Strip Harvesting Technique Losing In Popularity

The first hair transplants were carried out in Japan back in the 1930s. In the old days of hair transplant surgery relatively large strips of skin of four millimetres in diameter, the so called punch grafts, were transplanted from the back of the scalp to the frontal balding area. Hair transplantation techniques have been greatly improved since then and today’s hair transplants can give you a truly natural look. This is due to the miniaturisation of hair transplants, which now contain only one hair follicle (holding between one and four hairs) and are less than one millimetre in diameter. These tiny, single follicle grafts are then implanted into the needle poke holes in the balding area. Today’s technology enables dense packing of hair follicles, which gives modern transplants a completely natural-looking frontal hairline. Gone are the days of pluggy grafts that made you look like a toothbrush.

The two main hair transplantation technologies that are used today are called Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) and Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). The difference between them is in harvesting hair follicles. The FUT is the older method, using strip harvesting, when a linear strip of skin of up to 20 centimetres long and 1.5 centimetres wide is extracted from the back of the scalp and the opening is then sewn closed. This strip is then placed under microscopes and dissected into small grafts, containing just one follicular unit each. Such follicular grafts are then implanted into the balding area. The advantage of this method is its high yield, calculated as a percentage of the follicles that are successfully transplanted into the bald area. This yield is around 98%. The greatest weakness is that it leaves the patient with a linear scar at the back of the head. The FUT is less expensive than the FUE and is used when a large area needs to be filled with transplanted hair in one single session.

The FUE method uses a micro-extraction technology to harvest individual hair follicles that can be directly implanted into the small needle-made incisions in the bald area. The FUE technique is the latest technology, introduced only in 2002. Its greatest advantage is the fact that it leaves the patient with only tiny scars at the back of the head, which are barely visible, and the healing time is much shorter than with the FUT, due to the small size of the wounds. However, this method cannot be used to cover large areas in one session and since it is much more labour intensive it is also more expensive. Additionally, its yield is significantly lower, due to the transaction of many follicles, and since the supply of donor hair is limited, it cannot be used in patients whose hair loss has progressed above NW4 level.

Potential future surgical hair restoration technologies currently under development, such as hair multiplication and the generation of new hairs in wounds, should help solve the problem of donor hair shortages. It seems that classical hair implantation will in the long future only be used for frontal hairlines and, therefore, the follicular harvesting should manage to provide a sufficient number of hair implants. However, none of the aforementioned potential future techniques is expected to become commercially available before 2012. Therefore, the immediate future probably lies in improving the harvesting techniques of the FUE in order to improve its yields and make it financially more affordable. The FUT with its typical strip harvesting, which started a revolution in the hair transplant industry less than two decades ago, may become history in the not too distant future.