FUE Hair Transplants—What Is Follicular Unit Extraction?

Baldness is a frustrating, even embarrassing, fact for men and women alike. Many of us have heard the terms “male-pattern baldness” or “baby-fine hair,” and if we aren’t showing the signs of thinning hair ourselves, we almost certainly know someone that has suffered some form of hair loss. Many people going through more-than-your-average hair loss search endlessly for answers. Where some find medications and laser light therapies to be good treatment plans for growing out their natural hair, others with conditions such as Alopecia Areata or Trichology may need to be more aggressive in their approach.

In the past, hair transplants were notorious for their doll-like plugs. Hair was grafted to recipient areas in larger follicular units, taken from donor areas where hair was growing in well. This method, called Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT), involves taking areas of skin with healthy hair follicles from an area on the body that could easily be concealed to hide any scarring. Typically, donor areas tend to be toward the back of the head and usually heal well, despite the linear scar.

As with any medical procedure, doctors' skill levels and hair transplant practices have improved over time. FUT has given way to today’s follicular unit extraction, or FUE hair transplant surgery. This method of hair transplantation offers a number of advantages over other transplant options. 

The Difference Between FUE Hair Transplants and Follicular Unit Extraction

So, what makes follicular unit extraction different from FUT? The key to the FUE procedure is the way the donor follicles are harvested. Instead of taking strips of skin, including the follicles, hair transplant professionals now have the ability to perform a minimally invasive surgery that offers natural looking results. Harvesting individual follicular units in this method of hair transplantation replaces the small, cylindrical follicles with tiny, nearly imperceptible scars. 

Once harvested, the follicle units can be moved to recipient areas with greater, more precise control. A gifted transplant professional can create hairlines that look natural, easily meeting a patients’ expectations, and because the donor follicles are exceedingly similar to follicles in the recipient area (prior to the area’s naturally slowing hair production), the results can be virtually undetectable. In fact, the majority of patients find that the hair growth after this procedure is excellent and the recovery time is faster than FUT options. 

How Follicular Unit Extraction Is Done

The FUE procedure is fairly straight-forward. Much like follicular unit transplantation, healthy, active hair follicles are taken from a “donor” area of skin. Those follicles are then implanted in the recipient area. 

Outpatient Procedure

The procedure is performed under a local anesthetic and the follicular units are extracted with an automated puncture and vacuum system, like the ARTAS machine. This system calculates the precise angle and hair thickness automatically, pierces the skin to extract individual units of hair to less than a millimeter in diameter, and keeps them sterile throughout each step of the transplant. Patients no longer have strips of healthy hair follicles removed by hand with a scalpel and the aftereffects of scarring; the automation gives the transplant specialists the ability to collect thousands of grafts while leaving plenty of healthy skin and hair in place.

Finding a Licensed Hair Transplant Specialist

An important part of the FUE procedure is the preplanning of the transplant. Your cosmetic dermatologist will discuss your transplant goals and design an intended recipient area for best results. During the process, small incisions will be made in the recipient area, and the donor follicles will be implanted according to the desired result.

As with any surgical procedure, there are risks. FUE patients might experience temporary discomfort in the areas where the procedure has been performed. There is a minimal risk of infections, and some crusting or oozing is unlikely to occur while in recovery. In very rare instances, folliculitis, or swelling of the follicles, can occur. 

The Results of FUE

Generally, people that opt for FUE hair transplantation are pleased with the results. The procedure heals more quickly than FUT hair transplants and begins to show results in as little as a few weeks. Most people will see their hair naturally thicken over time and grow at normal rates not long after recovery.

Plan to avoid harsh shampoos and hair products for a few weeks after your hair transplant procedure. You’ll also need to stop wearing hats, scarves, or other hair accessories for a while, too. These are all measures to make sure your transplanted hair heals to its natural, voluminous roots.

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