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Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
What comes to mind when you picture hair transplants? Hair that looks completely unnatural? Bad toupees that look more like a rug on top of your head than actual hair? Or, maybe, the dreaded “raccoon skin cap” routine? *shudder*
Fortunately, the days of fake-looking hair transplants are behind us, with more natural hair transplants becoming available. And whether you’re dealing with thinning hair or more advanced hair loss, transplants are one of many options to regain healthy-looking hair and confidence.
But how does a synthetic hair transplant work? Are there risks? What does a synthetic hair transplant before and after look like?
We’ll answer these questions and more, and shed some light on what you need to know about this type of hair implantation.
Before we dive into everything you need to know about a synthetic hair transplant, we’ll cover some basic information about hair transplantation.
Hair transplants are a way to restore full hair for those who deal with hair loss — most often androgenetic alopecia, a type of hair loss also called androgenic alopecia but more commonly known as male or female pattern baldness.
In a natural hair transplant, individual follicles of hair from a part of your scalp that isn’t affected by male pattern baldness (called the "donor site") are harvested and transplanted onto the part that is affected.
Hair transplants originally involved removing and transplanting “hair plugs," which were groups of several hair follicles in clusters. However, the hair grafts (the groups of follicles) would look unnatural due to a sometimes noticeable gap in between the hair plugs.
Our guide on hair transplants goes into more detail about the different types of transplants that use natural hair growth. But we’ll continue to focus on another type: synthetic hair transplants.
Natural hair wasn’t the only method for hair transplants. There have been attempts to use artificial hair — also referred to as artificial hair fibers or synthetic hair fibers — to treat baldness for decades.
However, the use of these artificial hair fibers was banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the 1980s due to unsafe application and subpar results that often led to severe infection, injury and more.
In the 1990s, the European Union allowed synthetic hair transplants as a legitimate treatment under ethical medical protocols to ensure safety along with the use of biocompatible fibers, or “bio fibers.”
This biocompatible artificial hair was made with a polyamide fiber that resulted in human hair-like fibers and produced fewer reactions due to advances in biomedical technology. One of the latest advancements in synthetic hair fibers is Automatic Biofibre® from Italy.
Synthetic hair implants — also referred to as bio fiber hair transplants — work differently than natural hair transplants.
To be a candidate for a natural hair transplant, you need enough healthy hair on your scalp that can be transplanted to the area that needs hair, as well as the ability to grow hair on the thinning area of your scalp.
A bio fiber hair transplant could be good for those who don’t qualify for a natural hair transplant due to either an insufficient amount of hair or the inability to grow hair on the thinning section of scalp. And synthetic fibers are available in a range of colors, lengths, shapes and hair densities.
Surgeons perform what’s called a “tolerance test” using an automatic hair implant device designed with a special hooked needle to place the synthetic hair fibers deep enough under the skin and tie a unique reversible knot to keep the fiber in place.
If you’re undergoing a synthetic hair transplant, the process involves local anesthesia on the scalp before the actual procedure. From there, the process can place 600 artificial hair fibers per hour on an anesthetized scalp, with the average procedure setting around 1,000 fibers.
The test patch is observed weekly for four weeks to check for any reactions on the scalp and to make sure the synthetic fibers don’t fall out.
Post-procedure care includes a special shampoo for three days and antibiotics for one week after the transplant, and activities that increase sweating should be avoided for the first three weeks. A healthcare provider may provide more details on how to care for the surgical site at home.
Studies on the safety of this procedure have been conducted and presented to the scientific community since the 2000s.
One 2018 study looked at 194 patients with androgenetic alopecia who underwent synthetic hair transplants to test the safety and effectiveness of Automatic Biofibre® implants. After two years, almost 98 percent of the patients were happy with the results and side effects were reported in less than 10 percent of patients.
An earlier study from 2015 — which looked at 133 patients who had synthetic hair implants — also reported very satisfactory results, with 90 percent having no difficulties after the surgery.
When synthetic hair transplants first became popular back in the 1980s, there were many risks and adverse effects that led to the FDA banning the use of synthetic fibers. Some of these risks included:
Scarring alopecia (cicatricial alopecia)
Frequent replacement of fibers
Many of these risks were due to the nonmedical performance of the implants and the use of fibers that weren’t compatible with the scalp. Currently, the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) agrees with the FDA’s ban on the use of synthetic hairs.
Although the studies mentioned above had few reported side effects, it’s worth noting that the sample size of each was relatively small. Ultimately, more studies and research need to be conducted to thoroughly evaluate the safety and effectiveness of this type of transplant.
“I tried several different options before but Hims combined approach of all four methods by far created the best results.”
“Hims has been the greatest confidence boost, no more bald jokes! I look and feel so much younger!”
“When I show my barber my progress, he is always in disbelief. I have to recommend Hims to any guy who’s experiencing thinning.”
“Cost effective and affordable. My hair keeps growing thicker, fuller, and at a fast rate.”
“I noticed a huge change in the overall health and fullness of my hairline.”
“Now after 5 months I’m able to style waves first time in 10 years!”
“I decided to jump right in and I'm so glad I did. I definitely feel ten years younger!”
“In just as little over two and half months, I can really see the difference in thickness and in color.”
“4-months strong and my confidence boosted back up to 100% using Hims, future me really does thank me.”
“I’m a 34-year-old father of two and have been using Hims for over a year now. My hair is back to what it was in my mid-twenties.”
While a synthetic hair transplant is one option to treat hair loss, there are less invasive methods you may be able to use that have proven successful.
Two medications approved by the FDA to treat hair loss in men that are also effective are minoxidil and finasteride. These hair loss treatments can slow hair loss and increase hair density, according to the Journal of Aesthetic & Reconstructive Surgery.
Minoxidil is usually applied topically (but can be taken orally). In contrast, finasteride can either be taken orally or as a topical treatment if you don’t want to take a pill every day.
Generic for Rogaine®, this FDA-approved over-the-counter version of topical minoxidil is used for regrowth on the crown of the head.
This is the FDA-approved dynamic duo. When used together, men saw better results in clinical trials compared to using either alone.
If you’re looking for something effective but don’t want too many steps in your routine, this once-a-day pill could be right for you.
Clinically proven to regrow hair in 3-6 months, no pills required.
Dealing with hair loss can be frustrating and may have you dreaming of your own synthetic hair transplant before and after. But there are things to consider with this type of hair transplant:
Synthetic hair fibers have been banned by the FDA since the 1980s. However, artificial hair implantation is allowed in Europe, mainly using artificial hair produced by an Italian company.
Not many side effects or risks are known about this process due to a lack of research conducted.
Some smaller studies have reported that synthetic hair transplants have been successful, with patients being satisfied with their results.
Artificial hair implants such as Biofibre® can potentially improve the aesthetic effects of male pattern baldness. Getting a hair transplant — whether synthetic or natural — is a big decision. It’s important to understand the effects, costs and limitations of any medical procedure before you go ahead.
You can read if hair implants are a viable solution in our guide. You can also consult with a healthcare professional about your hair loss treatment options, including medications like finasteride or minoxidil.