Hair transplants. We’ve all heard of them and know a friend or celebrity who has had one, but what does this classic plastic surgery procedure actually entail? Let’s run through some quick basics. A hair transplant is a surgical procedure to address hair loss, the hairline, forehead shape and size, and eyebrow hair. For the purposes of this page, we will be looking at scalp hair transplant surgeries only.
Hair transplants can be performed via follicular unit extraction (FUE) or follicular unit transplant (FUT). These are the two classic surgical hair transplant options. ARTAS®, NeoGraft, and AccuGraft are robotic FUE methods and will have recovery times similar to FUE. In general, FUT will have longer recovery times than any FUE process due to the use of a donor strip of scalp for transplanted hair that requires additional healing time in the recovery period. We’ll explore the differences more below.
What to Expect During Hair Transplant Recovery
So, what’s it actually like to create your dream head of hair? FUE or FUT, all candidates can expect pain, swelling, and some bruising following this cosmetic surgery. While actual recovery time will vary depending on how invasive your procedure is and how your body naturally heals, one to two weeks is a safe amount of time to assume you’re going to feel uncomfortable and not be up for your usual activities. Hair transplants do not use general anesthesia so that eliminates the yucky side effects from those medications.
The Ultimate Hair Transplant Recovery Timeline
Ok, let’s get into the nitty gritty of hair transplant recovery. We’ll start with how to utilize your pre-op time to possibly minimize the intensity of your post-op experience and then we’ll look at what you can expect from the first few days, weeks, months, and, yes, even years. Remember, there will be timing differences between FUT and FUE procedures, and we’ll note this as we move along the timeline.
It should also be noted that your surgeon should provide comprehensive pre- and post-op instructions, and you should always defer to the advice of your medical team. This is simply meant to serve as a guide.
- Stop smoking, drinking alcohol, taking certain supplements, and reduce caffeine intake a few days prior to surgery. This reduces inflammatory markers and promotes overall health optimizing you for a successful and speedy recovery.
- Get your supplies together! Have the essentials like ice packs, pain and inflammation medications (like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen), any medications your doctor advises (like antibiotic ointments), and a comfortable pillow for your neck. Check out our complete guide to recovering from cosmetic procedures in comfort and style to learn more.
- If you had FUE, you’re probably feeling numbness and tightness in the scalp areas treated.
- If you had FUT, you can expect more pain especially around the donor scalp site. The surgeon has to cut into deeper skin layers to harvest full healthy hair follicles so that will increase pain and soreness.
- So, you hopefully got some sleep without laying on your head-seriously you can’t put pressure on the new hair follicles for at least 72 hours. You ideally kept an ice pack and your pain or inflammation meds not too far away. Medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen are important not only for pain control, but also for keeping inflammation down. This promotes faster recovery.
- You’re probably feeling soreness and discomfort on your scalp and forehead. You might have a bit of a headache.
- Also, it’s not unusual to have some bleeding from your incision sites if you had FUT. Remember that your body is working hard to heal your wounds and it’s sending a lot of blood with nutrients and infection-fighting cells to the area. This creates a lot of inflammation that you can control with meds and ice packs.
- Remember to always keep your head elevated and no pressure on your scalp!
Day 2 to Day 7
- If you had FUT with bandages over your donor site, they can usually be removed around day two or three. Daily wound care will ensure safe and effective healing.
- During this first week, don’t expect to be doing anything strenuous. This is the time to chill, organize your inbox, or take a nice long walk... whatever works for you.
Week 2 to Week 4
- Ok, so now you can probably start thinking about getting back to most aspects of your life (especially if you had FUE).
- Hair washing is safe around day 10, haircuts at day 14, and hair dying on day 28.
3 months to 1 Year
- Hairs typically shed and start regrowth around month three or four.
- The majority of new hair growth happens between months five and 12.
Tips to Improve Your Hair Transplant Recovery
Now that you know more about the recovery timeline associated with a hair transplant, we’ve got some tips to help you progress along your healing journey as efficiently and effortlessly as possible. Like we mentioned, every individual body heals at its own pace, but there are definitely some universal truths that augment healing.
1. Be Mindful & Be Patient
We’re not being deliberately vague here. Your body will let you know what it needs. If you feel like taking it slow one day, do it! If you suddenly have the desire to get some fresh air, go for it (albeit you are medically cleared for it)! The mind-body connection exists and the more you respect it the easier your recovery will be. Patience rules the day, so be kind to your body and slowly ease yourself back into your routine without forcing things like your return to work or working out.
2. Eat well, sleep well, & stay hydrated
This is just good life advice, but, especially during times of increased stress on the body (think: following a major plastic surgery), the more you nourish yourself and properly rest the better. Some of the best repair hormones only get cycled through your blood while you sleep, so be like a pro athlete during the months following your surgery and get those eight hours. Your fledgling hair (and your entire being) will thank you for it.
Additionally, eating a balanced diet free from processed foods in combination with plenty of water and taking it easy on caffeine and alcohol will naturally reduce inflammation and help lessen swelling more quickly (check out our guide to what to eat before and after cosmetic procedures). Oh, and don’t smoke. Our advice is to never smoke, but it’s particularly vital to lay off after a major surgery.
3. Elevate & Ice
Cold compresses and keeping your head up (literally and metaphorically) will lessen blood flow to the area and reduce the amount of fluid accumulation in and around your scalp. While blood does bring all the good nutrients and healing cells, it can also leave large deposits of infection-fighting cells and other materials you don’t really need hanging around. This is why icing for periods of time (i.e. not continuously) creates the best balance of blood flow.
4. Moderate Your Activities
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but, just in case, two weeks after your hair transplant is not the time to begin your CrossFit training regimen. Vigorous exercise makes blood pressure increase. Increased blood pressure means increased swelling. Intense exercise also naturally increases the stress hormone cortisol. While it’s great in moderation when you're healthy, it’s not ideal in the first few weeks following a major surgery.
Other activities to avoid or limit: laying on your head, headstands, and wearing hats or helmets.
Hair Transplant Side Effects & Complications
So now that we’ve thoroughly covered the days and weeks following a hair transplant procedure, let’s review what you can definitely expect versus what may or may not occur. Every hair transplant patient should expect at least one to two weeks of discomfort, tightness, irritation, and swelling.
While rare, more serious complications are possible. Infections of the scalp tissues are a possible complication of a hair transplant and can be treated with antibiotics. Permanent numbness from nerve damage, intractable pain, follicle death, and scarring are more significant complications that may require further surgical revision or be unable to be fixed.