Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/16/2021
By now, most of us are more than familiar with the concept of eyebrow microblading. But have you ever heard of scalp micropigmentation?
Whether this is your first time hearing the term or a Google search led you to this article, we’re here to fill you in (pun most certainly intended).
Scalp micropigmentation (SMP) is a special type of cosmetic tattoo performed on the scalp to mimic the look of natural hair follicles.
Unlike typical hair loss solutions, such as transplants, scalp micropigmentation offers a tattoo-based, non-medical cover up that hides conditions on the scalp and creates the illusion of a thicker mane.
Scalp micropigmentation is performed using a combination of carefully selected pigments, tattoo instruments and artistic skills of a SMP provider.
When done correctly, it can address many cosmetic scalp conditions, such as alopecia, thinning, the scar from strip harvesting and more.
SMP is a helpful, non-surgical treatment option for men experiencing hair thinning, loss or other conditions including: scar from hair transplant, hair restoration deformities, regional balding and those who don’t like wearing toupees or wigs.
A patient with alopecia might also benefit from SMP. Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenic alopecia (AGA), is the most common type of hair loss in men.
SMP is also a more permanent solution to scalp concealers, which may drip or shed in certain weather conditions.
Scalps have an intricate anatomy and support many underlying structures, such as glands, blood vessels, nerves, muscles and fat.
That’s why it is critical to find an SMP technician who is experienced and knowledgeable about the anatomy of scalps.
High-quality SMP treatment centers should have:
Certification of SMP training
Body art practitioner license on display (depending on state requirements)
Bloodborne pathogens certification
County health permit
Clean and sterile environment with a sink
Packaged needles that can be opened in front of the client
Barrier protection during treatment (nitrile gloves, mask, barrier tape, and guards on SMP treatment device)
During your initial consultation, the SMP artist will evaluate your scalp and explain the desired outcome. At your first appointment, your SMP artist will lay the foundation for the new look.
The second treatment is performed after the scalp has had time to heal, and will typically consist of different pigments to fill in more detail around your real hair follicles.
The gap between the first and second appointments is about one to four weeks. This is to allow the pigments to settle and for the scalp to heal.
The entire process is typically complete after two to three appointments. Each appointment can last up to eight hours.
It’s also worth noting that, like regular tattoos, micropigmentation work will need touch ups, as the ink/pigment will fade over time.
Given the proximity of the scalp to the brain, it’s normal to feel nervous for your SMP appointment.
As with most procedures, there are potential side effects. However, the benefits of SMP may outweigh the potential side effects, and patient satisfaction is typically very high.,
Potential side effects of SMP can include:
An allergic reaction to the ink. Make sure to tell your technician everything you are allergic to prior to getting started.
An infection from contaminated equipment. It’s very important that a new, sterile needle is used in the procedure.
Unsterile equipment and needles can transmit diseases (human papillomavirus, hepatitis), as well as skin infections caused by bacteria like staphylococcus.
There are numerous benefits to SMP, including increased confidence and little to no downtime after the appointment.
SMP is a great non-surgical alternative for thinning hair, hair loss or someone who is balding, such as a patient with alopecia.
SMP is great at camouflaging a scar from hair transplant surgery, making it appear as though you have a thicker head of hair, and evening out patchy spots or uneven hairlines. When done correctly, SMP has a very natural appearance.
SMP is a more permanent alternative to powdered and spray-on hair concealers or pigments, and will not drip or shed during a workout or in humid weather.
SMP is also a great alternative for men who aren’t interested in wearing a wig or toupee.
So, the thought of essentially tattooing your head skeeves you out. While micropigmentation is an accepted practice, we can totally understand where you’re coming from.
That said, we’d be remiss not to mention some scalp micropigmentation alternatives for the needle-shy among us.
Minoxidil is an FDA-approved topical medication used for a patient with alopecia (AGA), or male pattern baldness.
Topical minoxidil has been considered safe to use; however, some people experience side effects after application.
The most common side effect of minoxidil on scalps is irritant contact dermatitis. Typical symptoms include itchy and scaly skin.
Wigs and toupees are another alternative to SMP. Some toupees are incredibly realistic and are adhered to the scalp with glue.
This type of customized toupee can last for months if properly cared for.
Hair transplants are a surgical alternative to SMP. It is a very complex and technical surgery, and can cost thousands of dollars.
However, the results are typically very good and patient satisfaction is high. Side effects of a hair transplant can include scarring, epidermal cysts and infection.
Whether you’re a patient with alopecia, or you’ve been experiencing hair loss, SMP might be an avenue for you to explore.
Before undergoing the procedure, be sure to research both the treatment center and SMP technician to make sure that SMP is right for you.
Insider tips, early access and more.