A dermatologist explains how getting your blood injected into your scalp could give you a full head of hair.

Kaitlyn McLintock
Jul 27, 2020 @ 9:42 am
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If you’re struggling with hair loss, you’re not alone. Even though it’s something that so many people associate solely with men, it’s far from being a gendered issue. For proof, just look at the statistics: Over 50% of women will experience hair loss in their lives, and the most common form of hair loss, which is called female pattern hair loss, affects 30 million women in the United States alone. That’s a lot of women who have struggled, or are currently struggling, with this distressing condition. 

Actually, the word “distressing” might be too passive a word for hair loss, because for many women, it affects their self-image and self-confidence and, as a result, their quality of life. While there are myriad treatment options for hair loss, there’s one in particular that has been growing in popularity in recent years. It’s called PRP therapy (short for platelet-rich plasma), and it’s a technique used by trichologists and dermatologists to slow or reverse hair loss. Keep reading to learn all about this promising treatment for hair loss from Jennifer Chwalek, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York. 

What is PRP? 

PRP is a hair loss treatment made from blood. Don’t worry, we’ll explain, but first we have to go back to biology class for a minute to explain its origins. If you remember, blood is made up of four main components: white blood cells, red blood cells, platelets, and plasma. White blood cells are part of the immune system. Red blood cells carry oxygen and carbon dioxide through the body. Platelets are cell fragments that clot your blood (like when you scratch yourself and a scab forms). Plasma is the colorless liquid that carries all of the other components of blood through your body. 

To isolate the platelets and plasma that are needed for PRP treatments, a doctor will take your blood and spin it in a centrifuge, which is a machine that spins at a rapid rate to separate the four components of the blood. Once the components are isolated, a doctor will inject the platelet-rich plasma into areas of the scalp that are in need of restored hair growth. 

How does PRP restore hair growth? 

PRP was originally developed to speed up healing in muscle, tendon, ligament, and joint injuries, which is why you may have heard of it in relation to certain professional athletes. Scientists theorize that platelets, which contain growth factors, break down once they’re injected and speed up the body’s natural healing process. These same growth factors are also thought to stimulate hair growth. 

Dr. Chwalek says the growth factors in PRP stimulate and speed up the hair’s natural growth cycle and increase the number and thickness of newly formed follicles. “The growth factors in platelet-rich plasma are messengers, signaling cells to stimulate the anagen growth of hair loss,” she explains. “They’ve been used in medicine for a number of years to treat a whole host of health issues. They are beneficial in hair regeneration and the reason why many of my patients have seen success with PRP.” 

Credit: Getty Images

What kind of hair loss is PRP used to treat?

News flash: Not all hair loss is the same. Hair loss can be caused by everything from stress, certain medications, and more. “The hair growth cycle is complicated and influenced by genetics, hormones, and lifestyle factors. Oftentimes the cause of hair thinning is multifactorial,” Dr. Chwalek says. 

The most common form of hair loss in women is female pattern hair loss, or androgenic alopecia. This is a type of hair loss that’s characterized by a specific hair loss pattern. It’s also the type of hair loss that PRP is most commonly used to treat. Take it from Dr. Chwalek, who says, “PRP can be used to treat most forms of hair loss; however, it is most often used to treat androgenetic alopecia, which is a common hereditary condition that causes hair follicles to miniaturize over time and is more permanent.” 

Is PRP safe? 

Although PRP is FDA-approved for use in orthopedics, it hasn’t yet been approved for skin and hair treatments. However, that doesn’t mean it’s dangerous or ineffective; it simply means that the FDA requires more research before officially approving it. “PRP is considered off label, but research shows that PRP can successfully stimulate hair growth,” Dr. Chwalek explains. “It's one of the safest treatments for hair loss. The efficacy of this treatment is dependent on proper preparation and technique, so be sure to seek out a board-certified dermatologist with both training and experience in hair loss.” 

One scientific study, which analyzed the effects of PRP on hair loss, concluded that "clinical evidence is still weak," but that "considering its excellent safety profile and relatively low cost, PRP hair treatment is a promising treatment option for patients with thinning hair.” 

What does a standard PRP treatment look like? 

Credit: Getty Images

A PRP treatment starts with a medical professional drawing your blood to extract the platelet-rich plasma. Once the blood components have been separated in a centrifuge, the platelet-rich plasma is put in a syringe and injected into the areas of the scalp experiencing hair loss. Most medical professionals use an anesthetic before injection for the patient’s comfort. 

How long does PRP last? 

Here’s the thing about PRP: It’s not necessarily a one-stop, cure-all treatment. Yes, it can be an effective tool in hair restoration, but it needs to be maintained. Dr. Chwalek says that although the number of necessary treatments depends on the stage of hair loss that an individual is in, she normally recommends three to four PRP treatments followed by maintenance treatments as needed. As for the price of PRP, she says to expect the initial session to cost $1,500 and the followup sessions to cost $1,000 each. 

It’s important to keep in mind that PRP can be used in conjunction with other hair loss treatments, which is why it’s important to consult a medical professional to ask about your specific case. They’ll be able to give you the information you’re looking for, including your unique type of hair loss, the causes behind it, and whether or not PRP is a viable treatment option for hair restoration.