By Alan Mozes
WEDNESDAY, Feb. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Doctors may have a leg up on baldness: Transplanting hair from a patient's legs to his head for what may be a more natural look.
In the February issue of the Archives of Dermatology, Dr. Sanusi Umar explained that the finer, softer hair found on the leg is an ideal candidate for hair grafts that aim to recreate the hairline.
"The whole idea is to take hair transplantation to the next level," said Umar, a private practitioner in Redondo Beach, Calif., and clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
There are "several problems" with traditional methods for hairline transplant, he believes.
"First, the traditional transplant takes hair from the middle of the back of the head, and that hair happens to be the thickest hair on the head," he said. That means that, "if you take it from there and put it in the hairline, despite your best efforts, it will end up slightly harsh[-looking] and unnatural in the hairline. It's problematic to say the least," Umar explained.
"The other issue is that people bald or thin to varying degrees," he noted. "You can have mild baldness or it can be very severe." This means that the standard method of hair transplant is of little use to a man who has lost most of his head hair and therefore has no source for the transplant.
"You're fighting a losing battle because there's just not enough to work with. Most ethical practices will therefore tell a very bald person that they cannot do it because it will not look natural," Umar said.
"In addition to that, over the years there are a lot of patients that have had hair transplantation that is antiquated," he added. "They have a 'pluggy' look. They have scars. And they no longer have any donor supply left on the back of the head to deal with that issue, because it's already been used up."
Looking for a solution, about seven years ago Umar began exploring "advanced body hair transplantation" or the "U-graft method."
Essentially, the technique involves scouting for hair from all over the body, keeping in mind that not all patients are equally hirsute.
"With this approach I can combine beard hair, chest hair and leg hair, depending on the person's hair distribution," Umar noted. "Mixing that with some thicker head hair as well, I can come up with about 20,000 to 30,000 hairs, which means I'm then able to tackle some very severely bald individuals."
However, recreating a natural hairline at the forehead requires especially fine hair. Umar believes that leg hair "works the best in terms of simulating nature [in this spot]. Sometimes we can also take hair from the nape of the neck, which is also very fine. And then for behind the hairlines we can use some of the thicker head hair."
In his case report, Umar published the results of two such transplant efforts. One involved the exclusive use of leg hair follicles to recreate the front of the patient's original hairline/temple area, while the other involved mixing transplanted leg and head hair to soften and bring forward a custom-designed "widow's peak" hairline for a patient.
In both cases, the transplant procedure gave rise to what Umar described as a "fully grown and soft-looking hairline" within nine months. Between 75 to 80 percent of the fine transplanted leg hair flourished in its new home on the head, and three to four years later both patients had experienced minimal hair loss in the transplant area.
However, Umar noted that men seeking such procedures should be both patient and prepared for a hefty bill. The procedures are typically spaced over two sessions (each involving three to five days) that are spread over the course of a year. And at $7 to $10 per hair follicle graft (with each follicle containing anywhere from one to four strands of hair), the bill will ultimately total in the thousands, Umar said, with so-called "slick bald" patients facing the highest expense.
Opinions from other experts in hair transplantation were mixed.