New Hair Transplant Procedure Makes Plugs Obsolete

A new hair transplant surgery that promises less pain and fewer scars will make its Florida debut this week.

Instead of removing hair from the back of the head in an ear-to-ear cut, a robot takes tiny circular grafts, also from the back of the head, that are barely noticeable, said Dr. Glenn Charles, of Boca Raton, the physician who will perform the transplant on Thursday.

"We are heading into the future of hair transplant technology," said Charles, who has been performing hair surgeries for 14 years. "The robot assists the doctor much more accurately and with minimal discomfort."

It used to be easy to recognize people who had hair transplants: their "plugs," or masses of up to 15 implanted hairs, seemed clumsily implanted into their scalps. But in recent years, doctors have begun performing tiny grafts of just a few hairs and replanting them more skillfully.

In the latest evolution, they are being guided by robots. The surgery, known as ARTAS, still takes most of a day: the robot works for about three hours to remove the hair and the doctor spends about three hours implanting it. It's more expensive than the old surgeries: about $10 per graft of one to four hairs, compared with about $5 per graft for the strip surgery. A typical surgery averages 2,000 grafts, Charles said. These surgeries are not typically covered by insurance because they are usually cosmetic.

The robot's work applies to hair removal but not implantation, which is performed in the traditional way, by manually placing grafts into the scalp under local anesthesia.

Vincent DeLany, of Denver, Colo., had traditional strip surgery as well as robotic surgery three times, most recently in August. He said the strip technique was more painful because there were stitches and oozing scars and a longer recovery time.

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