A Guide to Non Surgical Hair Replacement
Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Whether you’re receding at the temples or thinning all over your scalp, dealing with hair loss is rarely an enjoyable process.
Luckily, if you’re genetically prone to male pattern baldness, watching your hair slowly become thinner is no longer mandatory.
From medications like finasteride to procedures like hair transplantation, a range of options are available to help you protect and maintain your hairline.
If using medication or undergoing surgery doesn’t sound appealing to you(scalp micropigmentation regrets, for one reason), one option you might have considered is non-surgical hair replacement.
Non-surgical hair replacement involves the use of a hair “system” (essentially a fancy term for a toupée). Unlike the toupées of decades past, many modern hair systems look convincing, with a similar shape and texture to your real hair. Some are even made using natural human hair.
While non-surgical hair replacement systems have advantages, they also have a few downsides that you’ll need to keep in mind if you’re considering this option for dealing with hair loss.
Below, we’ve explained what non-surgical hair replacement is, as well as how non-surgical hair replacement products work. We’ve also listed a variety of alternatives, such as medication and hair transplant surgery, that you may want to consider if you’re starting to lose your hair.
What is Non-Surgical Hair Replacement?
Non-surgical hair replacement is a term that has two meanings. The first generally refers to any type of treatment for male pattern baldness that doesn’t involve surgery.
This is a very diverse, broad category that includes hair loss medications such as minoxidil and finasteride, supplements, shampoos for preventing hair fall, hair care devices and several other types of products.
The second is more specific. It refers to a small range of products that are worn on or applied to the scalp to replace hair that’s fallen out due to male pattern baldness.
These products include a range of off-the-shelf and personalized hair replacement “systems,” as well as non-surgical procedures such as scalp micropigmentation.
Non-Surgical Hair Replacement Options
The most effective way to treat hair loss is generally by using FDA-approved medications such as finasteride and minoxidil, either on their own or with hair restoration procedures such as hair transplant surgery.
Finasteride works by preventing your body from converting testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the androgen hormone responsible for male pattern hair loss.
Minoxidil, on the other hand, is a topical medication that’s believed to encourage hair growth by stimulating blood flow to the areas of the scalp to which it’s applied.
The biggest advantage of treating hair loss with medication and/or surgery is that it works, and not just in the short term. Instead of masking the problem, medications like finasteride can help to stop hair loss for good by blocking it at its root cause.
However, not everyone wants to rely on long-term use of medication or costly surgery to protect and maintain their hair.
If you’re starting to lose your hair and don’t want to use medication or undergo surgery to stop it from falling out, a range of options are available.
We’ve talked about the most common non-surgical hair replacement products below, along with more information on the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
Hair Replacement Systems
Hair replacement systems are essentially wigs or toupées. Unlike the synthetic-looking, plainly artificial wigs that most people associate with the word “toupée,” hair replacement systems vary widely in quality, with some virtually impossible to tell apart from real, natural hair.
At the lower end of the scale, you can find various stock systems, or hairpieces. Many of these have a polyurethane base that sits against your scalp, with either artificial hair or human hair in a variety of colors and lengths.
While artificial hair systems tend to look, well, artificial, many hair replacement systems that use human hair can be cut to match your natural hair by a stylist and often blend in fairly well.
At the higher end of the scale, you can find various customized hair systems that are designed to match your hair color, style, and the shape of your head. Although a keen observer might be able to spot it, some of the higher-quality hair systems can look extremely convincing.
If you’re losing your hair or already have significant hair loss, a hair replacement system might offer certain advantages:
Cost. Compared to undergoing surgery, wearing a hair replacement system is a much more affordable option.
Convenience. Surgical procedures such as hair transplantation usually have a recovery time of one to two weeks. In comparison, fitting a hair system before you go out can be an easier, more convenient option.
On the other hand, hair replacement systems also have a range of disadvantages. These may include:
Poor quality. Hair systems can vary significantly in quality, with some low-end products poorly made and unconvincing. If you’re worried about your hair “looking fake,” using a hair system may not be for you.
Cost. Although the cost of certain hair systems can be an advantage, it may also be a disadvantage. Inexpensive hair systems tend to look cheap, while convincing ones can often cost a significant amount of money.
Longevity. Many hair systems are only designed to be used for weeks or months at a time, after which they need to be replaced. Over the long term, this can add up, both financially and in the amount of time you spend dealing with new hair systems.
Scalp micropigmentation, or SMP, is a non-surgical procedure that uses small, tattooed dots to create the appearance of thicker hair.
Although it doesn’t replace hair, the dots created on the scalp by micropigmentation can cover up thin areas and replicate the look of fuller hair.
Micropigmentation is used to aesthetically treat a variety of types of hair loss, such as alopecia areata, scarring alopecias and male pattern baldness.
It can also be used to cover up scarring from hair transplant surgery, which — when performed with older techniques — can leave behind clearly visible scars and areas on the scalp with little or no hair growth.
Like other non-surgical options for treating hair loss, scalp micropigmentation has advantages and disadvantages. Advantages of scalp micropigmentation include:
Convenience. Scalp micropigmentation is a non-surgical procedure. As such, it doesn’t cause the pain, discomfort and recovery time of surgical procedures like hair transplant surgery.
Lack of maintenance. Unlike a hair system, there’s no need to apply micropigmentation to your scalp. After the procedure is completed, the pigmentation is applied to your scalp for the long term and usually doesn’t require significant ongoing maintenance.
Disadvantages of scalp micropigmentation include:
Unnatural appearance. Overall, patient satisfaction from scalp micropigmentation tends to be high. However, when it’s performed poorly, or performed on a scalp with little or no hair, it may not produce a natural looking result.
It’s essentially a tattoo. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re basically getting several tattoos on the affected area. This means that the color of the ink could change over time as your skin ages. If not done by a professional, you may experience complications such as infection or an allergic reaction to certain pigments in the ink.
Cost. Although scalp micropigmentation is generally less expensive than hair transplant surgery, it’s quite an expensive procedure. A typical scalp micropigmentation procedure may cost anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000.
Our article on scalp micropigmentation regrets shares more concerns to be aware of before getting this procedure.
What Are the Benefits of Non-Surgical Hair Replacement?
Non-surgical hair replacement has several benefits, from the lower cost of using a hair system to the lack of any need to take medication on a daily basis.
Arguably the biggest advantage of non-surgical hair replacement is that it provides results -- or at least an aesthetic improvement -- right away. If you opt for a hair system, you’ll look as if you have a full head of hair the moment it’s fitted to your scalp.
This can provide a fast, convenient confidence boost, without the long commitment that comes with using medication.
To put this in perspective, hair loss treatments such as finasteride and minoxidil generally take three to six months to produce visible results, and as long as one year to produce a significant improvement in issues such as hair thinning.
Surgical treatments, such as a hair transplant, also require a significant time commitment. Not only can the procedure take several days to complete, but it can take months before your new hair may completely grow back in.
In comparison, the process of having a hair system fitted is generally fast and easy, and using the hair system once it’s fitted rarely takes long.
Another benefit of non-surgical hair restoration is the cost. Although hair loss medication is far from expensive, hair transplant surgery can cost tens of thousands of dollars, especially if you want to achieve a full head of hair after your procedure.
In contrast, many moderate to high quality hair systems can be purchased for several hundred dollars -- a small fraction of the price of hair transplant surgery.
Other Options for Treating Hair Loss
Although options like hair replacement systems and scalp micropigmentation can help to create the appearance of a thick, healthy head of hair, the reality is that they don’t actually do anything to treat or prevent hair loss.
This means that by choosing a non-surgical hair system over medication, you’ll usually continue to lose hair, even though your thinning hair will be covered up.
If you’re starting to lose your hair and want to truly do something about it, options are available to help you slow down or stop your hair loss.
In some cases, you may even be able to grow back hair in areas of your scalp affected by male pattern baldness if treatment begins early enough.
We’ve listed these options below, including FDA-approved medications and surgical procedures to restore your hair.
FDA-Approved Hair Loss Medications
Currently, the FDA has approved two different medications to treat hair loss: finasteride (sold as a generic medication and as Propecia®) and minoxidil (also sold as a generic drug or under the brand name Rogaine®).
Both of these medications are backed up by real scientific research showing that they can treat hair loss and stimulate hair growth. However, both medications need to be used on an ongoing basis to produce long-lasting results.
Finasteride is an oral medication that works by blocking DHT, the androgen hormone that binds to receptors in your scalp and causes a receding hairline, thinning and other signs of hair loss.
Used regularly, finasteride can reduce the amount of DHT in your body by 70 percent -- enough to either slow down, stop or reverse hair loss.
Several studies have found that it works well as a hair loss treatment, including one in which 91 percent of men experienced improvements in hair regrowth.
We offer finasteride online, following an online consultation with a physician who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Minoxidil is a topical medication for hair loss that’s available over the counter. Unlike finasteride, it doesn’t block DHT. Instead, it improves hair growth by promoting blood flow to your scalp and shifting your hair follicles into the anagen, or growth, phase of the hair growth cycle.
Research also supports the efficacy of minoxidil, with several studies showing improvements in hair growth amongst men who use it.
In one study, researchers found that 59 percent of men with pattern hair loss who used minoxidil over the course of a year demonstrated improvements.
Interestingly, the same study found that minoxidil was particularly effective when it was used at the same time as finasteride, with 94.1 percent of men treated with both medications displaying improvements over a one-year period.
You can learn more about how minoxidil works in our guide to how long it takes for minoxidil to produce noticeable results, as well as our detailed guide to minoxidil side effects.
Hims has helped thousands of men regrow their hair
Hair Transplant Surgery
Although the idea of undergoing surgery to reverse hair loss can feel daunting, hair transplant surgery is a highly effective option that may be worth considering if you’ve already lost a large amount of hair.
Hair transplant surgery involves moving hair follicles from the back and sides of your scalp -- areas that are more resistant to DHT -- to your hairline, crown or other areas with visible hair loss.
Technically, hair loss surgery doesn’t replace lost hair. However, it can have a major positive impact on your appearance, especially if you have hair loss in a highly visible area.
Our guide to hair transplants goes into more detail on how hair transplantation surgery works, the different methods that are used to extract and transplant hair follicles, the typical costs of hair transplant surgery and more.
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No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere. Early action is the best hair loss prevention.
Should You Try Non-Surgical Hair Replacement?
Non-surgical hair replacement systems and procedures such as scalp micropigmentation can offer a range of advantages, especially if you’d prefer to avoid surgery.
However, they also have significant downsides, ranging from the cost of wearing a hair system to an unnatural appearance. Despite their hair “replacement” branding, they also don’t replace the hair that you’ve lost -- instead, they simply cover up the fact that it’s missing.
There’s no perfect option for treating hair loss. From a hair system to medication, surgery or a different solution, it’s best to consider your unique needs and choose the option that best suits you as an individual.
You can also learn more about successfully dealing with male pattern baldness in our guide to the best treatments for thinning hair.