Scalp Micropigmentation (SMP) | Procedure, Recovery, Cost, and Considerations

Scalp Micropigmentation (SMP) | Procedure, Recovery, Cost, and Considerations

Patients of Jae Pak, M.D. who received SMP Treatment.

As the field of hair restoration advances and expands, we’re seeing widespread adoption of a procedure called Scalp MicroPigmentation, or SMP.

Unlike traditional hair transplant methods, SMP does not deal with hair harvesting or grafts but rather the use of tiny pigmentation dots to create the appearance of actual hair.

Thousands of satisfied clients undergo SMP procedures each year, and many more clinics are proudly adding it to their lineup of services. What do you need to know about SMP in terms of procedure and recovery, and what are the key points to consider when finding a clinic?

Let’s discuss SMP in full, so you can make the best decision given your circumstances.

SMP Explained

SMP is an anomaly in the world of hair restoration since no real hair is removed, processed, or grafted, as is typical with methods such as strip surgery or follicular unit excision.

Instead, SMP is a medical-grade tattoo meant to shade and cover areas of the scalp with insufficient coverage and density from natural hair. When performed properly, patients enjoy the appearance of healthy, short-cropped hair in areas that have experienced loss or thinning.

Of course, the process is far more involved than simply targeting and shading certain areas of the scalp with pigment. Doctors and technicians must be highly skilled, with an eye for aesthetics and a complete understanding of the client’s vision.

With SMP, outstanding results can be achieved within a relatively short time frame. However, more than one session is usually required to cover areas on the scalp.  

Who is SMP For?

There is a surprisingly diverse number of applications for SMP, and it has helped clients with a wide variety of needs due to its highly customized approach.

Men

Most men considering SMP have experienced hair loss due to androgenetic alopecia on the scalp, better known as the typical male-pattern balding on the hairline and vertex.

While some men opt for hair transplantation methods to address this issue, others find that SMP offers a more permanent solution for achieving a buzz-cut look that they can maintain more efficiently and consistently.

SMP is also a great option for men who have experienced hair loss due to trauma such as burns, autoimmune illness, or reaction to medical treatments such as chemotherapy. In these cases, standard hair transplantation is not viable, and SMP presents a better aesthetic option for the long term.

Finally, many patients who have undergone FUT strip surgery or multiple rounds of FUE may want to consider SMP to add visual coverage to scars on the donor area of the scalp, located at the back of the head towards the neck.  

Women

Most women do not opt for a buzz-cut look on the scalp. However, SMP is highly effective at adding the appearance of greater density in thinning areas for women as they age.

Skilled SMP technicians create the ideal pigment and fill areas along the center part of the hair, reducing the contrast between the hair and scalp color when patients are under bright light or at the beach.

Combined with medicines like Rogaine, natural supplements, and lifestyle changes, women can drastically improve the appearance of thinning hair with SMP as an extra element of coverage on the scalp.

What is the SMP Process?

If you think you might be a strong candidate for SMP, it’s time to begin the journey. Here is the step-by-step process you can expect from your SMP experience, start to finish.

Consultation

Like all hair restoration treatments, SMP starts with a consultation. You will sit down with a doctor for a meeting face to face and discuss your history of hair loss, as well as other relevant pieces of medical information.

The consultation is important because doctors will determine the exact amount of pigmentation necessary for the procedure, which areas need the most coverage, and the shape and size of the marks to make the results appear as natural as possible.

Top-tier surgeons will also take note of hair color and scalp color to create a customized ink that will be used during the actual SMP procedure. This step is key to ensuring maximum realism for the final results from SMP and can make all the difference in overall patient satisfaction.

At the end of the consultation, the client and doctor will discuss pricing, scheduling, and the logistics of the procedure. 

Depending on the scope of treatment, SMP can cost anywhere between $3000 to $5000 for a single section of the scalp, while full-scalp treatments can run into the $10,000 range for the upper tier of practitioners.  

Procedure

On the day of the surgery, clients will enter the clinic and have a final meeting with doctors and technicians before proceeding to the main treatment room.

The client will then be seated and made comfortable in a reclined position, and they’ll be given the option to watch TV, enjoy music, or simply relax as the surgeon begins the treatment.

The instrument used for SMP is not unlike a tattoo pen, although the mechanism used to deposit pigment into the scalp tends to be more precise and delicate. The pigment does not go deep into multiple layers of skin like a tattoo.

In most cases, several different disposable micro-needles are used to ensure the clean and consistent distribution of pigment. The process is highly focus-heavy and labor-intensive for surgeons, especially if they use proprietary technologies and inks to achieve exceptional results.

From the patient’s perspective, some discomfort may occur due to the repeated insertion of microneedles into the scalp over many hours. Clients have the option to take local anesthetics or sedative medication to reduce the perception of pain and enjoy a more comfortable experience.

In all, a single SMP treatment will take anywhere between two and four hours, and clients can drive home that same day to begin the recovery process.

Recovery and Permanence

It’s extremely important for clients to follow the directions of the clinic to the letter to maximize the results of their SMP procedure and keep side effects to a minimum.

Patients will be advised to stay out of the sun and avoid steam baths and saunas, for up to 30 days following the procedure. No swimming in pools or oceans is permitted either. You will also want to keep physical activity, and strenuous tasks to a minimum as the pigment settles and heals within the scalp.

Doctors may also prescribe a certain type of medical shampoo or moisturizer to lock in the pigmentation and keep it from fading in the first few days of recovery. Discomfort should be minimal, and the affected areas should be fully healed within a week to ten days.

After that initial recovery period, patients may return to the clinic for yet another session, whether to add extra coverage to the designated area or work on another region of the scalp.

Multiple sessions over many months may be required to achieve optimal results across the entire scalp.

SMP treatments are considered semi-permanent, meaning that the micro-tattoo will fade slightly over the years due to sun exposure and the breakdown of the pigment itself. Touch-ups might be necessary down the road to restore the initial density and depth of the SMP treatment.

Possible Side Effects

Like all hair restoration methods, SMP does come with some risks and the possibility of side effects.

The most common SMP side effect is a slight allergic reaction to the pigmentation or a strong response to the needling of the skin. Patients may experience redness or itching in the area following treatment or possibly some swelling and inflammation.

Lymph nodes around the base of the skull or neck may also become swollen following SMP. In rare cases, this could mean infection, and patients must quickly contact doctors if these signals continue to show.

Prestigious clinics take hygiene and sanitation extremely seriously for SMP and all other procedures – one of many reasons why you should always opt for a quality clinic.

Finding the Best SMP Clinics

To get the most mileage out of your SMP treatment and reduce unwanted risk, we advise you to research the best hair restoration clinics in your area and ensure ideal outcomes.

While SMP does not require certification in the same way we expect for FUT or other transplant methods, you want to go to a reputable surgeon with vast experience in the field of hair restoration – not your everyday tattoo artist or cosmetic tech.

This way, you will get the best methods, technology, and the most sanitary conditions for your procedure, along with quality inks that last for optimal results.

Read plenty of reviews from real patients online, and compare doctors based on their before-and-after galleries as you narrow down your decision.

Don’t hesitate to take several consultations before deciding, either. SMP is a procedure worth waiting for and getting the best results possible!

Sources:

Is SMP Safe? | Trillium Ink

SMP Explained | Hair to Stay NY

Find out if Scalp MicroPigmentation is right for you.

Speak with Jae Pak, M.D. today!