The worrying truth about “botched” hair transplants

Hair transplant horror stories have sadly become a recurring news feature in recent years, particularly among men and those looking for a “quick fix”. Many celebrities (such as comedian Jimmy Carr) have spoken openly about their successful surgery and really helped remove the stigma of male hair loss and unpick some of the myths. But here, Clinical Trichologist Eva Proudman MIT, IAT from the Institute of Trichologists takes the debate a step further to explain the dangers behind the rise of ‘on the cheap’ hair transplant surgeries and the devastation they can cause. Furthermore, she provides her expert advice on the right course of action if you are suffering from pattern baldness and want to seek safe, effective treatment.

What is a hair transplant?

Eva explains:

“Hair transplant surgery is a procedure used to combat the effect of pattern hair loss, most typically among men. It involves removing hair follicles from one area of the scalp where the hair grows freely – usually the back or side of the head – and moving it to the balding part of the scalp. There are two types of hair transplant surgery available; FUE (Follicular Unit Excision) involves removing individual follicular units directly from the scalp, leaving only tiny dot scars. FUT (Follicular unit Transplant Technique) removes a thin strip of hair bearing skin from a “permanent” area of the scalp and then healthy follicles are harvested and transplanted into the loss areas. This leaves a fine linear scar.

“This procedure is not something to be taken lightly. It is major, appearance-altering surgery but what many people don’t realise is that there is no formal training for it in medical school and its relevant specialities such as dermatology or cosmetic surgery. This means that there are no qualifications in hair transplant surgery and no industry regulation around who does it in the UK. As a result, it is vital to begin any hair transplant journey at a clinic registered with NHS regulatory body the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in England (and other equivalent bodies in the rest of the UK).

“The British Association of Hair Restoration Surgeons (BAHRS) and the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgeons (ISHRS) work really hard to ensure that their members are qualified. The safety of the patient and adhering to the best clinical practices possible are of the utmost importance to these organisations and this is why members are regularly reviewed. Ongoing education and training is a vital part of maintaining member status.

The dangers of ‘cheap, quick and easy’ hair transplants

Eva continues: “Nowadays, many of us are persuaded to have cosmetic procedures abroad as certain clinics entice people with shockingly cheap rates. A hair transplant from a reputable clinic should cost anywhere between £6,000 and £13,000. Some clinics in countries like Turkey are offering the procedure for as little as £1,000, often with other ‘perks’ like free flights or discounted accommodation included. As with many things in life, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. The sad fact is that many people return with hair transplant surgery that has gone seriously wrong or has grave complications that are difficult and expensive to fix. Consequences can include no new hair growth, permanent scarring, deep bruising, wonky and unnatural hair lines, patchy hair growth and other adverse reactions.

“It is absolutely crucial to do your research before embarking on a hair transplant because it is a permanent procedure. Only a doctor should make surgical decisions, the surgeon must be qualified, the after-care must be guaranteed at a high standard, and it is always safer to go to a well-known clinic with a good reputation.

“As a Clinical Trichologist, I cannot reiterate strongly enough that a good, reputable clinic will see and assess you (in person) multiple times before putting you forward for hair transplant surgery. In fact, if caught early enough, balding in over 90% of men can be managed successfully with safe, effective medication such as Finasteride or Minoxidil.

The root of the issue

Eva continues: “It is easy to wonder how people fall for such ploys from clinics offering ‘on the cheap’ surgery, particularly as the issue has gained prevalence among the public in recent times. The fact is, if you haven’t done your research and a clinic’s website is well-designed and seemingly reputable with customer reviews, it’s easy to fall hook, line and sinker into trusting any ‘special promotion’ on hair transplant surgery. Worryingly, there are now reports of clinics akin to international ‘miracle’ clinics popping up in the UK in response to the growing trend for hair transplant surgery.

“The demand for hair transplants has risen alongside the growing dominance of social media. Mounting pressure to look good online is causing more and more men to scrutinise their appearance and as a result, feel less secure. Indeed, male pattern baldness affects one third of men by age 35, with that figure rising to half by the age of 50. As most men now do not settle down with a life partner until their thirties, there is a perceived pressure to maintain ‘attractiveness’ to potential partners.

“Clinics offering quick, cheap and apparently hassle-free surgeries are tapping into the market of the insecure man who feels desperate to overhaul his appearance as rapidly as possible.

The right course of action

Eva concludes: “If you are suffering from pattern baldness and are considering hair transplant surgery, one option is to consult a dermatologist who specialises in the hair or scalp to confirm your condition. The best option is to consult a Trichologist who will assess and diagnose your condition. Furthermore, trichologists often have links to transplant clinics and surgeons who are reputable, members of BAHRS and have clear evidence of their work and ethics. A trichology consultation can be done directly; you don’t need to see your GP for a referral and you’ll be able to find details of reputable practitioners near to you on the Institute of Trichologists website.

“If you go direct to a clinic, do your research to check that it is CQC-registered and that the Surgeon is a member of BAHRS. Do not be taken in by discounts or other offers from clinics touting themselves as the miracle saviour for hair transplants. Botched transplants can shatter a patient’s already low self-esteem and leave them with seriously damaging results which will be both timely and costly to fix. I completely understand that balding can be a really frightening and disheartening experience.
“This is why it is so important to respect yourself and your hair by seeking safe, effective and medically assured treatment through qualified professionals.”