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Noticeable Hair Transplants are Never in Fashion, So Why are They Making a Comeback?

In the old days (think 1980s), there was no mistaking who had a hair transplant. The telltale corn row, doll hair, pluggy-looking hair transplants of yesteryear were — believe it or not — once considered state-of-the-art. But that was well before the evolution of hair transplantation. Over the last 20 years, hair restoration techniques have evolved considerably. These techniques have become so refined and results so natural-looking that most people cannot tell if someone has even had a hair transplant.

In fact, the ISHRS felt so confident about the undetectable nature of the modern-day hair transplant that it conducted an online “Hair Transplant Challenge” in 2010 where consumers were asked to select the person who has had a hair transplant from a series of four photographs of both men and women. One person in each group was the real hair transplant patient; the other people were decoys. The result? Over 65% of survey respondents were not able to correctly identify the male hair transplant recipient, and over 85% of respondents could not correctly identify the female hair transplant recipient. Without visible “plugs” or unnatural-looking hairlines as dead giveaways, the task of detecting a hair transplant proved to be unfeasible for many.

But lately, a strange trend is taking place in hair transplantation. Despite the continual advances made over the years in this highly specialized surgery, a wave of bad hair transplants has been surfacing around the world. Patients are experiencing bad results, with the back of their heads where donor hair is harvested looking scarred and pockmarked and hairlines looking very unnatural by today’s high standards.

So, what’s to blame for the rise of bad hair transplants lately? In a nutshell, greed — with novice physicians getting into the field to make a quick buck and unlicensed “assistants” performing the entire surgery under the guise of a surgeon. Both are a recipe for disaster.

A Worldwide Problem
With medical tourism on the rise, phony hair restoration clinics have flourished in many countries as a means to draw in patients with the empty promise of a qualified physician performing the surgery for a rock-bottom price. For those who don’t thoroughly research the clinic and physician prior to surgery or a country’s laws and regulations about who can perform hair restoration surgery, the result can be disastrous.

For example, in Turkey black market hair transplant clinics are a dime a dozen. There, unsuspecting patients can end up with botched surgeries or at serious risk for complications when surgeries are performed illegally by technicians. But this problem can happen at home or abroad, and no area of the world is immune to charlatans posing as experts with empty promises of fuller hair — all for unethical financial gain.

So, how can you tell whether a hair transplant clinic is legitimate and operated by a qualified physician? The answer to this question may not always be easy, but getting to the bottom of it requires some good old-fashioned research and detective work on your part.

Qualifications Matter
As with any surgery, there are inherent risks when undergoing a hair transplant. But these risks rarely pose a danger to patients when the surgery is performed in the right hands. That is why a properly trained and licensed physician or a properly trained and licensed physician extender (e.g. nurse practitioner, physician assistant) practicing within the scope of his or her license should be the only medical professionals performing certain aspects of hair restoration surgery.  These aspects include preoperative diagnostic evaluation and consultation; surgery planning; surgery execution (including donor hair harvesting, hairline design, and recipient site creation); and management of other patient medical issues and possible adverse reactions.

Unlike physicians who have years of training and education and the expertise needed to monitor the well being of patients undergoing hair restoration surgery from start to finish, unlicensed technicians do not. In fact, unlicensed technicians performing these highly skilled aspects of hair restoration surgery places patients at risk of (1) misdiagnosis, (2) failure to diagnose hair disorders and related systemic diseases, and (3) can result in the performance of unnecessary or ill advised surgery.  The ISHRS strongly believes that these potential risks jeopardize patient safety and treatment outcomes.

Today, hair restoration surgery is highly refined and continual advancements have made this specialized surgery virtually undetectable. Visible plugs, unnatural-looking hairlines and obvious scarring are not characteristic of a modern-day hair transplant, but rather a clear sign that an unqualified physician or technician likely performed the procedure.

To avoid being the victim of a hair transplant scam, be smart — do your homework on the physician you are consulting with and the clinic where the surgery would be performed. If something seems “off” or you are aren’t getting your questions answered or the information you’re requesting, it’s probably a sign that this physician or hair restoration clinic may not be the right match for you. When it comes to hair restoration, don’t settle for anything less than the best.


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