What is PRP? You may recall the ‘vampire facial’ craze of last decade, which involves using your own blood to restore a more youthful glow to your face. Well, the same technology is also used to treat hair loss, and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections have quickly become one of the go-to non-surgical treatment options for patients with thinning and balding hair.
PRP for Hair Loss Treatments
PRP for hair loss has roots in Europe that date back more than a decade. With no downtime, the non-surgical hair loss treatment first extracts platelets from the patient’s own blood and then injects them into areas of the scalp that have seen hair loss or thinning.
How does it work? Your blood’s platelets are responsible for clotting and healing. They assist in tissue rejuvenation and healing systems. Plasma is the liquid in your blood that carries the platelets, along with red blood cells and white blood cells. During the procedure, the doctor will draw blood (usually from the patient’s arm) and separate and process the platelets using a centrifuge to concentrate the growth factors. Once injected into your scalp, the PRP brings increased blood flow to the hair follicles, which stimulates new growth and lengthens the anagen (i.e. active) phase of the hair cycle to promote growth.
Though not yet FDA approved for hair loss, PRP has been found to be an effective treatment for alopecia areata (an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss) and male and female pattern baldness, in addition to age-related hair loss. While most patients see their rate of hair loss diminished, it has also been shown to help regrow hair. The average cost of a single treatment is $2,125 and multiple sessions are often needed for best results.
You may recall Kourtney Kardashian underwent PRP treatments during an episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians to treat hair loss she experienced as a result of a heavy ponytail, and the procedure is used for men and women alike.
Matt*, a 30-year-old man living in northern California, recently finished a series of five treatments over the course of a seven-month period, but his hair preservation and restoration journey actually began with over-the-counter remedies.
Matt’s hairdresser told him about a product called Caboki — a powder-like formula that works like a concealer on bald or thinning areas — which delayed his need/desire to try a professional treatment to address his hair loss. “When you have dark brown hair and pale skin, you can shake this on your bald spot and it completely covers it,” Matt shares. “I started doing that, which was helpful and delayed my taking any other action for a few months.” But it was a temporary fix.
Before proceeding with PRP, Matt also tried a series of supplements, which helped slow the rate of hair loss. He took generic Propecia (i.e. finasteride), which blocks a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (a.k.a. DHT) that contributes to male pattern baldness. “You can’t expect it to give you more hair,” Matt says. “It doesn’t contribute toward growth, but it does help maintain the hair you have.”
His hack is getting it from Costco, instead of at a pharmacy. He went from paying $70 for a two to three month supply to $10 for the same amount. “Doctors will call it into your local Costco, and you don’t even need a healthcare plan for it,” he says. “You have a 50/50 chance with finasteride of it affecting your sex drive. I was lucky that I didn’t experience that.”
In addition to finasteride, Matt took a daily supplement cocktail of one Viviscal pill, one biotin supplement, and one folic acid tablet. Topically, he was applying Rogaine, an over-the-counter product that helps stave off hair loss thanks to active ingredient minoxidil. It’s a foam that you rub into your hair daily. From a haircare perspective, Matt uses Revitalash Cosmetics thickening shampoo, conditioner, and volume-enhancing foam, which boast a phyto-infused formula for scalp health. “It doesn’t contribute to growth, but it helps it look thicker,” he says.
While this combination did allow Matt to delay more invasive treatment, his bald spot kept growing. His hairdresser recommended PRP when he was 29. Matt shopped around and looked into dermatologists and plastic surgeons. “There wasn't really a big price difference between the two groups, but there was a price difference from one business to another,” he says. “I was looking at treatments that are $2,000 a shot. I found some places that offer Groupons for $500, but that’s not the kind of thing I want to use a Groupon for.” What he landed on was about $1,000 per treatment at a plastic surgeon’s office in Silicon Valley.
After a couple of sessions, Matt saw that the follicles were growing and that his hair density was building back up. At his baldest, he had about an inch of total baldness and a few inches toward his hairline of thinning. “Not only were the follicles themselves thinner, but also the hair density was a lot lower,” he explains. “The before-and-after photos of the PRP treatment are dramatic. I was in denial about how much hair I didn’t have.”
After seven PRP treatments, Matt says that he feels much more confident about his hair and in general. “I used to be shy about turning my head down or standing in an elevator or in a bathroom — anywhere with spotlights, overhead lighting,” he says.
In addition to continuing his oral and topical medication, Matt is also considering a surgical hair transplant — specifically a follicular unit excision (FUE). The procedure involves a surgeon harvesting individual healthy follicles from a donor site and transplanting them to bald or thinning areas. The surgeon also makes sure that these grafts (each containing one to three hairs) are angled in the growth direction of the hair. While it would be the most invasive of the hair loss treatments Matt has tried, the procedure yields permanent results and recreates the hairline and growth patterns.
“For me, the PRP made the biggest difference in regrowth,” Matt says. “It's motivated me to do as much as I can.”
*Patient’s name has been changed
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