What Is Scalp MicroPigmentation & How Long Does It Last?

In hair restoration, Scalp MicroPigmentation occupies a unique space in the lineup of services at most modern clinics.

SMP is not a procedure that deals with the patient’s natural hair or attempts to stimulate growth through the use of medicines, shampoos, oils, or alternative therapies.

If you’ve got questions about SMP, you’re not alone. This is still a relatively new procedure attracting a lot of interest from clients everywhere, and we’re happy to fill in the blanks for the next generation of SMP patients.

Let’s answer all the key questions about SMP so you have a point of reference moving forward and have complete confidence when selecting a technician for your procedure.

SMP Definition

You may have an idea of what SMP entails, but a more detailed definition can help clarify the purpose and scope of this procedure.

SMP is a cosmetic procedure using micro-needles to inject pigment into a designated area of the scalp to create the appearance of closely shaved hair on the scalp. In this sense, SMP is a departure from the standard set of procedures offered by hair restoration clinics, such as follicular unit transplant (strip surgery) or follicle unit excision.

SMP aims to create a permanent hair solution that requires minimal maintenance and the total elimination of stress or concern about the patient’s natural hair. Additionally, SMP is appropriate for a much more comprehensive range of candidates compared to traditional transplants since natural hair is not harvested or implanted in any way.

This means that SMP is a good treatment for patients with scars on the scalp or autoimmune conditions. SMP may also be chosen by women who want the appearance of additional coverage on the middle part of the hair if thinning has occurred with age.

SMP vs. Hair Tattoo – What’s the Difference?

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.

SMP Instruments and Ink

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.

SMP Cost and Considerations

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.

SMP Process – What to Expect

If you choose to follow through with an SMP procedure, what can you expect from the beginning to the end of the process? The process is typically split up into the following three phases.

Consultation

The client sits down with the surgeon to establish goals and expectations for the surgery.

This is where clients describe how they want the final results to look, and the doctor explains how it will be accomplished. They will pinpoint the areas of the scalp that will need the process of medical grade tattooing to simulate the look of hair. Despite similar methods and technology, there are no two SMP procedures that are exactly alike. 

By the end of the consultation, the client will have a clear idea of the timeline for the overall SMP process, the total cost, and any further instructions leading up to the date of the procedure.

Procedure

The client experience when receiving SMP is straightforward with only minimal discomfort and a relatively quick treatment time.

A typical SMP treatment only takes around four hours, and clients will be able to go home for recovery that same day. Only a small amount of local anesthetic is administered to the target areas of the scalp, and clients are made comfortable in a seated or reclined position.

Because SMP is often performed in multiple sessions, the initial treatment is focused on putting down a light, foundational layer of pigmentation while establishing patterns on the hairline, temples, and crown.

Recovery and Repeat Sessions

SMP treatments tend to heal rather quickly, as they are minimally invasive procedures.

Clients typically experience some minor redness and discomfort in the first 48 hours following treatment, but the entire area will heal within less than a week.

During this time, clients are advised not to perform strenuous activities and limit submersion in pools, exposure to sunlight and use of products with alcohol. They may also be given topical creams or solutions to apply to the scalp to aid the healing process.

If more sessions are needed thereafter, clients will return to the clinic within a couple of weeks, allowing the previous layer of pigmentation to take hold  and exfoliate, and the skin to heal fully.

This cycle may be repeated up to three times in a twelve-month period depending on the scope of the surgery and how complex the final SMP design needs to be for best results.

How Long Does SMP Last?

SMP may be a long-term solution to give the appearance of natural hair, but does it last forever?

The truth is that most SMP treatments look great for several years after application, but some degree of fading or distortion may occur for a range of reasons.

Here are the factors that contribute to SMP longevity and what recourse clients have.

Natural Fading

The body’s natural response to ink in the skin is to combat it with internal defenses, leading to the gradual fading of pigmentation in the scalp over time.

This is the same mechanism that causes normal tattoos to fade in the skin and can’t be avoided.

Accelerated Environmental Factors

Some causes of extrinsic fading can be mitigated with proper precautions and care.

Most importantly, clients should follow recovery phase protocols to preserve pigment and keep fading to a minimum in the first three days in particular. Avoiding steam rooms, saunas, and excessive washing and scrubbing is key.

Limiting exposure to sunlight will also ensure minimal fading.

Finally, SMP clients will want to avoid topical products like hairspray, Minoxidil, and other solutions containing acidic content or alcohol.

Touch-Ups and Revisions

SMP touch-up sessions are commonly performed three to five years after the initial application process and will cost clients only a fraction of the original price.

These sessions are recommended to preserve the best possible appearance for the SMP design and to limit the effects of natural and extrinsic fading.

With Scalp Micropigmentation, Don’t Settle for Less

You don’t want to make any compromises when it comes to a procedure like SMP.

Find a clinic and technician team you trust because this is a permanent solution to a problem that should be taken seriously. Now that you have all the facts you need, we hope your SMP journey is safe, successful, and exceeds your expectations.

Sources:

Everything About SMP | Nutrafol

Scalp Micropigmentation Overview | Art of Beauty

SMP Cost Factors | AEDIT

Find out if Scalp MicroPigmentation is right for you.

Speak with Jae Pak, M.D. today!