Let’s not sugar coat it; you’re going to need some hair transplant downtime after your procedure. Considering the vast improvement your treatment will ultimately make to your appearance and sense of self, it’s only natural that it’ll take a little time before you feel 100% presentable again.
It’s a temporary phase in a long-term solution
The prospect of hair transplant downtime is one of the most frequently reported reasons for not having the procedure sooner. As a hair transplant patient, you have every right to feel concerned about this aspect of your treatment. After all, it can be very frustrating to want to look and feel the best you can, only to have to wait even longer for it to happen. My best advice is to consider the big picture of your hair transplant.
“My patients are always concerned about hair transplant downtime. And how long it’ll take before they can get away with their hair transplant not being noticed by friends, family, colleagues and the barman at the pub.” – Dr. Scott Alexander, a leading hair transplant surgeon at biltmorehairrestoration.com
Instant results are simply not part of the deal. Remember, your hair loss most likely occurred gradually over an extended period of time in which you probably progressed from slight concern to full-blown panic. The positive way to look at this is your emotions will be reversed and you have a bright future to look forward to. Each day post-op, you’ll feel happier about the way your hair looks and you’re likely to go from satisfaction through to full-blown elation. However, it will take time. When trying to decide whether to go ahead with a hair transplant, you need to figure in your downtime as part of the big picture.
How long will my hair transplant downtime be?
Well that depends on the size of the session you require and various other elements such as your skin tone. Some guys find they heal up in as short as ten days and without much visual evidence that surgery has taken place. On the other hand, some guys experience residual redness for longer periods of time, particularly if they have fair skin. Remember also that the site of the hair transplant has to be shaved down so the doctor has better precision and flexibility, so you’ll be starting almost from scratch with your natural hair growth in that area.
As a rough guide regarding the length of downtime, allow an absolute minimum of two to three weeks. However, if you keep your expectations out at around four to five weeks, particularly for larger strip sessions, then you’ll be happier about the eventual length of downtime that results.
How long you’re off work could be as simple as whether or not you can wear a hat to work. If you can, then you could be back within a few days, but if not, then you really must take into account the amount of downtime you’ll need, when scheduling your time off. I would say plan for at least two weeks, to be sure. If you can take longer, then do, because it’s better to allow a longer timeframe and not need it than to have to go back to work before you’re ready.
The long and short of preparing in advance
If you have shorter hair, go for a buzz cut so that as your hair grows in
If you have longer hair, start wearing it in a style that will cover the transplant site so that later, when the site is healing, it’ll be no surprise to anyone that you are wearing your hair that way. Similarly, if you have shorter hair, go for a buzz cut so that as your hair grows in, it will seem like you actually need a haircut, not that you’re lacking hair. This is an especially good idea for FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction) patients. A minimum of 2 weeks for FUE and 4 weeks for larger Strip sessions.
How to look and feel better during your hair transplant downtime
There are things you can do to feel better about the way your transplant site looks and to speed things up so you can reduce your downtime. Do a little shopping before your hair transplant so you have all these items at home, ready to use. Of course, you can always purchase them online and have them delivered after your procedure if you’d rather limit your shopping expeditions.
- Apply natural, soothing products to the treated areas. Aloe vera gel, emu oil and distilled witch hazel are all recommended.
- MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane) is a naturally occurring organosulfur compound that works as an anti-inflammatory, promotes wound healing and assists in speeding up the growth of the existing hairs. Take 3000mg per day in a glass of water.
- Wear a hat – or, if it suits you, a head scarf – to cover your transplant site when you leave the house.
- Once your existing hair has grown enough you can use a concealer to help bulk it up and disguise any residual redness.
Aiding healing: what to do and not to do after the operation
It’s very easy when you are thinking about getting an HT to focus all your attention on the procedure itself and the end result. To get the best end result though, you need to also consider the journey post op, particularly how you can help yourself to heal during hair transplant downtime.
You will be given a set of instructions or guidelines to follow after the op. Follow them to the letter, especially for a first HT. They are there for a reason. Read over the written instructions for post-operative care several times; especially in the days post-op. This is very important because some of the vital details may be forgotten with the excitement of the surgery, and also with the sedation you may have received that can cause the fine points to be a little ‘fuzzy’.
Pain medications will be prescribed, but it is unlikely that these will be needed for more than one or two days, at the most. Sleeping medication may also be used for the first couple of nights, if needed. You may also be given medication to prevent swelling; sleeping with the head elevated on pillows for the first week will also help prevent this. It’s normal for the donor and recipient areas to swell a little after surgery as any wound does.
Regular washing of the hair is important. There is a tendency to think that this will disturb the grafts, but if it is done as recommended, the chance of dislodging a graft is remote. Shampooing helps remove dirt, blood and oil, and will gently dislodge the scabs that form over the recipient sites. These scabs should normally be gone within a few days to a week at the most. If they are not, you may not be shampooing effectively enough.
Proper hygiene also helps prevent infection, and promotes the normal shedding of the transplanted hairs that occurs before they begin their new, relocated growth phase. Yes I did say that there is normal shedding of transplanted hairs – more on that in the ‘shedding and growth times’ to come.
Keeping the recipient and donor areas moist promotes their healing. GraftCyte, Aloe Vera gel, Emu oil, distilled witch hazel solution or even a mild salt solution will all work. This will also decrease the tendency of healing tissues to itch. This is more important than it sounds. For the first few days, you may experience significant itching in the donor and recipient areas.
Do and Don’t Scratch
Gently scratching the donor site in the back will cause little trauma; it is beneficial to keep the donor incision free from debris, scabs, and any accumulation of dirt and ointment. The recipient area, on the other hand, is a different matter. Keep your scratchy fingers off this! It is the most susceptible to trauma during the first three or four days, which is also the time when it may itch the most!
Keeping the area moist is the single most important factor in soothing and preventing the itching sensation. Vigorous rubbing and especially scratching with the fingernails can easily dislodge grafts, which may cause mild bleeding, but more importantly, you may lose one or more of those valuable replaced follicles.
The donor area is a much larger incision than the tiny slits in the recipient area, therefore it is often a bit more inflamed. Sutures or stables may also cause some degree of inflammatory reaction. You may get mild swelling and discomfort.
Also, there will be an initial swelling and soreness from the surgical trauma of removing the donor strip and FUE extractions. The discomfort and associated numbness usually decreases rapidly over the first three to four days; most of the soreness is gone at one week, but the numbness may persist for several months. In the latter case, the numbness gradually decreases as the nerves grow back until it is unnoticeable.
Treat yourself to a holiday
Why not spend the first week of your hair transplant downtime at home where you can easily contact your doctor if you need to, but book a holiday for yourself and go away for the following three or four weeks? No one at your holiday destination will know how you usually look and plus, you can wear a hat without it looking conspicuous. Go fishing, climb a mountain, laze on a beach somewhere or backpack through Italy; just make it count. Imagine how incredible you’ll feel with your new head of hair and a rested and recharged outlook.