Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/14/2020
Whether you’re receding at the temples or thinning all over your scalp, dealing with hair loss is rarely an enjoyable process.
Luckily, if you’re genetically prone to male pattern baldness, watching your hair slowly fall out is no longer mandatory. From medications like finasteride to procedures like hair transplantation, a variety of options are available to help you protect and maintain your hairline.
If using medication or undergoing surgery doesn’t sound appealing to you, one option you might have considered is non-surgical hair replacement.
Non-surgical hair replacement involves the use of a hair “system” (essentially a fancy term for a toupée). Unlike the toupées of decades past, many modern hair systems look convincing, with a similar shape and texture to your real hair. Some are even made using natural human hair.
While non-surgical hair replacement systems have advantages, they also have a few downsides that you’ll need to keep in mind if you’re considering this option for dealing with hair loss.
Below, we’ve explained what non-surgical hair replacement is, as well as how non-surgical hair replacement products work. We’ve also listed a variety of alternatives, such as medication and hair transplant surgery, that you may want to consider if you’re starting to lose your hair.
Non-surgical hair replacement is a term that has two meanings. The first typically refers to any type of treatment for male pattern baldness that doesn’t involve surgery. This is a very diverse, broad category that includes medications, supplements, devices and more.
The second is more specific. It refers to a small range of products that are worn on or applied to the scalp to replace hair that’s fallen out due to male pattern baldness.
These products include a variety of off-the-shelf and personalized hair replacement “systems,” as well as non-surgical procedures such as scalp micropigmentation.
If you’re losing your hair and don’t want to undergo surgery to replace it, a range of options are available. We’ve listed the most common non-surgical hair replacement products below, along with more information on the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
Hair replacement systems are essentially wigs or toupées. Unlike the synthetic-looking, plainly artificial wigs that most people associate with the word “toupée,” hair replacement systems can vary widely in quality, with some virtually impossible to tell apart from real, natural hair.
At the lower end of the scale, you can find various stock systems, or hairpieces. Many of these have a polyurethane base that sits against your scalp, with either artificial hair or human hair in a variety of colors and lengths.
While artificial hair systems tend to look, well, artificial, many hair replacement systems that use human hair can be cut to match your natural hair by a stylist and often blend in fairly well.
At the higher end of the scale, you can find various customized hair systems that are designed to match your hair color, style and the shape of your head. Although a keen observer might be able to spot it, some of the higher quality hair systems can look extremely convincing.
If you’re losing your hair or already have significant hair loss, a hair replacement system might offer certain advantages:
Cost. Compared to undergoing surgery, wearing a hair replacement system is a much more affordable option.
Convenience. Surgical procedures such as hair transplantation usually have a recovery time of one to two weeks. In comparison, fitting a hair system before you go out may be an easier, more convenient option.
On the other hand, hair replacement systems also have a range of disadvantages. These may include:
Poor quality. Hair systems can vary significantly in quality, with some low-end products poorly made and unconvincing. According to the American Hair Loss Association, more than 70 percent of non-surgical hair loss consumers report negative outcomes.
Cost. Although the cost of certain hair systems can be an advantage, it may also be a disadvantage. Inexpensive hair systems tend to look cheap, while convincing ones can often cost a significant amount of money.
Longevity. Many hair systems are only designed to be used for weeks or months at a time, after which they need to be replaced. Over the long term, this can add up — both financially and in the amount of time you spend dealing with new hair systems.
Scalp micropigmentation, or SMP, is a non-surgical procedure that uses small, tattooed dots to create the appearance of thicker hair. Although it doesn’t replace hair, the dots created on the scalp by micropigmentation can cover up thin areas and replicate the look of fuller hair.
Micropigmentation is used to aesthetically treat a variety of types of hair loss, such as alopecia areata, scarring alopecias and male pattern baldness.
It can also be used to cover up scarring from hair transplant surgery, which — when performed with older techniques — can leave behind clearly visible scars and areas on the scalp with little or no hair growth.
Like other non-surgical options for treating hair loss, scalp micropigmentation has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages of scalp micropigmentation include:
Convenience. Scalp micropigmentation is a non-surgical procedure. As such, it doesn’t cause the pain, discomfort and recovery time of surgical procedures like hair transplant surgery.
Lack of maintenance. Unlike a hair system, there’s no need to apply micropigmentation to your scalp. After the procedure is completed, the pigmentation is applied to your scalp for the long term and usually doesn’t require significant ongoing maintenance.
Disadvantages of scalp micropigmentation include:
Unnatural appearance. Overall, patient satisfaction from scalp micropigmentation tends to be high. However, when it’s performed poorly, or performed on a scalp with little or no hair, it may produce an unnatural result.
It’s essentially a tattoo. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re basically getting tiny tattoos on the affected area. Which means the color of the ink may change overtime as your skin ages and, if not done by a professional, you may experience things like infection or even an allergic reaction to certain pigments in the ink.
Cost. Although scalp micropigmentation is generally less expensive than hair transplant surgery, it’s quite an expensive procedure, and can cost thousands of dollars.
Although options like hair replacement system and scalp micropigmentation can help to create the appearance of a fuller, thicker head of hair, the reality is that they don’t actually do anything to prevent or reverse hair loss.
If you’re starting to lose your hair or have significant hair loss already, options are available to help you slow down or stop your hair loss. In some cases, you may even be able to grow back hair from areas of your scalp affected by male pattern baldness if treatment begins early enough.
We’ve listed these options below, including FDA-approved medications and surgical procedures to restore your hair.
Currently, the FDA has approved two different medications to treat hair loss. Both are backed by real scientific data and work effectively, although you’ll need to continue using them every day to maintain your results. Medications for treating hair loss include:
Finasteride. An oral medication, finasteride works by blocking DHT — the hormone that causes male pattern baldness. Finasteride is very effective, with studies showing that it can both stop further hair loss and, in some cases, cause you to regrow lost hair.
We’ve talked more about how finasteride works and the results you may experience in our guide to finasteride results. You can also learn more about finasteride’s safety and potential side effects in our detailed guide to the side effects of finasteride.
We offer finasteride with convenient home delivery, following an online consultation with a healthcare professional who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Minoxidil. A topical medication, minoxidil comes in foam and liquid for and needs to be applied directly to the areas of your scalp affected by hair loss. Although it doesn’t block DHT, research shows that it can help to increase hair growth in men with hair loss.
We offer minoxidil online. You can learn more about how minoxidil works in our guide to the amount of time required for minoxidil to produce results. You can also find out more about its safety in our guide to minoxidil side effects.
Although the idea of undergoing surgery to reverse hair loss can feel daunting, hair transplant surgery is a highly effective option that may be worth considering if you’ve already lost a large amount of hair.
Technically, hair loss surgery doesn’t replace lost hair. However, it can have a major impact on your appearance and help you to fill in areas of your scalp with significant hair loss.
Our guide to hair transplants goes into more detail on how hair transplantation surgery works, the different methods that are used to extract and transplant hair follicles, the typical costs of hair transplant surgery and more.
Non-surgical hair replacement systems and procedures such as scalp micropigmentation can offer a range of advantages, especially if you’d prefer to avoid surgery.
However, they also have significant downsides, ranging from the cost of wearing a hair system to an unnatural appearance. Despite their hair “replacement” branding, they also don’t replace the hair that you’ve lost — instead, they simply cover up the fact that it’s missing.
There’s no perfect option for treating hair loss. From a hair system to medication, surgery or a different solution, it’s best to consider your unique needs and choose the option that best suits you as an individual.
From a receding hairline to diffuse thinning, the majority male pattern baldness is ultimately caused by a hormone called dihydrotestosterone, or DHT.
Our guide to DHT and hair loss goes into greater detail on what DHT is, how it affects your hair and what you can do to stop it from causing hair loss. When you’re ready to take action, our full guide to male pattern baldness lists all of the proven treatment options available today.
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