According to the International Society Of Hair Restoration, approximately 35 million men in the United States suffer from some form of hair loss. For women, the number dips to 21 million. That’s still a lot. Way too many, in fact, for most—especially those over 40—to just brush off with an “it will never happen to me” attitude. In fact, by the age of 40, 40 percent of women are likely to have lost at least some of their hair. By age 60, the number doubles to 80 percent. These statistics are alarming. Worse still, it’s hard to pin down the cause. Stress, diet, lack of sleep, and other issues associated with lifestyle are by no means blameless. But as is the case with men, a woman’s hair loss is often hereditary. That’s right—not only does she have to worry about buying bad jeans at the department store; she may already have bad genes and not even know it. Though, what we’ll tell you in this article, you have options, including a female hair transplant.
Reaching For Straws That Do Little—or Nothing At All
I once knew a woman in her sixties whose hair was quite thin on top. Her scalp was visible, particularly in direct sunlight. Tell you what else she had visible—her despondency. Though in the autumn of her life, she wasn’t happy at all with her situation. And oh brother, the things she tried to do about it. I remember her as being a pretty big fan of those TV infomercials that gained so much traction in the 80s. She phone-ordered stuff like vacuum cleaners that promised to get 99.9% of all harmful bacteria out of your rug. Computer keyboards with specialized feedback for arthritic hands. Dust rags that shook out clean with just one flick of the wrist. And yes—hair regrowth tonics.
Did the tonics work? Of course not. That didn’t stop her from picking up the phone, though, and ordering about six different kinds. Another of her ideas was aloe-Vera. These miracle plants, she insisted, could instigate hair growth simply by rubbing their secretion into the scalp. Did the aloe-Vera ever work? Nope. Not from what I could see.
Still, I couldn’t help but applaud her stubbornness. This woman was no fan of people like Sinead O’Connor, or Ripley from Alien 3. (Okay, that last one isn’t fair; Ripley had to buzz her head to keep out the bugs). She wanted to preserve her hair for as long as possible and meant to do so or die trying. I was puzzled, however, with how long she went on telling herself that the snake-oil treatments were working. Could she not still see skin through her thinning hair? Did she not realize the condition was actually getting worse?
The dear old woman. She didn’t. And whenever she recommended these same tactics to me—a balding man in my own right—all I could do was smile, give the aloe-Vera a go, then reject the whole bundle of craziness as a lost cause.
One thing she never tried was hair fibers. Having once relied on them myself, I can attest that those do work. For awhile. The fibers need a little real hair to cling to, however, and once the time came that I didn’t even have a little real hair left, said fibers were out.
So what’s an effective treatment for women’s hair loss? What can this 40% of ladies over 40 do that truly does reverse their predicament? The answer may surprise you. They can follow the same treatment that hundreds of thousands of balding men do every year. They can schedule a hair transplant procedure.
What To Expect From A Female Hair Transplant
A hair transplant is a surgical procedure in which follicular units are extracted from a donor area of the body—usually in the back of the head—and implanted in a recipient area. Given the popularity of the treatment these days, there’s a good chance you knew that already. So let’s dive a little deeper.
For women, doctors will almost always perform transplant surgery using the Follicular Unit Extraction technique (FUE). In FUE, individual follicles are removed from a stable donor site (oftentimes the back or sides of the head) and placed, individually, in the recipient area. The procedure is typically done under local anesthesia, making it virtually painless, and can be finished anywhere between 6 and 10 hours.
Sometimes women will instead receive the Follicular Unit Transplant (FUT). This method, developed in the early 1950s and much refined since then, involves extracting follicular units in strips from a donor area. The main issue with FUT is strip scarring. Unsightly scar lines are left behind from the extraction, which can be concealed, provided the patient is willing to grow her healthy hair longer. It too is almost painless, and can most times be completed in under 10 hours.
For either method, things begin with a consultation. Here your doctor will perform a scalp exam to determine your level of hair loss. He or she will also get a pretty good idea about healthy donor possibilities, as well as how much further the hair loss will progress. Some clinics even employ microscopic examinations for more accurate information. You’ll be asked some questions about overall health, family history of hair loss, your diet, stress levels, and lifestyle. These questions will help the doctor determine if indeed hair transplant surgery is necessary, or if another form of treatment can be used.
Where Things Get Tricky For Women
Female pattern hair loss differs from the male. For men, pattern baldness usually extends from the front of the scalp to partway down the back, leaving the very back and sides perfectly usable for donor extraction. This is not the case for ladies. Female pattern baldness does not normally affect the hairline—as it does with men—but everything else is fair game. This means fewer healthy donor hairs, and a lower chance for a successful surgery. Many women with female pattern hair loss are not good candidates for surgery, simply because donor hairs are too few and far between.
Note: A doctor who would attempt to extract hair follicles from an unstable donor site could be unethical, and in it just for the money.
When Is A Woman A Good Candidate For A Hair Transplant?
By now you already know the answer to the question this article’s title asks. Yes, women can get hair transplants. On the downside, only about 2-5 percent of women who suffer from hair loss are going to benefit from surgery. These are not especially good numbers. Still, in that bracket, women who may have hair transplant surgery recommended to them include:
- Women with mechanical or traction alopecia (hair loss caused by pulling the hair too tight, as with ponytails or braids)
- Women who have undergone previous cosmetic surgery, and are concerned about covering up scar tissue
- Women who suffer from male pattern baldness
- With healthy donor hairs around the lower part of the scalp, transplant surgery can be performed in much the same way as it’s done on men
- Women whose hair loss is the result of trauma
- Women who suffer Alopecia marginalis (hair loss at the hairline due to over-tight pulling)
Other Things A Woman Should Consider About Hair Transplant Surgery
Transplant surgery can not only treat pattern baldness in females; it can also be used to for hairline lowering. With FUE, a more feminine hairline is created for those that no longer look as dense as they used to. Different styles of hairlines can even be created, such as the widow’s peak, or triangular hairline.
Allow me to stress once more the importance of the consultation. Here your doctor will find out everything he or she needs to know about whether or not you’re a good candidate for a hair transplant. Another thing they’re going to discover is what your expectations are. Try to keep them realistic, especially if your hair loss is more advanced. Sometimes just one surgical procedure is enough to do the trick. Other times, however, women will require more than one visit to the clinic in order to achieve their desired density.
Women with advanced hair loss should be careful about picking only the areas they want to be prioritized for treatment. A good rule of thumb is for the main recipient area to be where they typically part their hair. Other tactics can be used to achieve a fuller look elsewhere. These include cosmetics like those aforementioned fibers I once had so much success with and certain types of hair dyes that can match colors with the donors, creating a more uniform presentation.
Hair transplant surgery is absolutely possible for women. The clinic you visit will likely be more than happy to tell you about other females who have received treatment through them. You’ll hear success stories to rival those of the men. Before choosing a clinic, check for board certification of its surgeons, and get feedback from its other clients. Time need not be permitted to take away your hair. Rather, let its role be only for the gathering of wisdom through passing years.