Hair Transplant Series: What can cause a hair transplant to go wrong?

Whilst the number of men opting to undergo a hair transplant is rising fast, and industry standards are improving, we still hear horror stories of hair transplants gone wrong.

Common stories include procedures where the transplant has failed to take, allergic reactions, infections, permanent scarring, and an over-harvesting of donor sites that have left a devastating trail of bald patches on the back of the head.

In this article we give you the top factors to focus in on, to ensure the procedure and recovery go according to plan, and you won’t be left disappointed. 

Experience of the Surgeon

With something as personal as hair loss don’t rely on others to make the decision for you.

Testimonials and online starred reviews may be fine for a restaurant choice, but a hair transplant can carry much greater consequences.

It's important to do the groundwork and find a surgeon who is qualified and experienced in carrying out this type of surgery.

In the UK, all doctors must be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). They should be listed on the specialist register and have a licence to practise.

Also, check the British Association of Plastic Reconstruction and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) website to see if the surgeon is a "full member" on the specialist register for plastic surgery.

As per the NHS guidance, always book a consultation with the person who will do the procedure before making your final decision.

The questions that you should ask your surgeon include:

  • their qualifications and experience
  • the number of hair transplants they've performed
  • the number of hair transplants they've performed where there have been complications
  • the type of hair transplant they would recommend for you and why
  • the sort of follow-up you should expect if things go wrong
  • their patient satisfaction rates
Make sure you are suitable For a Hair Transplant

Not all men are suitable candidates for a hair transplant and there are several reasons why this may be the case.

Prior to any surgery, your doctor will conduct various tests and review your detailed medical history, including genetic information.

This research will help determine factors such as your hair loss classification and likely future hair loss pattern, serving as a guide as to whether you’re a good candidate.

The reasons that a doctor may state you are not suitable for the procedure include;

  • Your hair loss is not due to genetics. Hair transplants work when hair loss is due to genetics, principally male pattern baldness. If your hair loss is due to medication, or chemotherapy, then you would not be deemed suitable.
  • Your hair loss has not yet stabilised. Hair loss usually stabilises in our 30s. Doctors tend to prefer to wait until this has happened so that they can more accurately determine the pattern that future hair loss will follow, and style the procedure around this.
  • You have an insufficient donor hair supply. Hair transplants involve transplanting hair taken from donor sites which are not prone to thinning or balding. An insufficient amount of donor hair may mean a transplant is unfeasible.
  • You may not even need a hair transplant. If your hair loss has been induced by anxiety, stress or a shock or trauma, the odds are that it is only temporary and the lost hair will likely grow back.
Sufficient Post-Operative Care

Taking care of yourself after the hair transplant procedure is as important as the operation itself.

In advance of your hair surgery your doctor should provide you with the after-care instructions and information regarding the post-operative treatment.

You need to be especially careful with your transplanted hair for the first 2 weeks after your operation as the grafts will not be secure.

The general guidance is to minimise contact with the transplanted area. For example, it is advised that you sleep on your back with your head tilted at a 45° angle for the first 5-7 nights.

It’s also important to minimise the chance of infection. General advice includes to avoid daily household tasks for two weeks and again avoid unsterilised hand contact with the transplanted follicles.

The general recovery time is as follows;

2-5 days: Bandages can usually be removed (you should not touch the grafts)

Day 6: Able to wash your hair gently by hand (with mild shampoos only)

After 10-14 days: Non-dissolvable stitches can usually be removed.

Manage your expectations

The hair transplant surgery is the first stage of the procedure. The post-operative recovery phase is just as important and extends over a longer period of time.

Some men can rush to conclusions, declaring the operation unsuccessful without giving any chance for hair growth and completing the regenerative process.

Wanting to see remarkable results as soon as possible is absolutely normal. However, the full results of a hair transplant can take as long as 12 months to be realised, potentially longer. 

Prior to the procedure, to reduce the risk of being disappointed, you should create a list of what you expect to be achieved from your hair restoration e.g. density of coverage, natural look, timeline to take effect etc.

Research and then reach out to clinics that you believe can match these expectations. Understanding how they can meet your expectations will help you appreciate the process and be happy with your hair transplant result.


This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Written by Dr. Mike Firth, GP and Medical Director

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