Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/03/2021
Can a little modern-medicine vampirism help your hair to be immortal? Maybe.
There’s reason to believe that platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy could help you regrow and reverse the effects of hair loss conditions like androgenic alopecia, also known as male pattern baldness.
But you don’t have to go all to make use of PRP — in fact, there’s no biting necessary. PRP therapy is actually a therapeutic treatment that has been around for several decades, used most commonly in treating things like sports injuries. Scientists are still working out exactly what’s going on when PRP is utilized, but they’ve seen promising results.
Aside from treating ligament injuries and osteoarthritis to signs of aging in facial skin, PRP treatment might also be a potential answer to a receding hairline, which is probably why you’re here.
Before we get to whether this might be a solution for you, let’s first discuss how PRP therapy works.
There’s a reason that a version of this treatment for the face is sometimes referred to as a “vampire facial.” PRP therapy is a simple process but it can seem a little odd, a bit like a blood transplant.
Here’s how it works in general:
A doctor or medical professional draws blood from your arm
The blood is placed into a centrifuge, where it separates into three components (platelet-rich plasma, platelet-poor plasma and red blood cells).
The platelet-rich plasma is extracted with a syringe and injected into the site where the treatment is needed (in this case, your scalp).
But what actually happens once the platelets are injected? Well that part is less clear, and scientists are still trying to understand exactly what the mechanism is that makes PRP effective.
According to an article in the Iowa Orthopaedic Journal, “There is a general consensus in PRP research that the injection of concentrated platelets, once activated, results in an exponential increase in numerous growth factors at the sight of injection.”
Growth factors and other compounds in the platelet-rich plasma can have rejuvenating effects on tissues, which have been shown to encourage cellular regeneration and healing in a variety of conditions from sports injuries to, yes, hair regrowth.
There are still unanswered questions about how PRP affects hair regrowth, but we do know some things. A 2019 review of clinical studies explained that PRP stimulates hair growth by “improving follicle vascularization, inhibiting apoptosis and thereby prolonging the anagen phase, and inducing a faster transition from the telogen to the anagen phase in dermal papilla cells.”
Our understanding is primarily limited due to a lack of standardization in clinical studies, particularly with regards to “preparation, dosage, number and interval of treatment sessions, as well as injection technique.”
Still, these questions don’t undermine its promise as an effective treatment, and there are noteworthy results within the body of research to date.
One 2019 clinical trial of 30 patients with androgenic alopecia showed that PRP was “an effective treatment option in androgenetic alopecia as indicated by higher hair density, satisfactory physician and patient global assessment scores, and increase in terminal to vellus hair ratio.”
And a randomized clinical trial of 19 patients showed findings, “in line with other studies in this field and showed that the use of PRP as a new and safe treatment can be effective in androgenetic alopecia.”
It should be noted that both of these trials used small pools of test subjects, and that all studies and reviews thus far have universally called for more research to be done.
Additionally, there isn’t consensus on how many (or how frequent) treatments should be. And that could be a problem, when you consider the cost. However, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association “most patients return once a month for [three] months and then once every [three] to [six] months.”
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So what does it cost? Well, that’s going to depend on a lot of factors, including the severity of the hair loss (the area of affected skin), your location and the healthcare professional administering the treatment. But there are some guideline prices.
A systematic review last year found that PRP for osteoarthritis in the knee, for instance, cost around $1,200 over 12 months, which accounts for the procedure, the injection and clinical visits.
Knees and osteoarthritis are, of course, different from heads and hair loss. But an Internet search reveals the prices are similar enough with three-treatment cycles costing over a thousand dollars, on average.
But it can be more expensive, with single sessions ranging up to $1,000, according to the Harvard Medical School blog.
Perhaps those numbers aren’t going to incinerate your wallet, but it should be noted that insurers tend to see this as a cosmetic procedure, and they tend to decline to pay for cosmetic treatments, or hair loss treatments in general unless there’s an underlying health condition causing it. So you’ll want to check with your insurance provider before making any assumptions.
Aside from insurance and payment issues, there are some things that may screen you out of the procedure before you ever see a needle.
Blood and tissue conditions — anything from cancer to liver disease to low platelet counts — might disqualify you from using this treatment, as might the use of certain prescription or illicit drug. Consult your healthcare provider ahead of time to clear up whether any lifestyle conditions — smoking, poor diet or diabetes — might also disqualify you.
Luckily, side effects from the admittedly small volume of studies on PRP therapy for hair loss were very limited, mostly showing the potential for irritation and inflammation at the injection site.
If you’re considering PRP as treatment for your hair loss, there may be other treatment options that may work as well or better, including medications that can be taken alongside PRP treatments, like finasteride, which has been shown as effective in helping to stop and reverse androgenic alopecia.
PRP is just one of your treatment options.
If you’re noticing a receding hairline or experiencing the beginning of male pattern baldness, consult a healthcare professional to see what options are available. Your doctor may prescribe one or more treatments, and it could take several tries before you find the right treatment for you.