Ever wondered what it's like to have a hair transplant? These are the highs and lows of getting one done
Gone tomorrow, hair today.
I started to notice that I was losing my hair in the my late-twenties. It was a bit of a blow but hardly unexpected. My dad was bald and his dad is bald, and all my uncles are bald too. I know they say you take after your mum's side, but not me. My maternal granddad had a proud shock of white hair, but soon-to-be slaphead me would have no such luck.
I wasn't too gutted about it, but maybe that's because it was a very gradual thing. Over the span of a decade, my forehead got bigger, and I thinned year on year, but didn't go full Bobby Charlton as feared. That said, I was clinging on. Up top it was increasingly wispy, and I was doing the sensible thing of cropping it closer and shorter.
As I'm in on Twitter quite a lot, both for pleasure and work, I took to ripping the piss out of myself for being follicly-challenged. I did/do this about being a shortarse too. It's partly a preemptive strike - mock yourself before others do. But honestly, I felt/feel comfortable to point out my baldness/shortness cos I'm bald and short. I can live with it.
Part of the running joke was trying to wangle a hair transplant. I'd do it in the same way I'd ask Rashida Jones for a date at Greggs - for the lols and zero expectation of it happening. That was until I chanced upon a tweet about Joe Ledley getting a transplant with KSL - and accordingly started pestering them. To my surprise, they didn't block me or politely tell me to piss off.
One thing led to another, and before I knew it there was a Twitter poll on whether they should grant me my wish. Don't get me wrong, as much as I was resigned to my baldy fate, once this transpired, I started to get properly into it. I was like a Liverpool fan - daring to believe it could be my year...to finally use a comb again.
In a result more surprising than Brexit, the masses voted Remain - or rather, Regain - of my fast disappearing hairline. It was very kind of them, as it was of KSL to entertain the very idea. It was hard to comprehend that it might actually happen...and in a way, I didn't properly comprehend it all. I just thought fucking hell...new hair!
Still, I'd been carried by the momentum of all, and didn't really know what to expect. What next? What if KSL took one look at my sparse foliage and told me I was beyond the point of repair? Even worse, what if I'd been catfished by the work experience kid at KSL and it was all just a sick joke at my shiny head's expense?
Those fears soon dispersed once I got talking to co-founder and CEO Simon Lindsay. He was friendly, gregarious and instantly disarming. It became clear that the company's whole vibe flowed from the top, and the matey social media presence made perfect sense. That said, this was a consultation, and I had so many questions.
I've known a few driven businessmen in my time, and a shared trait is a forensic understanding of every last detail of their empire. Simon may have been enjoyable company, but when it came to talking about the details of the procedure, it was like flicking a switch to a science channel. It was very educational - and reassuring.
On the day of the procedure, I arrived from Manchester to Glasgow in buoyant mood. Entering the KSL premises was like arriving at the reception of boutique hotel - very swish and trendy. Of course everyone had great hair, and the suits were as sharp as the side-partings. It was nice and relaxed.
After spending some time with Simon and his colleague, the very likeable Andy Dingwall, I was ready to head to operating room. This is when the surrounds changed from Mad Men style retro fitting, to state-of-the-art surgical whites. I changed into my gown and they went about outlining where my new hairline would be.
Now this was aspect of the process I was particularly curious about. How would they decide where the hairline would go? Would I have a say? What if it was too low and I ended up with a tiny Steven Gerrard forehead? It turns out the answer was surprisingly simple. Raise your eyebrows and your natural/original hairline is there to be traced!
At this point, I should admit to something. Despite Simon going into detail about every aspect of the procedure, and answering all my many questions, I don't think I'd properly get my head around the fact it was actually happening. This was apparent when my head was shaved. I knew it would happen, but seeing my malteser freaked me out!
I was then introduced to the surgeon to whom my bare bonce would be trusted, Dr Matee Ullah. He had the air of a man who's very good at what he does and knows it, and that was heartening in itself. Then, in terms of pain, came the most difficult part of the whole day - the local anaesthetic. It was only a few pricks, but it hurt. Insert your own dirty joke here.
This was the first part of the procedure, when they removed follicles from the back of the head (which would grow back) to insert into the recipient area. So was I was lying face down, looking through a hole - a bit like if you were getting a back massage. Dr Ullah and his two colleagues went about their business whilst I listened to music.
Ed Sheeran came on, and that was the most painful part of this stage.
After a couple of hours, they were done. The back of head was bandaged up, and was helped up to have a break...from doing nothing. I said I was fine, but was told to take it easy. Inevitably you lose some blood during the extraction and they said I'd be fed and watered to counter that - I wasn't complaining. I enjoyed a nice cheese baguette, and a Tunnock's wafer because of course - it's Scotland.
Following the half time break, it was time for the second stage of operation - the implantation. This time I was sat down with my feet up and able to watch telly whilst Matee and his mates continued to work their magic. This took longer than the first bit. Which is fine...except I was increasingly worried about catching the last train back home to Manchester.
This was an issue for me because I had an important meeting the next morning in London, which I was determined to attend...even though I was advised to rest and take it east for a few days. But I was adamant, cos I'm a dick. I mentioned this to the doc, and he quite rightly said we shouldn't rush his work of art. Once the final hair was in place, I had just minutes to spare.
I was about to rush off but they had some very important post-treatment advice to go through, as well as providing me with an after-care pack.They asked me if I was okay as I hurried to the exit door with a bandage on the back of head. I said I was absolutely fine...just before losing my balance like a punch-drunk boxer about to pass out.
Next thing I knew I was on the KSL sofa with my legs being held up to bring the circulation back to my head. Dr Matee explained that the short-term dizziness was a very rare reaction to the local anaesthetic wearing off. I was given another Tunnock's and some pop to get sugar levels up. All the time my thoughts were on my train.
I was advised to leave my journey home until the next morning and stay up in Glasgow, but I was adamant I had to be in London early the next day. So in an extremely kind (and costly) gesture, Simon said he was arranging a taxi for me - to Manchester! He didn't need to do that at all, but said he felt a duty of care and was/am really grateful.
My first night of sleep after the operation took some planning, the goodie bag I had received included a blow-up travel cushion and a cloth sheet to cover my pillow. The back of my head was bandaged but I still needed to treat it with care, and of course the cushion was so that I didn't disturb the delicately implanted hairs at the front of my head.
Now, I'll be honest, I found this uncomfortable. I'm not used to sleeping on my back, and got a bit of a crick in my neck. Nothing major, nothing painful - an inconvenience more than anything. I was advised to sleep like this for about a week. I got used it. The far bigger concern for me was how my head and face were looking when I woke up.
Here's the thing. They told me that I'd experience swelling. I knew it was going to happen. I'd even seen photos of post-transplant patients with swelling. But it really bothered me when I saw it on my own face. Like, I got quite upset about it. I dunno why. I appreciate that's a bit wimpy of me, and it only lasted a matter of days, but still it got me down.
Each day for about four days, I looked different, as the swelling moved from my forehead, to my eyebrow area, to my cheeks, and then my jowls. It's not as though I looked like Frank Sidebottom - the swelling wasn't huge and it moved down the face - so when one area swelled up, the previous area calmed down. After five or six days it was pretty much all gone.
Personally, that was the worst part of the whole process for me. Again, it wasn't painful, but emotionally/psychologically it affected me. But - and this is a big but - I was constantly on to KSL asking if it was normal. I was a bit neurotic about it, sending them pictures everyday. They were very calming and reassuring and told me it was all fine. That really helped.
I think this is important. I know some people go abroad, to places like Turkey, to get hair transplants on the cheap. That's their prerogative and good luck to them. Personally I think it's a bit risky to go somewhere that doesn't necessarily adhere to stringent UK medical practice but I am sure there are reputable and disreputable companies everywhere.
But, for me, the aftercare element was vital. I really needed that ability to stay in touch and check everything was going to plan. I required that reassurance. KSL were wonderful in that respect. But I'm sure other places are too. If you ask me, whoever you choose, it's vitally important you trust them and feel comfortable with their level of service - especially after the initial procedure. Definitely do your research.
A week after the operation, all the swelling had thankfully disappeared and I was feeling happy and contented. My head had scabbed over at this point, and I was very gently washing it with baby shampoo. I didn't mind because it gave me an idea of where my hairline would be, but perhaps it looked a little different to other people - one day an old man offered me his seat on the tram.
As you can see, the very attractive scabbing effect looks a bit Ronaldo 2002 pic.twitter.com/KskeaWJnEB
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) August 1, 2017
After a few weeks, the scabs had been (carefully) washed away and I was no longer being subject to the kindness of the eldery on public transport. This was quite an exciting stage because the new hair was evident and it was actually growing! It was cool to have a hairline, even whilst the hair was very short. So it looks more like you've shaved your head out of choice...rather than because you're receding.
Week 3. According to @KSL_HAIR, it will all fall out before growing again, which is quite cruel pic.twitter.com/ifMw6uQh6O
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) August 14, 2017
Then a cursed twist of fate! It knew it was going to happen. They told me it would, but it was still a blow. For some cruel reason, the hair that they've implanted and is happily growing away, suddenly decides to fall out after a few weeks. So it's like someone has stolen your newly found superpower (of having hair) from you. But it's normal and part of the process, and it starts to grow back shortly afterwards.
Week 4. It's shedding like a motherfucker. RIP hairline 😞 pic.twitter.com/uvRBiMAw60
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) August 23, 2017
Then I did something really stupid...
You know that thing about always reading the label, or paying attention when someone's giving you important advice about a delicate procedure? Well I'm shit at that. I nod my head but nothing goes in. After about five weeks, the non-receding hair I'd always had was growing longer and longer, whilst the implanted follicles still hadn't reappeared.
I thought it looks crap, so I took to the clippers and shave it all off - to look nice and neat! I wasn't meant to do that. They'd specifically warned me not to do it. Because apparently electronic clippers can rip out the still rooting follicles. Idiot me had forgotten all this. I innocently posted a photo on Twitter and got an urgent WhatsApp message from Si at KSL...
"Mate, did you shave your head?"
"You're not meant to do that FFS!"
FFS indeed. I was worried at what damage I'd done to my depleted foliage. :(
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) September 7, 2017
Fast forward a few months and I was relieved to see that things were progressing well, regardless of my stupidity. I wouldn't say the new hair was sprouting out with wild abandon, but it was doing it's best, and I was beginning to see a little bit more coverage. Although my new hairline wasn't particularly strong, it was nice to see progress.
Month 3. It’s coming along now. Enough for me to make love to the camera @KSL_HAIR pic.twitter.com/UVD51Sm4ci
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) October 27, 2017
A couple of months on and we were really cooking. To paraphrase Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy, things had escalated quickly! The hairline looked far stronger and it was actually looking like a full head of hair! This is when any previous issues/discomfort/worries went out of the window and it was just mega to use a fucking comb again!
Month 5. And I’ve discovered filters! @KSL_HAIR pic.twitter.com/UQbA7hn6Hf
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) December 25, 2017
Things to note
Here are some of observations from my experience:
- It's really really really really really really really important to go with a hair transplant practice you trust, and one that will support you through the process. I know this whole thing seems like a big advert for KSL, but they're my only experience so I can't speak for anywhere else. I was delighted with their professionalism, friendliness, and vital ongoing support. I'm sure other practices are great too, but like I said, definitely do your research and find one that you can trust and rely on for proper aftercare.
- People don't notice it as much as you assume they would! You look at my before and after photos and there's a massive difference, but it's amazing how many mates and even family don't clock on that you've magically got loads more hair. Folk say you're looking good, but don't necessarily know why. It's almost as if everyone's getting on with their lives and your baldness (or lack of) doesn't especially matter to them! I suppose it's a good thing - means it looks natural.
- Greyness! My hair is mostly black, but I'm greying a bit at the back and sides. Because they took hair from the back of my head, it means I now have a healthy spattering of grey hair around my fringe! To be honest, I like it. I think it looks cool, but it's just something to consider - you might want to start dying if the same thing happens to you.
- It's seems obvious, but having hair won't change your life. It might help your confidence, and make you less insecure about a facet of your appearance, but it's not the one thing that will somehow transform everything. It's not like the Simpsons. I love having hair again, it's great, but if I didn't have it, I'd struggled on with my baldness!
- Hair transplanters aren't miracle workers. They'll transplant hair into a section of your head, and that will grow a treat. But the bits they haven't touched will continue to thin as normal. So factor that in. Either make sure you get everything done, or know that the bits they left will continue to go bald. Again it seems obvious, but worth reiterating nonetheless.
I appeared on the telly to talk about the rivalry between Manchester United and Liverpool, around eight months after my initial procedure. It was the first time I was doing so with my new hair. I'm not the most eloquent or well-informed pundit, as it is evident...
What the fuck’s Tremendous Tuesday? pic.twitter.com/rwySPGAZ35
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) March 8, 2018
But, it was clear from the replies that my hair transplant was of far more interest than what I had to say...
The thatch has come on a treat mate👌👍
— Lee (@ELH1978) March 8, 2018
Nice do Sir pic.twitter.com/Oihn8c61ya
— Smell My Cheese 🧀 (@MartinColeman3) March 8, 2018
Now if only someone could do something about my voice...
I'm sorry, how is that your real voice 😂😂😂
— Saul (@hyperomar) March 8, 2018
You got quite a squeaky voice haven't you
— Jamie Cameron (@JamieCamm) March 8, 2018
Why is your voice so high???
— Umar Nurgat 🇳🇴 (@umarnurgat) March 8, 2018
Rip your mentions about your voice
— Babs (@_BabsJ) March 8, 2018