Another technique used in the treatment of baldness is called tissue expansion. Plastic surgeons are the leaders in tissue expansion, a procedure commonly used in reconstructive surgery to repair burn wounds and injuries with significant skin loss. Its application in hair transplant surgery has yielded dramatic results-significant coverage in a relatively short amount of time.
In this technique, a balloon-like device called a tissue expander is inserted beneath hair-bearing scalp that lies next to a bald area. The device is gradually inflated with salt water over a period of weeks, causing the skin to expand and grow new skin cells. This causes a bulge beneath the hair-bearing scalp, especially after several weeks.
When the skin beneath the hair has stretched enough-usually about two months after the first operation-another procedure is performed to bring the expanded skin over to cover the adjacent bald area. For more information about tissue expansion, ask your plastic surgeon for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Inc. brochure entitled, Tissue Expansion: Creating New Skin from Old.
Just before surgery, the “donor area” will be trimmed short so that the grafts can be easily accessed and removed. For punch grafts, your doctor may use a special tube-like instrument made of sharp carbon steel that punches the round graft out of the donor site so it can be replaced in the area to be covered—generally the frontal hairline. For other types of grafts, your doctor will use a scalpel to remove small sections of hair-bearing scalp, which will be divided into tiny sections and transplanted into tiny holes or slits within the scalp. When grafts are taken, your doctor may periodically inject small amounts of saline solution into the scalp to maintain proper skin strength. The donor site holes may be closed with stitches—for punch grafts, a single stitch may close each punch site; for other types of grafts, a small, straight-line scar will result. The stitches are usually concealed with the surrounding hair.
To maintain healthy circulation in the scalp, the grafts are placed about one-eighth of an inch apart. In later sessions, the spaces between the plugs will be filled in with additional grafts. Your doctor will take great care in removing and placement of grafts to ensure that the transplanted hair will grow in a natural direction and that hair growth at the donor site is not adversely affected.
After the grafting session is complete, the scalp will be cleansed and covered with gauze. You may have to wear a pressure bandage for a day or two. Some doctors allow their patients to recover bandage-free.