The True Cost of Hair Transplants: Time, Money and Side Effects

Dr. Patrick Carroll, MD
Medically reviewed by Patrick Carroll, MD Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 10/07/2019

Two in three U.S. men will experience some hair loss by the age of 35, and by age 50, approximately 85 percent will have “significantly thinning hair,” according to the American Hair Loss Association. In other words, there’s a good chance you’re part of this club. 

And whether you’re just beginning to notice your hair thinning or if you’ve got a shiny bald spot, it’s likely affecting your daily life, making you self-conscious and possibly affecting your self esteem.

Luckily, there are plenty of options out there if you’re interested in reclaiming some of the hair you’ve lost to time and life.

Hair transplants are one of those options. The procedure involves removing healthy hair from one part of the head and transplanting it to thinning areas. 

Like any cosmetic surgical procedure, this one can get expensive. But the financial costs are only one consideration — recovery time, side effects, potential complications and end results should also be part of your decision-making process. 

Types of Hair Transplants 

We’ve come a long way from the 1970s, when the single hair transplant option left you looking like a doll. “Hair plugs” were clusters of hairs that were relocated to thinning parts of the scalp. 

Because these plugs included several hairs in a small grouping, they were particularly noticeable in short hair cuts and towards the front of the head, where many men experience balding. 

Since the 1990s, however, hair transplant surgeries have improved. Now, there are two generally accepted approaches: Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) and Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE). 

FUT involves harvesting a strip of healthy hair from a donor area on your head, generally near the back where it is less noticeable. This strip of donor hair is moved to the thinning part of the scalp and attached. The main drawback of FUT surgery is it leaves a scar. This is an especially important consideration if you like to wear your hair very short. 

FUE is a more recent development in hair restoration surgery. It involves removing singular follicular units — or single hair follicles — and transplanting them to a new area. To do this, the surgeon uses very small “micro punches” to remove the hairs from the scalp with minimal scarring. 

Understandably, FUE can take longer than FUT and is often most suitable for smaller areas of treatment. 

How Hair Transplants Work

Both FUT and FUE hair transplant surgeries are done in an outpatient setting. You’ll generally receive local anesthesia to numb your scalp, but will remain awake during the surgery. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates the procedures take anywhere from four to eight hours, and some transplants could take a few sessions over more than a single day.

The procedure involves removing the healthy hair and transplanting it to the affected area. After, you may be bandaged and provided with details on how to care for the surgical site at home. 

Financial Costs of Hair Transplants 

As with any medical procedure, how much you pay for hair transplant surgery depends on numerous factors, including: the local market (or where you live and where you have your surgery performed), whether you opt for FUT or FUE, whether you have to travel for your surgery, the surgeon you choose and the complexity of your case. 

That said, you’ll likely spend thousands. Online estimates put the cost at anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 and while those numbers obviously vary pretty widely, one thing is certain: it ain’t cheap. Few surgeons' websites detail their costs up front, but that’s a general ballpark figure.

Because hair transplant surgery is generally considered cosmetic, it’s unlikely your insurance company will help pay for it. If your hair loss is due to an illness or injury, however, coverage may be possible. If you’re looking at hair transplant surgery, the best thing to do is contact your insurance company to see about your options for coverage.

Recovery Time and Post-Surgical Care 

In addition to financial, there are physical costs to any surgery. If you’re bandaged, you’ll need to be cautious when removing the dressings at home, as they can stick to the wounds. 

You’ll also experience swelling in the origin and transplant areas; your surgeon may give you steroids to lessen this effect. 

You’ll be able to gently wash your hair two to three days after the procedure, but will likely be cautioned against wearing pullover shirts (including t-shirts) for several weeks. 

Your doctor may also start you on a topical minoxidil regimen post-surgery, though you’ll want to follow their instructions closely as any topical product could cause irritation at the surgical sites. 

Recovery time varies on whether you opted for FUT or FUE. In FUT procedures, you can expect your surgical areas to heal in two to three weeks and you can resume regular activity in a similar amount of time. In FUE, your surgical sites can heal in one to two weeks and you can resume regular physical activity then.

Hair Transplants Complications

Your surgeon will discuss the possible complications in hair transplant surgery with you. They may include: 

Hair Transplant Alternatives

While surgery is a possible course of action for hair restoration, there are less invasive (and more affordable) options that have also been shown to work — and they don’t require you to go under the knife. 

Two medications are approved by the FDA to treat hair loss in men and have been shown to be effective: minoxidil and finasteride. These drugs can slow hair loss and increase hair density. Both drugs — minoxidil, which is typically applied topically, and finasteride, which is taken orally — are backed by years of scientific research

The Final Word on Hair Transplants

It’s perfectly natural for you to be concerned about losing your hair. If it’s something you’ve noticed and just let slide for a while, or something you’re just beginning to see now, it’s understandable to want to do something about it. 

Hair restoration surgery can be effective for men looking to take back their luscious locks, but it’s not without its caveats. It’s costly, it can take some time to heal and the process can be somewhat exhausting (and perhaps a bit painful). But the results are real, and they generally do work.

There are alternative options available out there that are less invasive and more cost effective, but if you’re considering hair restoration surgery, the best thing to do is speak to your doctor or a certified dermatologist about your options.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.