Hair Plugs vs. Hair Transplant

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Medically reviewed by Dr. Sternberg Written by David Stelzer on 4 Jan 2022

The term “hair plug” is loosely used by individuals outside of the hair transplant industry to describe any kind of hair grafts used in a hair transplant procedure. This is an incorrect usage of the term however as hair plugs are actually an archaic method of hair transplantation that have been out of date for decades now. Hair plugs refer to the large patches of tissues containing dozens of hairs used years ago which yielded very unnatural results.

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History of Hair Transplants

The first hair transplants were performed during the 1940s in Japan and the USA, they were vastly different than modern day hair transplants. These hair transplants were performed by taking a large punching tool to harvest dozens of hairs at once to use as implants. These were then inserted at even intervals across the top and front of the head. This hair plug method would leave behind large tufts of hair scattered across the scalp in the transplanted area rather than a natural hairline. These unnatural results would turn away many potential hair transplant candidates, which is why this cosmetic procedure did not gain much momentum until the late 1990s.

Number of hair transplants worldwide

The use of hair grafts consisting of one to two hairs did not come about until the 1980s in an attempt to create a more natural hairline. It slowly overtook the hair plug method in the next 20 years but still resulted in a plug-like hairline. In addition, the excess skin attached to the hair follicles wasn’t trimmed away creating larger recipient channels and leading to thinner grafted hair. The modern day FUT and FUE techniques weren’t pioneered until the 1990s, when follicular units were prepared from natural hair groupings. These hair groupings helped surgeons evolve past the plug-like hairlines which were characteristic of hair transplants until the modern techniques. Over the past decades not only the methods were greatly improved but also the cost for a hair transplant decreased due to multiple factors.

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What are hair plugs?

A hair plug is an outdated form of hair transplantation that fell largely out of use in the 1990s with the introduction of the FUT and FUE methods. A surgeon would use a large punching tool to remove tissue containing dozens of hairs for transplantation. These hairs were harvested from the donor area, located at the back of the head as the hairs there are resistant to the hormone that causes hair loss.

These round patches of skin would then be implanted into large recipient channels on the top of the head to restore hair growth. These large round patches would be evenly spaced across the balding areas, leading to a doll-like, patchy hair appearance. It was impossible to create a natural hair line with these hair plugs, giving less than optimal results to patients.

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Modern Hair Transplant Methods

Modern-day hair transplant methods still involve the same three phases of extraction, storage and insertion that the original hair plug method did. The two most commonly used hair transplant methods today are the FUT and FUE techniques.

The insertion of the hair follicles into the bald area is virtually identical for each method. Small recipient channels are prepared on the bald areas, into which the transplants are inserted with special angled tweezers. The different methods differ greatly however, in the extraction and removal process used for the hair follicles.

According to our medihair study with over 1,000 participants the FUE method is the most popular hair transplant technique nowadays:

Most common hair transplant method

The FUT method, or the Strip method, has accounted for the majority of hair transplants performed across the world. It involves the surgeon carefully removing a thin strip of skin from the donor area, typically located at the back of the head. This strip of skin with dense hair is then dissected into the individual hair follicles which will be used as grafts for the scalp.

The minimally invasive FUE method involves extracting natural hair groups consisting of one to four individual hair roots from the donor area using a very thin hollow needle and then inserting them in the recipient channels.

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Hair Transplants vs Hair Plugs

Modern-day hair transplant techniques are far superior than the hair plug methods. Although they involve the same three phases of extraction, storage and removal, the results are vastly different.

The hair plug method would leave a patchy appearance not only in the grafted area, but also in the donor area with many visible scars. It was very noticeable to others that an individual had a hair transplant by the evenly placed round patches of hair scattered across the hairline. The hair would grow in little bunches where the plugs were inserted rather than evenly across the head. It was impossible for hair surgeons to create natural results with the hair plug method.

Most common hair transplant types

Modern-day techniques allow a hair surgeon to perfectly blend transplanted grafts into the existing hair for a natural appearance. The small, natural groupings of one to four hair follicles allow for an even distribution across the scalp rather than hair growth in bunches. This eliminates the issues of an obvious, patchy hairline and motheaten donor area at the back of the head.

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Hair transplant terminology

There are many similar terms which refer to different aspects of hair transplantation, it can get quite confusing trying to differentiate between them. Here are some of the definitions for commonly used hair transplantation terms;

  • Hair Plug – An outdated form of hair transplant where round patches of tissue containing dozens of hairs was harvested to be used as an implant.
  • Hair Transplant – The actual cosmetic surgery where hair is harvested from the donor area then stored before it is inserted into the recipient channels.
  • Hair Graft – The strip of skin containing the follicular units taken from the donor area to be transplanted into the balding areas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do hair plugs really work?

Do hair plugs look natural?

Are hair plugs permanent?



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