A follicular challenge to be conquered by ageing men
The Times - Raconteur
He attributes the boom in interest in celebrities, said to have benefited from hair transplants, such as footballer Wayne Rooney, former X Factor judge Louis Walsh and actor James Nesbitt, who apparently turned to follicular unit extraction (FUE), a minimally invasive procedure that yields dramatic results in a relatively short time with no shaving, scarring or redness – a quantum leap when compared to the dodgy plugs of yesteryear.
The procedure involves the extraction of individual hairs from a donor area, such as the back of the head. The grafts are then implanted one by one into balding areas, where they grow naturally over the following months.
It is a painstakingly laborious process that requires a certain amount of artistry, not to mention patience, on the part of the surgeon.
“It takes a long, long time to master FUE,” says Raghu Reddy, a leading authority on the technique, whose own hair loss at age 18 defined his entire career.
“It’s a lot like watchmaking – you’re sat there in an odd position, putting the pieces together for eight or nine hours a day. It’s manually intensive labour,” he says.
“What we have today is something that works; it’s based on solid science,” Dr Reddy affirms.
“During my early years of performing FUE hair restoration, my average yield was between 1.9 to 2.4 hairs per graft. However, more recently my average graft yield has been 2.6 to 3.2 hairs per graft.”
Even though FUE has been around for over a decade, it wasn’t until recently that it evolved into the fool-proof phenomenon it is today.
Studies now show that it is the extraction of a high-quality graft, along with the stem cells, that ensures the best results.
He pulls up a picture of a former client on the computer screen in front of us. The scalp glaring back at us has suffered extensive loss that seems impossible to reverse.
The “after” picture, taken a week following the procedure, is astounding. There is densely packed hair in the areas that were once barren, but it doesn’t look like the patient has had any work done. There is no scarring, no redness.
“One could use a lot of twigs to populate the recipient area or use a few twigs and a lot of trees to create the illusion of a thicker garden,” says Dr Reddy, switching to a new analogy.
This calibre of result, he maintains, is not something that would be possible to achieve with some of the other options on the market, such as follicular unit transplantation (FUT), the precursor to FUE that involves cutting out large strips of hair and leaving a scar in the process.
Dr Reddy is less enthused with robots. “You don’t have manual control,” he says.
“When grafting, you can feel a zone of resistance; there’s a tactile aid that takes years to develop.”
With so many different opinions and options for FUE – mechanical, manual, robotic and a number of marketing-driven terms that confuse matters even more – seeing the results is what will encourage a man to walk into a practice.
Thanks to the proliferation of internet forums dedicated to the topic – baldgossip.com, hairtransplantnetwork.com, baldtruthtalk.com – the best and worst handiwork is immediately visible.
Doctors submit case studies to the forums, allowing viewers to do due diligence before stepping into a practice. “I’ve been working since 1993,” says Dr […].
“Back then nobody knew who I was; I had no reputation. By 1999 the internet had become more popular and…” he trails off. Indeed his and Dr Reddy’s names are at the top of the lists published by international forums that have thousands of subscribers.