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What Is a Scalp Transplant?

A man starting to lose his hair.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 20 August 2014
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A scalp transplant is a surgical procedure where donor scalp tissue is grafted onto another person's skull. It can be performed for medical reasons to replace all or part of a scalp damaged by trauma or disease, and also has aesthetic applications for people with baldness. As of 2010, the procedure was primarily experimental and theoretical in nature, although with successful procedures like face transplants taking place, scalp transplants were a logical step.

Historically, when part of the scalp has been damaged as a result of trauma like burns or severe injuries from a car accident, for example, the best treatment has been an implant of donor skin onto the area, providing coverage but not compensating for hair loss. In the case of patients with intact skin, the graft could be taken from the patient's own body, reducing the risk of rejection. Skin could also be taken from cadavers or living donors willing to contribute. The resulting repaired scalp would bear obvious signs of injury, as well as having markedly different tissue.

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In a scalp transplant, part or all of a donor scalp can be used to repair an area where the scalp has been damaged or torn away. The procedure requires connecting the donor tissue with a blood supply and providing followup care to the patient to address concerns about infection and rejection. Medications can be used to control risks, and the surgical site is carefully maintained to keep the scalp as healthy as possible. If the scalp transplant is successful, the donor tissue will start producing hair from intact follicles.

For people who experience damage to the scalp in accidents, hair loss and changes to the facial appearance can be traumatic. They will be obvious to people around the patient and may attract unwanted attention, and in some cases people can experience depression and other mental health issues as a result of radical changes to their appearance. Being able to restore the scalp with a scalp transplant could increase self confidence and make patients feel more comfortable, and for people with professional careers requiring an aesthetically pleasing appearance, it could prevent permanent unemployment.

A scalp transplant for cosmetic reasons may be used on a person who develops baldness in lieu of a procedure where individual follicles are transferred with accompanying hair and skin, one surgical option for managing baldness. Donor tissue is usually readily available for cosmetic procedures through skin and tissue banks, and people can also receive it through directed donation, if the family members of an organ and tissue donor choose to offer donor tissue to specific people.

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