Pros & Cons of Beard Transplants — Plus a Few Alternatives

A burly beard is one of the sexiest characteristics a man can possess. But what happens when you want to grow a beard but just can’t.

This can be truly heartbreaking, but there is hope. With beard hair transplants — or beard transplants, it is possible to transform bare baby faces into manly gardens of luscious facial hair. Beard Transplants Before and After

Like all hair transplants, beard transplants involve removing hair from one part of the body – the donor site – and implanting it elsewhere on the body – the recipient area. In the case of beard transplants, the hair is inserted into the cheeks, chin, or neck.

But beard transplants do possess some medical risks and can be quite costly. Fortunately, there are alternatives that might be better suited for your face and wallet. Below I highlight several pros, cons, and alternatives to help you decide whether or not a beard transplant is right for you.

Why You Should Get a Beard Transplant

With years of proven results, beard transplants are the most effective way to create new hair growth on the face. They use your own hair to create realistic results. Furthermore, the surgery and healing process are both relatively quick and mostly painless. 

Use Your Own Natural Hair

Beard transplants are a specific form of facial hair transplantation in which hair is removed from one part of the body and inserted into small incisions on the chin, cheeks, or neck. Like all hair transplants, the process involves using your own hair to create new hair growth.

Follicular Unit Excision vs. Follicular Unit Transplantation

However, not all beard transplants are the same. Today, surgeons typically use one of two main approaches based on the needs of the patient:

Follicular Unit Excision (FUE)is the most common form of hair transplant surgery and is conducted in a few simple steps:

  1. The donor area and recipient areas are cut to make the removal and insertion of hairs easier.
  2. Tiny holes are drilled into the face where the transplant is going to take place.
  3. Individual hairs are removed from the scalp with the follicle intact — these are called follicular units
  4. The follicular units are implanted into the holes on the face.

Follicular Unit Transplantation (FUT) is the second most common hair transplant surgery and involves strip harvesting and dissection. This process is a bit more complex than FUE but is still fairly simple:

  1. Like FUE, hair on the donor and recipient hair is shaved, and holes are first drilled into the face.
  2. A small strip of hair-covered tissue is cut from the scalp to another part of the body with the hair follicles intact — this is called strip harvesting.
  3. The wound created by strip harvesting is sealed.
  4. The harvested strip of tissue is dissected into smaller sections under a microscope.
  5. Sections of tissue with one to four hair follicles are grafted onto the face.

Sometimes, both of these procedures will be used together to create the best results. But whether FUE, FUT, or both is used, beard transplants always use your own naturally growing hair. There is nothing fake about this treatment.

The Results Look Real — Moving Past Hair Plugs

Until the late 1980s, hair transplants involved using large, 4mm punch scalpels to remove portions of hair-covered tissue. These large chunks of hair were then “plugged” into areas without hair. Over time, people started negatively referring to these hair transplants as “hair plugs.”

Punch Scalpels in Various Sizes

Punch-Scalpels in 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 5, 6, & 8 mm sizes

The unrealistic appearance of hair plugs led Dr. Bobby Limar to develop FUT in 1988.  FUE was also first introduced in 1988, but it was not refined until 2002. In 2017, it overtook FUT as the most practiced form of hair transplantation surgery, and by 2020, 66% of hair transplants were completed using FUE alone. None involved using hair plugs.

There are very few studies on patient satisfaction with beard transplants despite the fact they have increased by over 557% between 2012 and 2019. However, studies about patient satisfaction with general hair transplants have consistently shown positive results. For example, of people who received hair transplants via strip harvesting showed that 98% rated the results as “good” or “excellent.” Additionally, a 2020 study showed that 90% of the patients were satisfied or very satisfied with the results of FUE.

In short, hair transplants are today the results are highly realistic and the vast majority of patients are satisfied with the results of their hair transplants.

Quick, Easy, and Mostly Painless

Beard transplantation surgery and the healing process take very little time compared to many other surgeries. Typically you’ll be in and out of the surgeon’s office within a day and back to work the next. 

Beard transplants are often completed in one session, though they occasionally will require two or three depending on how much hair is being grafted onto the face. Each session can take anywhere between two to 12 hours with most lasting under eight.

The healing time, however, happens within the first few weeks of a beard transplant and is relatively mild. Typically, the holes on the face will scab over a thin crust around the edge. These will usually fall off within a few days. Very rarely are there any complications.

Ned Kelly Beard

After three or four weeks, the transplanted hairs will fall out of the face, and the new beard will begin to grow. Within three to six months, you could be sporting a full Ned Kelly beard.

It is important to note that healing time may take longer with FUT. The donor site will often need to be stitched or sealed by your surgeon, and this will take longer to heal than the tiny punctures created by FUE.

The Bad Side of Beard Transplants

At this point, you may be sold on beard transplants. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also tell you about the bad side of beard transplants. Scarring is unavoidable and other complications may develop. Unskilled surgeons or preexisting health effects.

Scarring and Other Possible Complications

Both FUT and FUE will usually result in permanent scarring. This is usually worse with FUT because a strip of tissue is removed from the donor site. When the donor site heals, the original wound will become a scar, but this scar is usually just a very fine line that can be covered with existing hair. However, a short haircut might make the scar noticeable.

FUE lessens the risk of scars and decreases the possibility that they will be easily noticed. Since mini and micrografts are used, small circular scars may appear at the site where individual hair follicles are removed. These are typically very small and are usually invisible even with a short haircut.

FUE vs FUT Scars at Donor Site

Examples of FUE and FUT scars at the donor site

Both forms of hair transplantation may also leave scars at the recipient site. Because there are puncture wounds where the hairs are transplanted, small circular scars may develop around these areas. However, like the scars left by FUE at the donor site, these are small and often covered by the new beard.

There is the possibility ofmore extreme negative side effects such as infection at the donor or recipient site. However, the chance of infection is relatively minor, especially if the patient makes the effort to practice proper hygiene and cleaning routines during the healing process.

Be Aware of Bad Surgeons and Preexisting Health Conditions

While most complications can be avoided by a skilled surgeon, sometimes a surgeon can create more problems than they solve. For example, if they are performing FUT, they could cut too deeply into the donor site which could lead to a wide scar.

Additionally, there is the risk of overharvesting. This occurs when a surgeon takes too many hair follicles from a single donor site. In the case of FUE, this can make the pinpoint scars much more noticeable. With FUT, this can lead to a wide scar and abnormal hair growth.

Wide Scar by Botched FUT Procedure

Wide Scar and Abnormal Hair Growth Caused by Botched FUT Procedure

Another complication includes necrosis at the donor or recipient site. Necrosis occurs when blood circulation is reduced to the. area. This occasionally occurs when a wound is sealed too tightly after strip harvesting during FUT.

However, necrosis can also occur for other reasons. Even if the wound is sealed correctly, individual patients with poor blood circulation may experience necrosis. If enough blood can’t get to the site of the wound, the tissue can die.

Fortunately, while scarring is almost always unavoidable, most other complications can be avoided. First, talk to your doctor before making a decision to get a beard transplant. Your doctor can help you understand if you have preexisting health conditions that could get in the way of successful beard transplantation. Unfortunately, in some situations, these conditions may mean it's best to avoid beard transplants altogether. 

Additionally, you should do thorough research into various surgeons before scheduling an appointment. Look at their past surgeries and make sure they can prove that they have a record of successful surgeries. Read reviews and try to locate before and after photos of surgeries performed. These can help you to avoid complications that can develop from poorly performed surgery.

Nothing In This World Is Free

It’s unlikely that your health insurance will pay for your new beard. More than likely, you’re going to have to pay out of pocket. There are exceptions, but these are usually rare.

For example, if the hair loss is caused by fire, accident, or injury, then the hair transplant may qualify as reconstructive surgery. Still, this is something you’re going to have to prove before your insurance decides to fork up any cash. 

The problem is that many people may be unable to afford a beard transplant. While many cosmetic surgeries are much more expensive, beard transplants will typically cost you between £3,000 to £7,000. The price depends on a number of factors including the total number of sessions needed, market demand, and where you live.

Alternatives to Beard Transplants

Beard transplants are not right for everyone. Fortunately, there are other ways to increase beard hair growth and thickness. However, these alternatives aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. Some are just straight-up scams — like all those beard growth supplements that seem to be flooding the market.

Let’s Do Drugs! — A Look at Minoxidil

Minoxidil is a drug that has been used to treat hair loss since the late 1980s. It is sold under many different brand names, but “Rogaine” is probably the most famous.

Rogaine Minoxidil Topical Hair Growth Treatment

Between the 1950s and 70s, minoxidil was tested as a treatment for hypertension, but when a 1972 study showed unexpected hair growth in test subjects, everything changed. By 1988, the FDA had approved minoxidil as a treatment for hair loss. Eight years later it was being sold as an over-the-counter medication with various generic versions available.

Today, there are topical creams and foams that can be spread to increase hair growth in specific areas of the body. Additionally, there are minoxidil pills you can take to increase general hair growth.

Many studies support minoxidil’s ability to treat male-patterned baldness. However, there is less research about the effect of minoxidil on beard hair growth. Nonetheless, the research that does exist is positive. A 2016 study, for example, showed that minoxidil led to greater beard hair growth compared to placebos.

One problem with minoxidil is that you can never stop using it. Once you stop, your hair will fall out. Minoxidil is not a cure for hair growth; it is a treatment that can make hair grow as long as it continues to be used.

What About Beard Growth Supplements? — Hint: They’re Trash

Minoxidil is a drug with years of proven results that beard growth supplements are thoroughly lacking. There is little research to prove they do anything except cost you money. Nonetheless, clickbait articles across the blogosphere promise “beard growth supplements that actually work.”

But there’s no reliable evidence to support these claims. 

Unlike hair transplant surgery or minoxidil, there are no independent, peer-reviewed studies to prove the effectiveness of beard supplements. Furthermore, many of these are just vitamins and nutrients you can buy much more cheaply elsewhere.

Beard Growth Supplements Vitamins

Various supplements claim to support beard growth. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

Androgen supplements like DHT, DHEA, and DIM are also touted by many as cure-alls for beard hair growth. In their defense, they sometimes work because they naturally produce more “masculine” features when injected into the body. However, not everyone responds to these hormones in the same way. While one person may grow a beard, another might just suffer testicular shrinkage.

In short, beard growth supplements are a scam. Don’t fall for it.

Start Living a Healthier Life

Another often-cited alternative to beard transplants is to just live a healthy life. Many choices we make can cause decreased beard hair growth. Thus, some people reason that if we stop doing those unhealthy things and start doing healthy things instead, then beards will naturally grow.

But there’s no evidence to suggest this is true. Living a healthy life is generally a good idea, but it doesn’t mean you’re going to have any more luck growing a beard. 

It should be noted that exercise, sleep, diet, and good hygiene can all assist beard growth. If you do get a beard transplant, getting enough exercise and sleep, eating well, and practicing good hygiene may indirectly facilitate the healing process and lead to more positive results. But doing these things and nothing else probably won’t lead to a new or better beard.

Is a Beard Transplant Right for You?

The only person that can answer this question is you. There are many benefits to a beard transplant, but there are also risks. If you decide against a beard transplant, fully investigate alternatives before settling on anything. Don’t just go out and buy some supplements from some random dude’s blog because he promises they’ll work. Do your research, talk to your doctor, and figure out what’s best for you, your health, and your wallet. 

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