In the quest to find the most effective treatment for hair loss, physicians and researchers have experimented with many different options, one of which is a platelet-based therapy called PRP (platelet-rich plasma).
PRP treatment isn’t often at the top of the list when people are searching for hair restoration techniques. First, you’ll read about topical minoxidil (Rogaine) because it’s available over the counter. If you try that and it fails, you’ll probably talk to your doctor about oral finasteride (Propecia). And if that doesn’t work either, you may begin to look into more surgical options, such as follicular unit extraction (FUE).
In your research, you may come across the theory of using PRP injections for hair loss, and you may find the information a bit contradictory. Some believe PRP treatments are effective, while others hold that the evidence is rather slim and therefore, inconclusive.
While we mostly perform PRP therapy in combination with FUE surgery, stand-alone PRP treatments for hair loss is a service we offer. Here’s what you need to know about PRP for hair loss.
What is PRP Treatment?
PRP stands for platelet-rich plasma. Plasma and platelets are two of the components that make up the blood in our bodies, in addition to red and white blood cells.
Each component of blood has a different purpose. Red blood cells contain hemoglobin, which is a protein that helps transport oxygen taken in via the lungs throughout the body and dispels carbon dioxide as waste, again through the lungs.
White blood cells are essentially the basis for your immune response. These cells, made inside your bone marrow, are stored in your lymphatic system and help you fight off infections, viruses, and anything your body deems as foreign.
Platelets are what clots your blood so you stop bleeding. If you get a cut on your finger, the damaged blood vessels send signals to your body that it needs platelets. Upon arrival, the platelets “grow sticky tentacles” so they can adhere to each other and form a barrier over the cut. Then, they send out signals to other platelets to gather at the cut to strengthen the clot.
The final component, of course is plasma. In fact, it’s the largest component. Plasma makes up about 55% of our blood. It has many jobs, such as carrying nutrients, proteins and hormones to various cells, maintaining blood pressure and volume, and dispelling cell waste.
How is PRP for Hair Loss is Performed?
As the name suggests, platelet-rich plasma is simply plasma with a concentration of platelets. PRP is produced by placing about 20 cc of whole blood (taken through a regular blood draw) into a centrifuge, where the blood is separated into layers. Although not noticeable when mixed in our blood, plasma is actually a pale yellow color naturally, so when it separates in the centrifuge, it’s quite easy to see by contrast. The plasma layer, of which the top 1/3 contains platelet-poor plasma and the bottom 2/3’s contains platelet-rich plasma. An additional small portion at the bottom contains the “buffy coat” which represents the transition from the plasma layer to the red blood cell layer and also contains platelets. The platelet-poor plasma is dispersed over the extracted follicles in a dish, while the platelet-rich plasma and buffy coat is injected into the area in which the follicles will be transplanted.
The PRP treatment is completed after it’s injected into the patient in whatever area needs the therapy. In some cases (such as when the injury is internal, like a joint or tendon), ultrasound is used to pinpoint the exact location so the needle can be placed precisely where it needs to go.
PRP can be used for multiple purposes, including pulled muscles and sprained joints, injured tendons (including post-operative care), osteoarthritis, and of course, hair loss.
Is PRP Effective at Regrowing Hair?
The evidence as to whether or not PRP is effective at hair restoration is inconclusive — in essence, it’s complicated.
The theory is that the body operates more efficiently and effectively when there’s better blood flow. Remember that red blood cells carry oxygen through the body, which helps energize vital organs and allows them to perform optimally, in addition to promoting cell growth. Every part of our body needs oxygen to function.
The most interesting part of this theory involves the proteins in platelets. Some have hypothesized that the proteins contain multiple types of growth factors, such as platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF), transforming growth factor (TGF), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), insulin-like growth factor (IGF), epidermal growth factor (EGF) and interleukin (IL)-1.
It is believed that these growth factors could promote new follicle development and blood vessels (neovascularization). Of course, if there are new follicles, new hair may grow.
Therefore, PRP treatments in areas of the scalp where hair is thinning could potentially help the shrinking follicles produce hair more efficiently, in addition to creating some new follicles. Regardless, good blood flow certainly won’t hurt — but how helpful (and under what circumstances) stand-alone treatments are is something that requires more research.
There haven’t been enough studies on stand-alone PRP treatments for hair loss to conclusively prove its efficacy in hair restoration, and the studies that have been conducted are early-on in the research process.
A 2014 pilot study injected two-to-three milliliters of PRP four times, two weeks apart in eleven participants who hadn’t seen success with oral finasteride or topical minoxidil. Researchers found hair loss slowed between the first and fourth injections of PRP. They concluded that “PRP injection is a simple, cost effective and feasible treatment option for androgenic alopecia, with high overall patient satisfaction.”
While this pilot study offers some hope for those who would like to try PRP for hair loss, more research is needed before it can be proven effective as a stand-alone treatment. Additionally, clinical trials will need to be conducted with a larger, more representative group of participants.
While the efficacy of stand-alone injections as a treatment for hair restoration is still debatable, PRP has been proven very effective time and time again in wound healing. Therefore, we almost always use PRP treatments in conjunction with FUE.
After the hair follicles have been harvested from the donor site, the patient’s own PRP is injected back into the scalp to promote faster healing — something of great interest to most of our patients, as the post-operative healing period can be uncomfortable (though certainly not unbearable).
Of course, proper care after FUE treatment plays a major role in the success of the procedure. Following instructions, such as spraying the scalp with water and letting it air dry, not washing or brushing your hair for the first week, and refraining from dyeing your hair for the first month, all ensure the transplant site accepts the relocated follicles while allowing the donor site to heal properly.
The faster the healing time, the more satisfied patients are likely to be with their FUE hair transplant results — and PRP treatment is an excellent way to help.
Is PRP for Hair Loss Safe?
PRP treatments for hair loss are perfectly safe. The blood used is the patient’s own blood, so there’s no need to run it through a wide battery of testing, as the case would be with donor blood.
Using plasma during medical treatments is relatively common (whether platelet-rich or poor). For example, plasma is used to treat immunodeficiency diseases, injuries, burns, genetic emphysema, and to provide a quick immune boost (via antibodies) in potentially life-threatening situations.
In the case of hair restoration, the safety concerns are the same as in any other possible use-case. Aside from the need for a sanitary needle and syringe, there’s very little risk of infection involved in the procedure.
How Much Does PRP Hair Treatment Cost?
At our center, PRP therapy can be added to any hair transplant procedure for $1000. PRP can also be used as a minimally invasive stand alone treatment for hair loss for $1500 per treatment or 3 treatments for $3000.
Is PRP a Good Option For You?
PRP may be a good treatment option for you if you’ve already tried oral finasteride and topical minoxidil without seeing any kind of meaningful result. There are some circumstances under which a patient may not be a good fit for PRP, such as:
- Low platelet count (because your own blood is used)
- Liver disease
- Metabolic disorders
Therefore, it’s important that you meet with a physician for a complete medical history prior to scheduling PRP treatment (this is something we do during consultations).
While stand-alone PRP is a hair loss treatment option we offer at Hair Physician, we don’t perform it on its own very often. Again, we almost always use PRP as a way to speed up the healing process after the FUE hair transplant procedure.
We’d love to discuss your treatment options with you! Complete your virtual consultation today and see if PRP or FUE are right for you.