Hair Transplant Gone Wrong: Signs, Causes & Solutions 

Although you will hear a lot of good things said about hair transplantation, you will also hear some less good things from others. A “hair transplant gone wrong” experience may be the reason. There are a lot of people who have gone through the same thing. 

Early on after the procedure, it’s difficult to identify what exactly has gone wrong and why. Knowing these things will allow you to get help as soon as possible or prevent you from getting into this situation in the first place.

One of the biggest reasons why people end up in the “hair transplant gone wrong” situation is that the demand for this surgery has soared. According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS) survey, 628,604 surgical patients were treated in 2021, and that’s an 8% increase from 2019. 

This demand has led to a black market for hair transplants. In the survey, 51% of ISHRS members reported black market hair transplant clinics in their cities. There’s a lot that can go wrong in such clinics. 

Can A Hair Transplant Go Wrong? 

It is very much possible for a hair transplant to go wrong. And it’s a prevalent problem because of illegal clinics. ISHRS has warned that in these clinics, the surgery may be performed by taxi drivers, refugees, or technicians who don’t have the required training. 

Some even have assembly lines in place. Patients are made false promises in a predatory pricing scheme. Healthcare standards and patient safety end up being compromised, sometimes fatally so.

There are different reasons that can contribute to the failure of the surgery. These are as follows: 

  • Surgeon’s inexperience/Poor surgical technique 
  • Use of bad surgical instruments 
  • Errors in anaesthesia 
  • Negligence in aftercare 
  • Miscommunication
  • Providing false or misleading information to patients

Clinics or surgeons aren’t necessarily at fault in every case. It can also be the result of things the patient does (or does not do). 

What Happens If A Hair Transplant Goes Wrong?

If a hair transplant goes wrong, you can experience many serious complications like overharvesting, scarring, skin death, poor results, infection and even cysts. Unfortunately, not all of them are reversible or curable. However, if you’re experiencing them, you must get in touch with your doctor as soon as possible. To get a better idea of what these complications are, let’s take a closer look at them.

Overharvesting 

One of the signs of hair plugs gone wrong is the overharvesting of the donor areas (hair at the back and sides of the scalp). This can leave thin, bald patches and scars.

It can happen because inexperienced surgeons do not know how many grafts to harvest from a particular area. Rather than distributing it over the safe donor zone, they end up extracting too much of it from one spot. However, that’s not always the case. 

Overharvested donor area
Hair transplant bad results

Some patients’ entire donor area ends up being patchy. This happens when the “surgeon,” in this case, harvests too many grafts from a weak donor area (low hair density). This may be done in a bid to deliver on the false promise of high hair density in the balding regions. 

If this ends up happening, it is possible that you end up with good hair growth in the balding region. This is assuming that the “surgeon” didn’t harm too many grafts. But the donor area ends up patchy or bald-looking. Keep in mind that this condition is permanent.

Also, this doesn’t only happen in scalp hair transplants. A beard transplant gone wrong can feature a similar issue where too many grafts have been extracted from the donor area on the scalp.

Overharvesting should not be confused with shock loss which can affect the donor as well. It can also result in the formation of bald patches, although temporarily. Patients should wait at least six months to be certain the patches are not due to shock loss, but rather overharvesting.

Bad Scarring 

Using blunt tools and poor technique can result in bad scarring in the donor and recipient areas. Normally, the scars from FUE heal over time. They’re not visible. However, it can be quite bad in the case of a botched hair transplant

Scalp scarring
Image source: ISHRS

This can also happen if the surgeon hasn’t screened the patient for keloid scarring, which is more common in patients of African, Asian or Hispanic descent. 

Unnatural Looking Hairline 

Before the surgery takes place, the surgeons draw the hairline on the scalp of the patient and show them how it will look. Different ratios and proportions are taken into consideration for that. There’s no fixed formula. Its design and shape can vary from patient to patient. This isn’t something that a non-doctor would have an idea of.

Bad hairline transplant
Hair transplants gone wrong pictures by the ISHRS

An unnatural-looking hairline can have a bad shape (too straight or uneven), or it isn’t properly filled out. In addition, the angle at which the hair grows isn’t right. It can happen in a “hair transplant gone wrong” case. 

Scalp Necrosis 

Another sign of a hair transplant gone wrong is scalp necrosis. This results in the death of the tissue on the scalp, with the area usually having a black colour. There are different causes of this, which include: 

  • Mega-sessions of hair transplant 
  • Too close transplantation of hair grafts 
  • Deep incisions (both donor and recipient areas)
  • Scalp trauma 
  • Smoking 
Scalp necrosis 2
Image source: ISHRS

That is why it’s important to find the right surgeon and take good care of yourself after the transplant. 

Poor Hair Growth 

It is normal for patients to experience shock loss after surgery. This can give the impression of a hair transplant gone wrong, but this is only temporary. 3-4 months after the surgery, hair starts to grow.

Hair transplant shock loss
Shock loss

And in a year, you should have grown a significant amount of hair. However, if the hair transplant has gone wrong, this is unlikely to happen. 

It can happen if the person performing the surgery does not handle and store the grafts properly. Those that are damaged won’t grow any new hair. Poor hair growth can also happen if you aren’t following the aftercare instructions during the recovery

Scalp Infection 

This can happen due to the use of unsanitary surgical instruments, nonsterile operation theatre, or negligence in aftercare.

It is not common for patients to develop a scalp infection (1-3% incidence rate). However, in the case of a botched hair transplant, infection may occur more commonly.

Formation of Cysts 

A 2011 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology showed that a patient had multiple cysts inside their scalp after an FUE hair transplant.

These were surgically removed. The cysts had long-grown hair in them with the bulbs intact. They also contained skin tissue. According to the researcher, it could have happened due to: 

  • Negligence of the person extracting the grafts
  • Use of too much tumescence fluid 
  • Blunt punch tools 
  • Too deep of an extraction

Therefore, you should also be on the lookout for this. 

What Percentage Of Hair Transplants Go Wrong?

There might be a 5% chance of hair transplants going wrong. The success rate of a hair transplant is 95%, so it rarely goes wrong. However, as with any surgical procedure, there may be some side effects, which are usually temporary. 

The likelihood of a hair transplant going wrong can increase if the person performing your surgery isn’t licensed and is operating in an illegal or unregistered clinic. Other than that, it can happen if you’re not taking care of yourself as the surgeon advises. 

Can A Bad Hair Transplant Be Fixed?

It may be possible to “fix” bad hair plugs. However, this depends on what the problem is and its severity: 

  • Scalp Micropigmentation – In the case of overharvesting of the donor area, the most recommended treatment option is scalp micropigmentation (SMP). If the donor area is depleted and you have poor hair growth, this can camouflage the bald spots and give an appearance of high density. It can also help hide bad scars. 
SMP to treat hair loss
Scalp micropigmentation
  • Revision hair transplant – If you have an uneven hairline, you may need another hair transplant to fix the problem. You can also get another hair transplant to hide the scars from the previous surgery. However, keep in mind that it’s not always possible. 
  • Surgery – Scalp necrosis is irreversible. The only solution is to surgically remove the dead skin. Depending on the kind of cyst you have, it may also require incision surgery. 
  • Medicine – If it’s an infection, your surgeon may prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics may also be given for the treatment of cysts. 

The clinic’s lack of aftercare plans or discussion of patient-care practices is a huge red flag. If you notice any of the signs above or, in general, feel like you’re not recovering normally, you should have a follow-up appointment with the doctor about your hair transplant issues

Does Anyone Regret A Hair Transplant?

Anyone who has had a bad hair transplant experience is likely to regret it. However, you might feel even more remorseful if your recovery was complicated by infection, necrosis, pain, excessive scarring, cysts, etc.

To go through it all and still have unnatural-looking bad hair transplant results with low density can certainly be quite disheartening. Unfortunately, post-hair transplant regrets aren’t unheard of, as problems with the surgeon/clinic and/or patient can negatively affect the final outcome.

Can A Hair Transplant Fail After 1 Year?

Transplanted hairs should stay intact for a lifetime, so your surgery should not fail after 1 year. Still, you can lose your hair due to different reasons such as:

In the case of the last one, your doctor might inform you about the possible need for a second hair transplant.

second hair transplant before and after

Is A Hair Transplant 100% Safe?

No surgery is 100% risk-free, and this includes a hair transplant, even though it’s minimally invasive. Hair transplant surgery risks can include:

  • Infection
  • Scarring
  • Bleeding
  • Low hair density

However, when performed by a qualified surgeon in the right setting, you can safely get this procedure. Keep in mind that post-op side effects are usually expected and can include numbness after hair transplant, swelling, discomfort, itchiness, etc. But to be sure, always ask your surgeon.

So if you’re wondering “Is a hair transplant surgery dangerous,” in general, it’s a low-risk surgery and has a high success rate as well. In any case, make sure to discuss all the potential hair transplant risks and side effects with your surgeon beforehand so you can be better prepared if anything goes wrong.

How Can You Avoid Having A Hair Transplant Go Wrong? 

In order to avoid the bad hair transplants, you should do the following: 

  • Verify everything – When doing your research, you need to verify the licensure, registration and certification of your surgeon. If a doctor says they have ISHRS membership, you can verify it on the website’s “Find A Doctor” database. If you’re getting the surgery in the UK, the GMC has a “medical register” where you can find useful information about your doctor. CQC registration is also important. In Turkey, you can find health facilities authorized by the Ministry of Health on their website.
  • Ask questions – It’s always a good idea to ask questions. If the doctor answers them satisfactorily, you’ll find yourself trusting them. You need to have a good understanding of the recovery and aftercare of a hair transplant. Here, you should also ask if a non-medical or unlicensed person will be performing any part of the surgery. If so, ask why or whether it is legal.
  • Follow aftercare – If you don’t want the hair transplant to go wrong after you’ve done everything right, you should make sure to follow all the aftercare instructions. If at any point you are confused, don’t hesitate to get help. 

Conclusion 

Unfortunately, there are many cases of hair transplants gone wrong. Keep in mind that this is something that can happen for many different reasons. And in some cases, the damage from bad hair implants is permanent. 

That is why it’s extremely important to do your research. You should have a very clear idea of every stage of the hair transplant journey and who will be involved in it.

Do not be tempted by the extremely cheap costs of these treatments as you’re going to risk your own health and safety. Alternately, paying more for it also doesn’t guarantee anything. There are cases of celebrity hair transplants gone wrong as well, such as Elton John or Joe Rogan.

How you answer whether a hair transplant is good or bad can come down to the choice of surgeon, so be careful.

Reviewed and Approved by Dr. Cagla Yuksel.

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