Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/22/2021
Hair loss is a common issue that affects men of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, research has found that upwards of 50 percent of men experience moderate to extensive hair loss by the end of their forties.
If you’ve looked into treatments for hair loss, you may have come across “hair tattoos” that hide hair loss and create the appearance of a full, buzz cut-styled, head of hair.
Referred to as scalp micropigmentation, this procedure is an interesting alternative to other hair loss treatments, such as finasteride, minoxidil or hair transplant surgery.
Below, we’ve explained how hair tattoo procedures work, as well as the type of results you can expect from this approach to treating hair loss.
We’ve also discussed the other options that are available for treating hair loss, from medication to surgical procedures to permanently restore lost hair.
Hair tattoos, or scalp tattoos, are exactly what they sound like — tattoos that are used to cover up hair loss and create the appearance of a full head of hair.
The technique that’s used to perform a hair tattoo is called scalp micropigmentation. It involves tattooing the scalp with thousands of tiny, layered dots to mimic the appearance of natural hair follicles.
Most scalp micropigmentation procedures use a variety of different pigments to create the look of real hair cut close to the scalp.
When performed by a skilled professional, the results of this type of procedure can look both impressive and surprisingly natural.
Scalp micropigmentation is often used to create the appearance of a full head of short, buzzed hair.
However, it can also be used to make the hair look thicker and more dense in areas of the scalp that have lots of thinning.
Sometimes, scalp micropigmentation is only to add the appearance of denser hair to a specific part of the scalp — for example, a hairline tattoo to cover up recession, or a hair tattoo near the back of the head to cover up scarring from hair transplant surgery.
Although there are a few similarities, the hair tattoo process isn’t quite the same as the process involved in getting a regular tattoo.
While both procedures involve similar equipment, scalp micropigmentation uses extremely fine needles that allow for small dots of pigment to be placed in the skin.
These needles cycle at a rate of 100 to 150 times per second, creating a natural, follicle-like pattern on the scalp.
As each needle comes into contact with the upper dermis, it applies a micro droplet of pigment to the skin.
To mimic the appearance of real, natural hair, a skilled operator will apply pigments as close to the surface of the skin as possible and use a range of different dot sizes.
By applying ink close to the surface layer of the skin, scalp micropigmentation is able to create the appearance of fine, tiny dots, rather than the smoother texture of a conventional tattoo.
The scalp micropigmentation process can vary in duration, depending on the extent of your hair loss and the number of dots that need to be created.
Often, tens of thousands of tiny dots need to be applied to the scalp in several sessions.
Hair and scalp tattoo procedures have several advantages, especially when compared to other procedures used to treat hair loss. These include:
The appearance of a full head of hair. For most men, the biggest advantage of scalp micropigmentation is that it creates the appearance of a full head of hair unaffected by male pattern baldness.
Improvements in perceived density. Although scalp tattoos are usually used to give the appearance of a buzz cut, they can also add density to add perceived density to a longer hair cut, especially in thinning areas such as the vertex scalp.
Long-lasting results. Unlike hairpieces, which need to be replaced and refitted every few months, scalp micropigmentation offers long-lasting results. A typical hair tattoo will maintain its appearance for several years.
Affordability, especially compared to other procedures. Scalp micropigmentation is typically priced depending on the extent of the procedure, the number of treatments that need to be performed for optimal results, the skill of the person doing it, location, etc.
However, it’s certainly not the most budget-friendly procedure for treating hair loss.
A relatively painless procedure. Although scalp micropigmentation is performed using a tattoo machine, the procedure is generally less painful than getting a traditional tattoo, as the needles only penetrate into the uppermost layers of your skin.
A short recovery period. It usually takes seven to 10 days for the scalp to heal after a hair tattooing procedure, after which results are visible. In comparison, a hair transplant may take up to six months to produce noticeable improvements in hair growth.
Despite their unique advantages, hair tattoos also have several disadvantages, ranging from the lack of actual improvements in hair growth to possible safety issues. These include:
No real improvements in hair growth. While hair micropigmentation can improve the perceived density of your hair, this type of procedure has no impact on your actual hair growth and isn’t truly a “treatment” for male pattern baldness. If you’re currently losing your hair, you’ll continue to lose it after scalp micropigmentation, although the impact of this hair loss may not be so obvious.
Up close, the results may not look totally natural. Performed by a skilled operator, a scalp micropigmentation procedure can produce impressive results that look natural, at least from a reasonable distance. Up close, people may be able to see that your hair’s texture isn’t totally natural. When a person touches your scalp, they’ll also be able to feel the difference between real, short hair and the appearance of a buzz cut provided by a scalp tattoo.
Although rare, complications can occur. Possible complications of scalp pigmentation include skin infections caused by contaminated packaging, tattoo ink or needles, as well as reactions to ingredients used in artificial pigments.In some cases, the metals used in tattoo pigments may cause complications in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) procedures.
Long-term safety research is limited. Since scalp micropigmentation is a new type of procedure, there’s limited research on its long-term safety. Research has found that some pigments used in scalp tattoo procedures can migrate to other areas of the body, including the lymph nodes. Limited information is available on the carcinogenic potential of the pigments used for this type of procedure.
The procedure can be time consuming. Most people need several sessions to reach their desired level of density and coverage. On average, each session takes four to five hours, making the process quite time consuming.
Despite being long-lasting, the results aren’t permanent. Although tattooed hair can last for several years, the procedure needs to be repeated for natural-looking results. Over the long term, the costs of repeating this type of procedure can add up, meaning it may cost more than you initially expect to maintain this “hair” for several decades.
While scalp micropigmentation offers certain advantages, it’s definitely not the only option that’s available for treating hair loss.
If you’re starting to lose your hair, there are several other methods that you can use to stop hair loss and even restore hair in areas of your scalp with noticeable thinning.
Currently, the FDA has approved two medications to treat hair loss: the prescription medication finasteride and the over-the-counter, topical medication minoxidil.
Finasteride works by stopping your body from producing dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a hormone that can miniaturize your hair follicles and cause male pattern baldness.
Minoxidil works by moving hairs into the anagen, or growth, phase of the hair growth cycle, and by improving the supply of blood to your hair follicles.
Used together, these medications are highly effective at slowing down and stopping the effects of male pattern baldness on your hair.
In some cases, they can stimulate regrowth in the areas of your scalp with visible hair loss.
Hair transplant surgery is a procedure that involves harvesting hairs from the back and sides of your scalp, then transplanting them to your hairline, crown or other areas with hair loss.
Unlike scalp micropigmentation, which creates the appearance of hair follicles, a hair transplant actually moves hair follicles from one part of your scalp to another, allowing you to restore your hair and improve density and thickness.
Modern hair transplant techniques involve moving just a few hairs at a time, allowing for a more convincing, natural-looking result than the hair plugs of a few decades ago.
For a hair transplant to be an effective treatment option, you’ll need to have enough donor hair, as well as healthy skin in the areas of your scalp affected by hair loss.
You’ll also need to pay for the surgical fees, which can often reach into the thousands of dollars.
Despite the significant costs, undergoing a hair transplant could be an option worth considering if you’re looking for a long-term solution for hair loss.
You can learn more about the advantages of disadvantages of hair transplant surgery in our full guide to hair transplants for hair loss.
Scalp micropigmentation, or hair tattoo treatment, can give you the appearance of a full head of hair without the pain, cost or lengthy recovery of hair transplant surgery.
However, it’s important to be aware of the limitations of this type of procedure, including the fact that it disguises hair loss rather than actually treating it.
If you’re going bald, options such as finasteride and minoxidil can help you maintain the hair you still have and even potentially regrow hair in areas of your scalp affected by hair loss.
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