicular unit hair restoration.

Follicular Unit Hair Transplants

Follicular unit hair transplants are performed by harvesting donor hair from the back and sides of the scalp (called the donor area). Hair in the donor area is genetically resistant to the effects of dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is the main hormone responsible for causing hair loss. There are two surgical techniques used to harvest the donor's hair, the first method is called Follicular Unit Strip Surgery (FUSS) or strip surgery. Strip surgery is performed by removing donor tissue from the patient's scalp and dissecting the grafts into their natural groupings of one (1), two (2), three (3) and four (4) hair follicular units. Follicular Unit Excision (formerly known as follicular unit extraction FUE) is performed by removing the follicular units one by one with a small punch ranging from 0.7mm to 1mm in circumference. The method of transplantation or implantation is the same for both harvesting techniques.

Synthetic Hair Transplants

It may come as a surprise to find out that synthetic hair transplants have been available since the 1980s, but were banned by the FDA due to adverse reactions from patients. Synthetic hair transplants consist of a synthetic fiber material that mimics the appearance of hair follicles. Currently, the transplantation of foreign material has been banned by the FDA, so these procedures are illegal in the United States. The allure of synthetic hair restoration has been to achieve instant results, without needing to remove any donor's hair. However, these procedures produce extensive scarring and require regular maintenance and touch-up procedures to maintain the appearance. Surgeons who perform this procedure insert micro-blades into the patient's scalp where the synthetic hair is attached. However, the synthetic hair will shed and require replacement over time to maintain the appearance of density.

What Is The Difference Between Synthetic Hair Transplants and Follicular Unit Hair Transplants

The most obvious difference is that synthetic hair is composed of a fiber material that is not real hair and follicular unit hair transplants consist of the individual's real hair. The appearance, texture, and feel of the synthetic hair are completely different from natural hair. Furthermore, as hair loss continues and progresses over the patient’s lifetime, the only way to transplant more synthetic hair is to surgically remove the micro-blades and replace them with new micro-blades that contain synthetic hair. The removal of these micro-blades can cause heavy scarring and can lead to infections and other scalp related conditions. Unfortunately, the procedure today hasn’t changed much since the 80’s and most surgeons who perform this procedure, do so without any real regulation or standards.

However, natural surgical hair restoration has evolved since the 80's and 90's. Today, when done right a follicular unit hair transplant is so natural even a hairstylist or barber can’t detect it under close inspection. The days of seeing unsightly plugs that resemble "barbie doll" hair or "corn rows" are a thing of the long past. Today, the hair is indistinguishable from the hair patients were born with, it grows the same as any other hair would on the scalp. Moreover, organizations like the Hair Transplant Network exist to upkeep the standards of hair restoration. While the hair transplant industry isn’t regulated by the government, it is certainly regulated by the market and third-party entities such as the hair transplant network.