Hair is often a symbol of beauty, youth, and a part of your identity, so losing your hair and living with alopecia can be stressful. A hair transplant could be an excellent solution to restore hair loss, but it may not be for everyone.
We’ll walk you through everything from what alopecia is and its causes to your suitability as a candidate for a hair transplant.
What is alopecia?
Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss, which can occur on the head or other parts of the body. The condition can be a result of genetics, hormonal changes, chronic diseases, ageing, and other unknown causes.
What are the causes of alopecia?
There are various causes and types of alopecia, the most common being the following.
One of the most common types of hair loss, androgenetic alopecia — also known as pattern hair loss — affects 50% of males over 50 and 50% of females over 65, according to Alopecia UK. The condition is related to genetics and androgens (male hormones). When androgens like dihydrotestosterone (DHT) increase in the hair follicles, it can cause them to shrink. The result is hair thinning or loss.
In men, hair usually recedes from the temples. However, for women, hair often becomes thinner all over.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the hair follicles, causing them to fall out. Hair loss is usually in patches on the scalp and other parts of the body, like the eyebrows and eyelashes. According to The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 15 in 10,000 people in the UK suffer from alopecia areata.
Anyone can get the disease, but people with the following are more at risk:
- A close blood relative with the condition
- People with chronic diseases like asthma, thyroid disease, and diabetes
Alopecia areata doesn’t usually destroy the hair follicles, so regrowth is possible.
Chemotherapy damages cancer cells but can also attack other cells in the body, like hair follicles, causing hair to fall out. This isn’t usually permanent and regrows a few weeks after finishing treatment.
Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (scarring alopecia)
Central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia (CCCA) — more commonly known as scarring alopecia — involves hair falling from the centre of the scalp, spreading outwards.
The cause of CCCA is unknown, but it is often linked to hair styling tools that use heat, like dryers and straighteners. Other factors like genetics, infections, and autoimmune diseases also play a role in the condition.
Traction alopecia is caused by hairstyles that pull on the hair roots, damaging the follicles. Over time, this can lead to hair loss. If the issue is recognised quickly and tight hairstyles are avoided, this condition is usually reversible.
What are the symptoms of alopecia?
Although the type of alopecia you have will result in different symptoms, the most common are patches of hair loss on the head or body. You could also experience gradual thinning on the top or sides of the head.
What to avoid when you have alopecia
UV light can worsen alopecia and increase your risk of sunburn. Protecting your head from the sun — especially if you have bald patches on your head exposed to sunlight — will limit further damage to your skin. If it’s hot outside, wear sunscreen or cover up with a light scarf. You may need to stay indoors during the hottest time of the day.
Stress can cause the body to release chemicals that disrupt the hair growth cycle, worsening the effects of alopecia. Exercise, enough sleep, and meditation will help reduce it. Avoiding stressful situations would be best, but that's easier said than done!
Hairstyles that pull on the roots could worsen alopecia, so avoiding this will limit the extent of hair loss and support growth. This is especially important if you have traction alopecia!
Harsh hair products
Hair products that are highly fragranced or include harsh chemicals can irritate the scalp, making it even more difficult for your hair to grow. Treat your hair gently using sulfate-free shampoos with natural ingredients to prevent further damage and inflammation.
How to treat alopecia
Minoxidil — also known as Regaine — is an over-the-counter medication commonly used to treat alopecia areata and pattern hair loss. It can be applied daily to the scalp to increase the supply of blood and nutrients to the hair roots. Consistent use can result in hair growth and reduced thinning or balding.
It’s best to consult your doctor before using a topical medicine, especially if you have skin problems or underlying conditions.
Finasteride — also known as the brand Propecia — is an oral medication that reduces the production of hormones (dihydrotestosterone) that can cause male pattern baldness. The result can be slowed hair loss and, in some cases, growth.
Although an effective treatment for men’s hair loss, Finasteride isn’t often recommended for women, as it doesn’t usually work as well.
Eat a balanced diet
It’s essential to have sufficient protein and iron in your diet for healthy hair, according to Healthline. Although it may not be the sole cause of alopecia, a deficiency in iron or a lack of protein could contribute to hair loss, as hair follicles may not get the nutrients they need to grow strongly.
Adding protein and iron-rich foods like red meat, nuts, and peas to your diet can improve the extent of hair loss, inducing growth.
To learn more, read our tips for healthy hair: 8 everyday changes to stimulate growth.
Can I have a hair transplant for Alopecia?
If you are experiencing symptoms of alopecia, you may be wondering if you’re the right candidate for a transplant. Restoration is often a permanent solution to hair loss and is known to improve confidence, but not everyone with alopecia is a fitting candidate.
You may be suitable for hair transplant surgery if you have the following types of alopecia.
Androgenetic alopecia (pattern hair loss)
The good news is that clients with androgenetic alopecia (male or female pattern hair loss) are usually ideal candidates. However, you must have been losing your hair for at least five years or more (beyond class three on the Norwood Scale). This is usually when hair loss has stabilised, and your surgeon can see the balding pattern, minimising the risk of needing another transplant in the future.
On the other hand, hair loss is only considered treatable before stage 7 (when there is enough hair on the head to work with). A Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) or Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) transplant involves moving healthy hairs and planting them in problem areas. Therefore, if hair loss is extreme, you’re unlikely to be a good candidate.
Hair loss is reversible if tight hairstyles are avoided immediately after traction alopecia diagnosis. Therefore, it’s unlikely that a transplant would be necessary.
However, if an individual has suffered severe and permanent traction alopecia, they may be a suitable candidate for a hair transplant.
A hair transplant could work well for patients with scarring alopecia as long as the disease has been inactive for one to two years.
The success of your transplant will also depend on factors like the type of central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, the location of the scar, and the availability of healthy hair. You’ll need to speak to a reputable clinic to discuss if you are a potential candidate and manage your expectations.
Hair loss caused by chemotherapy is usually temporary, growing back a few weeks after treatment.
While hair loss may be permanent for some patients post-chemotherapy, an eyebrow transplant or beard transplant is a potential option, helping to restore hair on the head and facial areas. Before considering surgery, it's best to speak to your doctor about other treatments, like minoxidil, which could help hair growth.
You may not be suitable for a hair transplant if you have the following.
Unfortunately, people with alopecia areata are not usually suitable for a hair transplant. This type of alopecia is related to autoimmune conditions, so the newly planted hair follicles would be at risk of being attacked by the immune system, causing them to fall out. This could happen at any time: it could be years after your transplant or even a few weeks! Therefore, people with alopecia areata are rarely candidates.
However, if the area affected by the alopecia areata is small and has stayed the same for several years, a transplant could be considered. Patients need to have realistic expectations and be aware that the hair could fall out again.
Choose FUE Clinics for your hair transplant
If you’re considering a hair transplant for alopecia or want to know if you’re a candidate, FUE Clinics is here to help. Our expert surgeons are here to help you understand the process and your realistic expectations.