The hair restoration field is filled with precise medical terms that might not be clear to new patients at first glance. This goes for everything from the biology of hair loss to the medicines and instruments that leading doctors use to achieve groundbreaking results.
But when exploring the art and science of hair transplantation, what better place to start than with the basics? Hair grafts are the individual units that allow for transformative procedures, from high-volume hairline restorations to precise eyebrow and beard rejuvenation.
The term can be misleading and mixed up among a broad glossary of lingo in the big book of hair restoration, so it’s time to clarify.
Let’s find out what hair grafts really are, why they matter, and how surgeons use them to deliver aesthetic, permanent results for patients.
A hair graft is a follicle unit containing healthy hair that can be safely and effectively transplanted from a donor to a recipient region for hair loss treatment.
But while all grafts are follicles, not all follicles are grafts. A graft isn’t defined as such until it has been extracted and processed in preparation for implantation, which means it only exists in this state after the initial excision has been made.
Although the exact definition of a hair graft has evolved, the core concept has remained the same through the years, along with advancements in the hair restoration field and general medicine.
All hair grafts share a few essential traits that make them unique in the medical sphere. For starters, grafts can contain anywhere from one to five hairs, depending on how many are clustered together in the same small area of skin.
This is important because hair follicles occur naturally in this way, with multiple hairs sharing the same small surface area, with tiny gaps between them. With a 30x view through a microscope, we see that individual hair follicles create a subtle patchwork effect on the scalp and determine the pattern of hair development in totality.
For more context, we can look back to the “hair plugs” made popular in the early stages of hair transplant technology. Hair grafts in the modern sense are better understood in contrast with the outdated concept of hair plugs, which dominated the scene decades past.
The problem with this plug approach was the failure to account for the natural spacing and organization of hair as destined by genetics. Doctors extracted hair in larger bunches, often containing multiple donor hair follicular units, and implanted them on the donor site with mixed results and poor longevity.
This explains why hair plugs tend to look like doll’s hair with unsightly spaces between grafts. Ideally, surgeons will identify grafts as follicle units, complete with the protective layer of skin and fat, to successfully extract and implant them in the target region.
How do surgeons identify quality follicle units and transform them into workable grafts that stand the test of time? It begins with technology and technique, both of which have been refined over many decades of hair restoration research and practice.
For high-volume hair transplant procedures such as Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT), surgeons remove a strip of hair-bearing skin from the donor area, usually from the back of the head, then process individual grafts from that section. With help from technicians and assembly-line setups, surgical teams can utilize thousands of grafts in a single mega-session.
While FUT strip surgery has been the norm for decades and is still widely practiced, Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) emerged in the 90s as a more refined version of graft collection. The FUE hair transplant technique introduced more accurate and immediate access to grafts by going directly to the source.
Rather than removing a strip of skin and processing grafts from there, the FUE hair transplant technique used punch-hole instruments to pinpoint the best follicular units from the donor area of the scalp. The result was high-quality graft yields and protection of the donor region with minimal scarring despite the fewer hair follicles removed.
The overall effect is more natural-looking results around the donor area since there are only tiny pinprick scars versus a linear incision and greater self-confidence for those with thinning hair or male-pattern baldness.
Every transplantation procedure has a unique scope and set of objectives. FUT and FUE lay the groundwork for success in any surgical pursuit, depending on the goals.
Whether it’s to add density to facial hair growth, cover a bald area on the crown, or fill hairline gaps along the frontal portion of the scalp, healthy grafts are needed to make it happen.
But before those conditions are met through artistry and technique, surgeons must ensure that each graft is properly isolated and prepared for implantation, despite challenges such as timing, volume, and medical obstacles.
The key is to use medicines and technologies that protect grafts from the moment they’re collected to when they’re finally implanted in the target area, setting the stage for maximum growth long thereafter.
Surgeons like Dr. Jae Pak work on perfecting processes that keep grafts healthy and strong throughout the procedure. They use advanced formulas and solutions to minimize loss and ensure each graft arrives safely at its destination.
It wasn’t long ago that hair grafts were crude and disorganized, leading to “hair plugs” and other undesirable results. Now that tech and medicine have paved the way for superior practices; surgeons can make the most of each graft and maximize client satisfaction.
Here’s why today’s hair restoration pros focus on hair grafts, as they exist naturally, and deliver results for clients across various procedures.
With quality hair grafts at their disposal, surgeons finally get the flexibility they require to transform hairlines, brows, beards, and more. This is achieved by targeting exact grafts or micrografts in the form of hair follicles rather than arbitrary clusters of hair-bearing skin.
Not only do grafts hold together with more resilience and allow for more strategic planning, but they also take root more easily and keep transection (damage rate) to an absolute minimum. The option to choose between FUT and FUE also gives clients the customized experience they need.
While few surgeons can guarantee 100% perfect transplantation of each extracted follicle, the precise graft approach creates the conditions for successful surgeries of all kinds.
The key to a great transplant is when the hair restoration surgery is undetectable at first glance and even stands up to closer inspection. This natural appearance is what every cosmetic surgeon aims for, from crafting a burly beard to restoring a hairline’s ideal symmetry.
By utilizing hair grafts, surgeons take an artistic approach to this cosmetic procedure, working within the span of millimeters to create a sweeping canvas that looks entirely organic. Even the best hair plugs of the 70s can 80s pale in comparison to the before and after photos from today’s leading professionals.
The reason is simple: hair grafts are the closest thing we have to the natural arrangement of hair as dictated by biology. Modern procedures work with these building blocks accordingly to generate superior outcomes.
Transplant quality is assessed by appearance and the full utilization of grafts, but longevity matters as well. What good is a hair or beard transplant if follicles don’t stay in place for years to come and behave as natural hair should?
This furthers the importance of hair grafts since they provide the strongest, longest-lasting foundation for transplants of any kind.
It’s no coincidence that clusters of hair extracted in their natural arrangement offer the closest thing we have to permanent hair restoration. Surgeons that tap into the strength of these follicle units deliver the best outcomes for clients over the long haul.
Hair grafts are universal across many procedures, ranging in scope and personalized objectives. Here’s a closer look at the top methods that utilize hair grafts and how surgeons harness their power one by one.
From targeted coverage add-ons to all-encompassing restorations, surgeons use hair grafts to create works of art via hair transplantation. While minor FUE transplants can use a few hundred grafts at a time, mega sessions can include grafts well into the thousands.
Hair transplant surgery isn’t always the first choice for many surgeons, but sometimes mild treatment options like minoxidil or finasteride don’t quite do the job. In these cases, hair replacement is often the recommended treatment for good candidates struggling with alopecia.
Grafts placed in the eyebrow area must be done with extreme precision and care to achieve a natural appearance. Eyebrow hairs are angled and ordered with a unique genetic code, and top surgeons know how to “go with the grain” when utilizing grafts.
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