If you’re considering getting a hair transplant, you’re going to have a lot of questions. And one of those is likely to be around pain levels.
After all, it’s a fairly invasive procedure, so it’s good to know what you’re letting yourself in for.
I haven’t had a hair transplant, but I know someone who has.
I’ve spoken with Henry, a transplant patient, and spent a lot of time looking into others’ experiences with hair transplants, to determine just how painful a hair transplant really is.
Does getting a hair transplant hurt?
The actual process of hair being transplanted from a donor site to a recipient site doesn’t hurt, but that’s because it is done under local anesthetic. Receiving anesthetic injections can hurt, but this is a temporary pain. Some pain may occur during recovery time, but it usually fades quickly.
A lot of people compare the pain of a hair transplant to a trip to the dentist when you need to have some form of oral treatment. The injection itself may hurt, but then the anesthetic takes effect and prevents the nerves from sending pain messages to your brain.
Where it differs from dental work is that, usually when having a tooth extraction, you can still feel the pulling on the tooth for example, because the work is rigorous. With a hair transplant, you shouldn’t feel a thing. The hair follicles are not being yanked from your head, after all!
Henry said that you don’t feel a thing at all – he describes it as being “super-numb”. And the team working on the transplant will tell you to just let them know if you feel any pain or discomfort at all, and they can add more anesthetic to numb you up further.
So how bad does a hair transplant hurt? It can hurt a little, but only for a small amount of time, and then the pain is over. Remember though that it can hurt twice – there are two areas to numb, after all.
FUT vs FUE: Which Hair Transplant Method is More Comfortable?
While FUT (Follicular Unit Transplantation) surgeries are considered to be slightly more invasive than FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction) surgeries, there are not usually many differences in the pain levels felt by those going through treatments. The discomfort level for both is relatively similar.
FUT may hurt slightly more, because a strip of tissue is removed rather than individual hair follicles. So there’s one longer, consistent area that might have some discomfort during the recovery period.
During the actual transplant surgeries themselves, you will be equally numb for both treatments and so there’s no real difference between which of the treatments actually hurts more during the process. It’s only in the aftermath that FUT might feel a little more uncomfortable, and for a longer period of time too.
Generally, FUT has a longer recovery time, taking up to 12 days for full normal activities to resume. That’s because the swelling can be a little more uncomfortable around the donor area due to the larger scar.
It’s usually manageable by pain medication – typically Ibuprofen or Tylenol, and it won’t be terribly sore.
FUE has a much shorter recovery time, and you generally won’t feel any discomfort after a couple of days.
Does the local anesthesia hurt before a hair transplant?
The local anesthetic injections delivered before your hair transplant can hurt, especially at the back of the neck where your donor area is numbed. There are lots of nerves here and so the pain can be quite intense but only very briefly – the anesthetic works very quickly.
Nobody enjoys having injections, but if you don’t have a phobia of them then you should be fine with the anesthetic. If you are scared, you can at least be reassured by how quickly the pain goes away.
Henry said that it was pretty instantaneous and that the injection pain went away straight away, and he described it as “bad” but “not too bad” when you first feel the injection. The injection to numb the recipient area isn’t as bad, and then you won’t feel a thing.
You can still hear the sound of the hair follicle being removed – Henry described it as a cross between someone walking in the snow and a small hole punch sound. It can be uncomfortable because of the noise, but you’re given anti-sickness tablets before the procedure to help with that too.
They also have a tool to help with the pain of the injection – like an old electric foil razor – with the vibrations helping to mask the pain.
How long does a hair transplant take?
One thing to be aware of – the transplants take a long time, up to 12 hours or more – and they have to be completed within a day. The follicles won’t last once extracted if they are not implanted again on the same day.
Either way, you should expect a long day. You should be kept in relative comfort, and while you may be asked to move around in different positions, or lay on your front on a table with a face hole, you may also have to sit still for longer periods of time.
This might not hurt, but it might not be completely comfortable. Some clinics provide entertainment like a TV, so it’s not the most boring thing in the world.
However, it’s a good idea to make sure you minimize any sporting activities in the run-up to your transplant. That way, you don’t have any lingering muscle pain that might become sore if you’re in seated or prone positions for long periods of time.
Some companies offering hair transplants may go a little further in making you comfortable during the process. They may offer to play music to help you relax, or even provide aromatherapy during your treatment.
This can help to reduce stress levels, which can in turn help to minimize the pain you feel during those initial injections.
How long does the back of your head hurt after a hair transplant?
The pain levels caused by the donor part of your head after a hair transplant will vary but should never be extremely sore. For FUE transplants the discomfort normally ends after a day or two – FUT transplants can last longer, up to 12 days at most.
But even then, it varies on whether or not the area actually hurts, or if it’s just a little bit uncomfortable due to the swelling.
That’s how Henry described it. It didn’t hurt, but it was just a little uncomfortable and felt swollen for a couple of days, no more than that.
Anyone opting for an FUT transplant might find that it is uncomfortable for longer due to the larger scar, which can take some time to settle down.
In neither case should you feel high levels of pain, or pain for prolonged periods of time. You’ll be recommended to either return to the transplant organization for a check-up if you are in too much pain, or you’ll be directed to your doctor to have it checked out.
The area of your head receiving the new hair will hurt even less – the pain of having the follicles inserted into your head shouldn’t leave too much discomfort at all.
Part of the reason for this is down to how many blood vessels there are in the scalp. It’s an area rife with them, and so there is plenty of blood carrying plenty of oxygen to the affected areas, helping it to recover really quickly.
How to protect your grafts after a hair transplant
There are a number of ways you must be careful after a transplant in order to protect your grafts.
Firstly, you want to avoid anything making contact with the new hair for at least a week, and even after that, you should minimize contact as much as possible for a while longer.
This primarily means you need to be careful sleeping. You won’t be able to sleep flat on your back, side, or front and instead you’ll need to use a combination of pillows to keep your head elevated, including travel-type pillows for your neck.
You’ll also need to keep your chin tucked into your chest, but this isn’t just because you’re minimizing contact with the parts of your scalp that have been operated on – you also need to avoid any blood rushing to the head.
The number of blood vessels around the graft area might help with recovery time, but it can also cause problems if too much blood rushes to the area – it can dislodge the follicles from their new home.
So as well as sleeping as close to sitting upright as you can, you’ll also need to avoid bending over for a few days. Ask for help tying shoelaces, or use slip-on shoes to avoid issues.
Washing is something else you need to be careful with too. You won’t be able to wash the hair for a week, and then after that, you’ll need to use special shampoo and only wash the hair by allowing water to run over it.
Over another week or two, you can build up to massaging your scalp and breaking down some of the scabbed tissue.
You should avoid playing sports for the first 2-3 weeks after your procedure, or doing anything which is too exertive. You don’t want your follicles to be dislodged, since you only have a finite number of donor sites to try.
Don’t panic if you see hair falling out though – shedding is a normal part of the procedure. You aren’t really transplanting the hair, but the follicles. Your new hair will shed, and then it will regrow.
Your personal plan for caring for your hair may differ slightly, so it’s important to listen to the instructions you’re given by the doctors carrying out your transplant. This guide gives you an idea of what to expect, but if you are told differently because of the nature of your transplant, follow the advice they give you.
I’m a bald guy and I’m more than comfortable with the decision I made to go without hair. However, that doesn’t mean that the decision I took is right for everyone.
If anyone tries to tell you what you should do with your receding hairline or balding scalp, don’t be pressured into making a decision that isn’t right for you.
A hair transplant is a legitimate way to deal with male pattern baldness, as are medication, hair systems, scalp micropigmentation, and shaving.
From speaking to Henry and researching what doctors and other past patients say, you really don’t have anything to worry about when it comes to pain during hair transplants.
A lot of people say it’s nowhere near as bad as a dentist visit, and some people even say they fall asleep during the procedure – they’re that comfortable. Plus, any pain is temporary, which is a small price to pay given that a hair transplant is permanent.
Whether or not you need a hair transplant is another question entirely and my own recommendation would be to at least try the shaved head look first. If you’re not sure whether it’s for you, this might help: What would I look like bald?
But if it’s really not for you, and you’re determined you’d rather pay for a hair transplant, then you can at least know it won’t be too painful.
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