Can gray hair be transplanted?
That is a question often asked when a person with graying or gray hair begins to experience hair loss due to androgenetic alopecia, the condition commonly called male- or female-pattern hair loss (Click on About Your Hair Loss).
The answer is "Yes, gray hair can be transplanted as safely and successfully as hair of any color." A misconception about gray hair is that when hair turns gray it is no longer healthy hair. If this was true, then gray hair would not be suitable for transplantation. The rationale for transplantation is to move healthy hair follicles to an area of hair loss where they can "take root" and continue to produce healthy hair (Click on Hair Transplant Surgery). Transplantation of gray hair is successful because gray hair is healthy hair produced by healthy hair follicles.
Why Does Hair Turn Gray?
Hair gets its color from pigments called melanins that are produced by specialized cells called melanocytes in the hair follicle. What melanins are produced, and in what quantity, is determined by genes inherited from one's parents. At some point in a person's life, the melanocytes may begin to produce less melanin, or stop producing melanin altogether. When melanin production slows or stops, hair begins to lose its color and the result is decreased pigmentation in gray hair or total absence of pigmentation in white hair.
Why do melanocytes stop producing melanin? It isn't known with certainty, but current knowledge indicates that a biological clock under genetic control determines when melanocytes stop producing melanin. "Getting gray" is a normal process associated with aging (excepting some graying of hair associated with disease or congenital abnormalities). Graying of hair commonly begins at about age 40 to 50 but may begin as early as 20 to 30. By age 35 about 25% of men and women have some gray hair; by age 50, graying is seen in about half of the population. Graying is less noticeable in fair-haired individuals and may be well advanced before it is esthetically apparent. People with brown or black hair often experience graying as a "salt-and-pepper" appearance of gray hair interspersed with hair that has so far retained its color. The process of graying usually begins at the temples and gradually advances to involve hair over the entire scalp.
An associated change in the hair follicle may be production of less lubricating oil by sebaceous (oil-producing) cells as a person ages. This can cause gray and white hair to be dryer than pigmented hair. Dryer hair can be more liable to damage from combing and brushing, and may be more difficult to style. Suggestions regarding hair care and selection of hair care products may be provided by the physician hair restoration specialist.
Is Transplantation Safe and Successful for Older Patients with Gray Hair?
Age alone does not remove a person from consideration for hair transplantation. Physician hair restoration specialists have reported successful hair transplantation in patients more than 80 years old. The most important factors in considering older patients for hair transplantation are the same as those for younger patients: (1) cause of hair loss (Click on Hair Loss—Diagnosis and Analysis). (2) physical condition on medical examination, (3) medical history, (4) scalp condition, (5) pattern of hair loss, and (6) the patient’s expectations for improvement in appearance (Click on Surgical Hair Restoration).
Expectation for outcome of hair transplantation should be thoroughly discussed with the physician hair restoration specialist. A patient whose hair is in process of graying but is not totally gray should discuss the appearance he/she wishes to achieve currently and in the future as the process of graying is likely to continue. An even distribution of graying is an appearance that a patient commonly wishes to maintain.
Can Transplanted Gray Hair Be Dyed to Restore Color?
Hair dye can Be safely applied to transplanted gray hair. The physician hair restoration specialist can advise the patient regarding how soon after transplantation hair dye can be safely applied.