In a world of surgical interventions with high price tags and long recovery periods, non-surgical options are increasingly appealing with regard to cosmetic treatments across the board.
For men with advanced male pattern baldness and some women experiencing hair loss, Scalp MicroPigmentation or SMP represents a far less invasive way to achieve a permanent, full-coverage look at any age, with minimal side effects and risks.
While this doesn’t take away from the transformative results achievable by FUE and other forms of transplantation, SMP is something different altogether; it can provide amazing outcomes for the right candidates with the proper implementation.
Maybe you’ve just begun your investigation into SMP, or you’re looking for some pro tips before deciding on a clinic and technician. No matter where you are in the journey, this complete guide to SMP will point you in the right direction toward your goals.
Compared to other forms of hair restoration, which have been around for decades, Scalp MicroPigmentation treatment is a relatively new cosmetic procedure. The first procedures were performed around 2001 on patients with scars, and the methodology slowly made its way throughout the medical and cosmetic fields.
The idea was simple: technicians use a precise instrument with specialized ink, creating the illusion of naturally growing short hair follicles and a new hairline and offering patients a revamped look with minimal risk or aftercare time.
While some critics initially shrugged off SMP as simply a “hair tattoo,” medical experts saw its true potential, and the trend began to catch on. Many people with alopecia are now turning to SMP as a hair loss solution, not just a scalp tattoo.
Fast forward to today, and Scalp MicroPigmentation is one of the fastest-growing forms of cosmetic hair loss treatment worldwide, with new clinics opening up throughout cities in the U.S. and beyond.
While SMP is sometimes referred to as a “hair tattoo,” this description doesn’t quite give us the full picture.
More accurately, SMP is a precise, highly technical process, requiring more training and advanced technology compared to a standard tattoo.
It’s also essential to make this distinction if you’re truly considering SMP, as the regulation and certification process is still being established in this new field.
In short, you want to avoid practitioners without a sufficient background in hair restoration and aesthetics to ensure you get the best treatment and minimize risk. We’ll discuss more signs and criteria you should look for later on.
Top-ranking SMP technicians understand that to replicate the appearance of real hair in the scalp, pigmentation must be placed with caution and care. In other words, proper SMP procedures are not just a series of dots covering the head.
Additionally, mimicking the natural flow and direction of the hair “grain” while matching the proper size and shape of individual follicles.
This not only requires technical proficiency and an eye for aesthetics, but also the use of advanced instruments and varieties of ink that would not be found in a typical tattoo shop.
Just one SMP toolkit may include multiple pens, needles of varying sizes, and dozens of different inks that can be used to create thousands of distinctive shades.
While the human eye may not be able to detect details like follicle shape and shade individually, the overall design resulting from the SMP process will look much more authentic and natural when done properly, even with the up-close examination.
Scalp MicroPigmentation layers small amounts of ink beneath the outer layer of scalp skin to create a desired design, but what are the practical results of SMP that potential patients actually want? Here are the three main categories of SMP outcomes most commonly used today.
Achieve a Bold, Shaved Hair Look
Most people think of SMP as being synonymous with the shaved-head look of celebrities like Jason Statham. This bold aesthetic is increasingly common among SMP patients who stand at the crossroads of baldness and hair transplant options.
This look is easy to maintain and versatile, and it also helps men take advantage of their naturally occurring hair that may still exist on the sides and back of the head.
Fill in Coverage Gap Areas
Not all SMP procedures are meant to deliver the sleek shaved-head look for men.
More commonly, both men and women get targeted SMP treatments to help fill certain areas of the scalp where hair density and coverage consistency may be lacking for one reason or another.
SMP doesn’t just apply to those with the typical signals of baldness or a receding hairline. It can also provide the appearance of natural-looking scalp coverage to those who may experience thinning hair or non-traditional pattern baldness. For instance, women may notice thinning hair in the center of the scalp and opt for SMP touch-ups as a preemptive strategy.
Cover Scalp Scars and Imperfections
With a buzz cut or receding hairline, certain imperfections or scars may be revealed on the scalp, which patients seek to cover with SMP. This method is perfect for filling in the off-color skin of scars, contrasting with a person’s natural hair color and texture.
Some patients even get an SMP session following FUT strip surgery hair transplant, which can leave a horizontal scar on the back of the head.
As scar camouflage was the first use case for SMP, it makes sense that patients continue to use this treatment to hide scars safely and permanently.
It may seem like Scalp MicroPigmentation is just a series of mini ink strokes at first glance, but experienced SMP technicians work their magic to make it look barely distinguishable from real hair. This is accomplished through artistic techniques, technical prowess, cutting-edge applicator instruments, and specialized inks suited to each patient.
For example, Dr. Jae Pak meets with clients to examine their hair’s unique quality and appearance, then develops a 100 percent original ink formulation that gives the impression of natural hair. Technicians then administer the ink with precision strokes with varying angles and thicknesses to match the organic flow and grain of the hair as it would naturally grow on the scalp.
These methods have developed over time to make SMP more consistent and permanent than any other form of hair tattoo that came before.
Unlike more invasive forms of cosmetic treatment, SMP is generally well accepted by people of most ages, ethnic backgrounds, and medical histories. While successful hair transplantation is more heavily dependent on factors like hair quality, age, and overall health, SMP has a broader range of candidacy, making it more appealing and accessible.
With that in mind, the best SMP candidates have a relatively clean bill of health, strong and flexible scalp skin, and a willingness to follow close instructions for post-procedure care and ongoing maintenance.
The SMP process is relatively short and non-invasive but still requires planning and coordination to ensure a safe and successful treatment. Here’s a look at the SMP process from a patient’s perspective and some tips for what to expect.
Searching for a Scalp MicroPigmentation clinic might seem simple, with many search results online, but trustworthy and reputable technicians are not as common as they appear.
The concern is that with the rise in SMP’s popularity, clinics have emerged quickly onto the scene, with new competitors looking for a quick cash grab. While some new technicians may be competent, you’re always better off seeing a doctor and clinic with proven portfolios and track records.
Search for an board certified MD and before & after galleries showcasing good work with patients from various backgrounds and age groups. It’s typically a good sign if the clinic has experience in other forms of hair restoration like transplants, hairline lowering, and other cosmetic treatments.
Once you find a clinic with strong reviews and a high standard of service, you can begin consultation with your clinic team and technician. A consultation exists to familiarize you with the SMP treatment process, set expectations, and determine scheduling and pricing, among other logistical factors.
The consultation is not a commitment to a clinic or doctor, of course, so use your best judgment before signing any papers and moving forward in the process.
Scalp MicroPigmentation varies widely in scope, so the duration of individual procedures reflects this fact. Some minor SMP sessions can take a couple of hours, while complete coverage projects require multiple sessions clocking in at four hours or more.
The actual procedure is straightforward and minimally uncomfortable for patients, who can request a local anesthetic or additional sedative to manage the experience. Patients will be seated comfortably and can watch TV or listen to music while technicians perform the procedure.
If multiple SMP sessions are required to meet greater coverage needs, doctors may space out these rounds across several months to ensure the ink is layered properly to achieve optimal results.
Recovering from an SMP procedure is relatively easy and will typically not interfere with a patient’s work or personal life. While doctors suggest staying relaxed and stress-free for the first 48 hours, you can usually return to work after two days off and see near-full healing within a week to ten days.
Each clinic will have a different approach to helping patients along the recovery process, either with specific instructions or the use of certain ointments and medicines. Never risk your results, and always follow through with the exact steps set forth by your clinic.
Even the best SMP treatments can fade over time especially if patients do not follow the advised care and maintenance suggestions. This might mean avoiding direct sunlight exposure, minimizing time in chlorinated pools, skipping topical treatments, and other recommendations outlined by your technician and clinical team.
To preserve your SMP properly and get your money’s worth from the treatment for as long as possible, care for your scalp as you should and don’t diverge from the plan.
The cost of an SMP treatment comes down to a few main factors, including the area of the surgery (how much coverage is needed), the experience and ability of the surgeon, and any unique properties of the patient’s scalp or hair, including scars or unusual shapes.
The location of the SMP clinic also plays a role in the cost of a procedure, since this usually reflects factors like real estate prices, public demand, and prestige.
Receiving SMP treatment in uptown Manhattan or Beverly Hills, for example, will tend to be more expensive than in a midwestern city in the United States or a clinic abroad in Turkey or South America.
Therefore, costs can range dramatically for SMP procedures, anywhere from under $1,000 to $3,000 per session and usually three sessions are needed to properly layer the ink. Pricing structures also vary between clinics, and some surgeons charge by “section” of the head, dividing the scalp into three or four regions with their own cost of coverage.
When assessing SMP costs, remember to take all these factors into account, and try to make a complete estimate for the final price including multiple sessions if necessary.
Scalp MicroPigmentation is finally mainstream, with plenty of great case studies showing its transformative potential over the long term. While many clinics offering SMP may not be up to your quality standards, finding the most trusted and capable technicians to guide you through the process is imperative.
At Jae Pak, M.D. Medical, we’ve been leading the way with SMP for nearly a decade, and we’re ready to get your journey underway with a one-on-one consultation. Reach out soon, and let’s find out how SMP can take your look to the next level.
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