If you could confidently recommend scalp tattooing to your hair loss patients, would you? One international hair loss clinic says they offer the procedure and can deliver effective results using tattooing to replicate real shaven hair follicles on the scalp.
Scalp Micro-pigmentation, or SMP, according to a HIS Hair Clinic press release, “…was developed as both a cosmetic procedure for men suffering with all types of hair loss, and as a medical procedure to help conceal scars, burns and birthmarks, as well as the full spectrum of alopecia strains.”
The company says the tattoo treatment is generally administered in two to three sessions, each about one week apart.
HIS Hair’s marketing coordinator Nate Ward tells Cosmetic Surgery Times that the procedure is similar to tattooing in that pigment is being inserted into the skin. Where it’s different is in the pigment.
“…we use an organic pigment that doesn’t contain the chemicals or metallic ingredients one would find in traditional tattoo ink. So, there is no worry about the pigment color distorting or fading to a greenish/blueish grey like we see in old tattoos,” Ward says. “We use a different needle that’s specifically designed for cosmetic procedures — it’s smaller so it doesn’t penetrate the skin as deep as [a] normal tattoo needle, and it delivers a much smaller amount of pigment under the skin.”
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Ward makes another distinction comparing SMP with general tattooing. “While our practitioners are very talented and this is a creative solution to hair loss, SMP is less intricate than the art form of modern-day tattooing. We simply replicate the appearance of the hair follicle at its shortest length to give the appearance that the client has a full head of hair that’s kept shortly buzzed or shaved.”
SMP treatment lasts from eight to 15 years before needing touchups. And SMP dots, which are typically placed in the dermis 90 to 150 micrometers in diameter, might seem larger than a human hair, “but when viewed from six inches or further away, the size is indistinguishable from real hair follicles,” according to the release.
The pigmentation is removable with electro-optic Q switched laser, and treatment costs from $2,400 to $4,500. Non-physicians perform the treatments, according to the public relations person who distributed the release.
Too Good to Be True?
Hair restoration surgeon Alan J. Bauman, M.D., medical director of the Boca Raton, Fla.-based Bauman Medical Group, says the results that he has seen with patients who have had scalp tattooing at chain clinics and elsewhere has been less than impressive.
“I think for some African Americans who have the need for the two-dimensional ‘illusion’ of buzz-cut hair, or to increase the appearance of coverage in previously transplanted zones, it might be a good solution,” Dr. Bauman tells Cosmetic Surgery Times.
Problems from the approach range from hairline designs that are too straight or don’t have proper temple proportions or temporal points to color fading and color mismatching.
“While the buzz cut style is certainly acceptable, most of my male patients want hair they can see, feel, touch, comb and style… you can’t get that with a tattoo. Keep in mind also that the pigment uptake, stability and longevity of ink into scars is highly variable and unpredictable,” Dr. Bauman says. “Old hair transplant scars can be treated with FUE and body hair transplants (BHT) if donor is in short supply. Scar tissue from FUE is undetectable without magnification and typically invisible with a donor hair length clipped between #1 or #2 guard.”
Dr. Bauman suggests patients carefully consider the costs of the SMP and factor in the thousands of dollars that might be needed to remove the tattoo in case it needs to be removed before proceeding.