Hair loss

Getting a Hair Transplant vs. Using Finasteride & Minoxidil

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Medically approved by Dr Earim Chaudry
Chief Medical Officer
iconLast updated 7th January 2022

In 30 seconds…

These days, hair transplants are a more accepted treatment for hair loss, with transplantation surgery increasing year on year. Famous names have tried it too. But what is a hair transplant? And how does it compare to at-home hair loss treatments like Minoxidil and Finasteride?

Hair transplants are a procedure in which surgeons remove healthy hair follicles from a part of your scalp and insert them into the area affected by hair loss. Usually, such an operation brings more permanent results than medications like Finasteride and Minoxidil. However, the treatment is costly and there’s no guarantee that your hair loss won’t continue post-op.

Finasteride and Minoxidil, meanwhile, are proven to be effective, safe, and convenient. They can be alternatives to a hair transplant, or even work complementary to the surgical operation. But the choice, in the end, is up to you…

These days, hair loss treatments are getting more attention. If you’re experiencing male pattern baldness (MPB) yourself, this is surely great news. And whilst the tried-and-tested treatments like Finasteride and Minoxidil are certainly helping sufferers of MPB, there’s a new kid on the block. The hair transplant. 

Hair transplants are bringing hype to hair loss treatment. There was a headline-grabbing 60% increase in hair surgery between 2014 and 2017, and there’s no reason to think that that’s slowed. Meanwhile, celebrity names – Wayne Rooney, Rob Brydon, James Nesbitt – have tried it, and are singing its praises. 

However, are hair transplants worth the hype they are getting? In this article, we’re going to look at what hair transplants are and how they compare to more traditional solutions for hair loss.

What is a Hair Transplant?

A hair transplant is a surgical process by which healthy hair follicles are harvested from one area on your scalp and inserted into another where your hair is thinning. It is an increasingly common treatment for MPB. Meanwhile, the effect is quite convincing, as healthy follicles can be placed exactly where your hair is thinning – giving a natural look.

Hair transplants do, however, require hair follicles that remain unaffected by MPB. This means that it is important you’re not completely bald before you get it done. In these cases, or if you have just a horseshoe of hair around your scalp, it’s difficult for a hair transplant to return your locks to full bloom.

Hair transplants can do men wonders. But, as a serious procedure, it is important to know what you are letting yourself into before you go under the knife.

What are the Different Types of Hair Transplants?

There are two primary types of hair transplant: follicular unit transplantation (FUT) and follicular unit excision (FUE). There are quite important differences between them.

Of the two main types, FUT is more common – as it is generally cheaper and requires less work for the surgeon. Also known as ‘strip surgery’, FUT involves extracting a small patch of skin from your scalp with hair follicles in it. This patch is then divided into smaller “units” and inserted into cuts on the site where the hair is desired.

In the other type of transplant, FUE, the follicles are extracted individually. A special tool removes each follicle and inserts them one-by-one into the place on your scalp that receives them. As you can imagine, this is quite a labour-intensive process. But, on the plus side, it doesn’t generally create the scarring that FUT is more famous for.

Can You Treat Hair Loss at Home?

Whilst hair transplants are an increasingly popular option, there are at-home treatments for MPB that have been popular and effective for the last thirty years. For people who are a little squeamish about either the procedure or cost of hair transplantation surgery, these might be a better option.

At-home hair loss treatments include Minoxidil and Finasteride, two drugs that promote hair regrowth in the vast majority of MPB cases. They can be used individually or in conjunction, and, when combined, the treatments have a success rate of over 90%.

Minoxidil is generally applied topically to the scalp, twice daily, as a foam or spray. It is a vasodilator, meaning that it widens local blood vessels, allowing more blood – and so more nutrients and oxygen – to the area. This allows for healthier follicles that are more capable of growing healthy hair.

Finasteride, meanwhile, is taken daily as a pill. This drug gets to the root cause of MPB – rather than just managing the symptoms, as hair transplants do. You may know that MPB is caused by the production of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and Finasteride blocks this process by inhibiting the enzyme that enacts it.

By targeting this enzyme directly, Finasteride limits DHT production, thus preventing hair loss. In fact, hair grows back in the overwhelming majority of cases. Used together, Minoxidil and Finasteride create a powerful package for combating male pattern baldness.

Hair Transplants vs. At-home Treatments

However, which is a better option – hair transplants or the hair loss medication? That depends on you, although there are important differences to consider. These concern costs, primarily – yet there are differences in convenience too.

How Much do Hair Transplants Cost?

Hair transplants are known for their prohibitive costs. And whilst these are becoming more reasonable every day, they will remain out of reach for the majority of men.

According to the NHS, hair transplants in the UK can cost anything between £1000 and £30,000. The costs depend on the number of follicles you want to have transplanted, which depends on how far your MPB has progressed already. They’ll also depend on the type of hair transplant – FUT or FUE.

Unfortunately, though, it is better to pay more for hair transplants. Generally, it’s not advised to part with less than £5000 for hair transplantation surgery in the UK. Anything less may well mean that your surgeon isn’t as reputable as you’d like.

Ensure that you check that your prospective surgeon is a full member of the British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons before you confirm. Particularly if it feels as though the deal is too good to be true.

How Much do Minoxidil and Finasteride Cost?

Minoxidil and Finasteride, meanwhile, do not reach the lofty prices of hair transplants. Prices for both of the treatments together start from £20 a month, whilst for individual Finasteride and Minoxidil treatments prices start at £15 and £19 a month respectively.

Whilst hair transplants can, if you’re lucky, be a one-off treatment, Finasteride and Minoxidil need to be applied/taken daily to ensure the continued growth of hair. However, taking even this into account, the cost of at-home treatments remains lower than reliable surgery.

What Else Should I Know?

If you can afford them, hair transplants are a good option. They are easy, widely successful, and they have great results. However, many people assume that hair transplants are a simple matter of returning home with a full head of hair. Unfortunately, they are not quite as straightforward as this…

Hair transplants are surgery, and they do require you to be operated on. As such, whilst they are usually very safe, they can be a little nerve-wracking for men who aren’t totally comfortable going under the knife. Meanwhile, if you do have FUT surgery, you will have scars, although doctors will try to hide these beneath your regrown hair.

Will a Hair Transplant Solve My MPB?

Finally, it is important to note that a hair transplant will probably not put a brake on your MPB.

The trouble is that MPB is a progressive condition – meaning that it develops over time. As a result, you can never be quite sure that a hair transplant would be a one-off event. Just because your hair follicles have been moved, this doesn’t mean that they are no longer susceptible to DHT.

And, if your MPB progresses further, you may have to redo the treatment. Otherwise, you could face patterns of hair loss that aren’t preferable to “normal” MPB.

As such, it is worth noting that, in most cases, men who undergo a hair transplant are strongly advised to take Minoxidil and Finasteride in support of their treatment. These medications encourage the health of your follicles before and after transplantation – to prevent your transplanted hair from falling out too. 

As we mentioned above, Finasteride is the only hair loss treatment that actually tackles the cause of MPB, not just its effects. If you really want to solve your hair loss, this might be the best option.

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Key Takeaways…

Your choice between hair transplants or at-home hair loss treatments will depend on a number of personal considerations: budget, the progress of your MPB, and your squeamishness under the knife.

Whilst both options have their benefits, hair loss medicines like Minoxidil and Finasteride have the edge. Finasteride is the only option that gets to the root of why MPB happens. And the truth is, if you are undergoing a hair transplant, you will probably need to use these medicines anyway.

While we've ensured that everything you read on the Health Centre is medically reviewed and approved, information presented here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. It should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

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