What is Scalp Micropigmentation

Scalp micropigmentation, also known as, SMP, scalp tattooing, and hair follicle replication, is the most versatile and cost effective hair loss treatment available. This revolutionary, permanent cosmetic procedure uses conventional cosmetic “tattoo” instruments, and specialized techniques to replicate the appearance of healthy hair follicles. Scalp micropigmentation is a form of permanent concealer. A concealer is a product applied to the scalp to reduce the visual contrast between the color of the hair and the color of the skin. The non-profit, International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery acknowledges scalp micropigmentation as an effective treatment for men and women suffering from:

  • Autoimmune diseases: Alopecia Areata the most notable.
  • Genetic hair loss: Androgenetic Alopecia, male-pattern baldness
  • Surgical scarring: Often from, but not limited to, previous hair loss procedures.
  • Traction Alopecia: Caused by hairstyles that pull back on hair –ponytails, buns, braids, etc.

Though scalp micropigmentation in its current, medically recognized, form is relatively new, the versatility of the procedures applications, its minimally invasive technique, and its ability to provide natural looking results without scaring or drugs, has made it the fastest growing hair loss solution on the market.

The Procedure: A Brief Overview

In short, scalp micropigmentation practitioners use motorized tattoo-like “guns” to insert a needle into the upper layers of the dermis and deposit ink/dye/pigment into the skin with the goal of creating the appearance of natural hair follicles. However, SMP is much less painful than a tattoo, because the needle insertion is shallower, and scrapping techniques common in tattoo art are not used. Plus, local anesthesia is often available.

The specifics of how each scalp micropigmentation procedure is performed depends on the cause and amount of hair loss, the unique features of the clients scalp (scalp thickness, sun damage, scarring, immune response to ink, etc), and the desires of the client (to name a few of the many variables). This being said, there is a consensus among practitioners regarding the most common type of hair loss in men –male pattern baldness.

For a mostly bald head, the consensus, compiled from practitioners who are transparent about their process, estimates the full time under-needle to be10-15 hours, completed in 2-6 sessions. Practitioners among the consensus, stress the importance of multiple-sessions for numerous reasons (see blog on multiple sessions for a more detailed overview). Generally speaking, the consensus view (conventional SMP) acknowledges the best result as the product of a process of feedback over-time. The conventional SMP process emphasizes the importance of conservative application coupled with an emphasis on viewing “healed” or “cured” results. In plain terms, conventional SMP operators “read” the scalps reaction to each session, and adjust the variables of application based on the skin’s reaction. In addition to providing the most individualized treatment as possible, this method also provides the client with more control, because they can adjust their expectations and desired look based on “real” aka healed results.

Navigating the Scalp Micropigmentation Landscape: Out of the Parlor and Into the Clinic

Scalp micropigmentation, like all permanent cosmetics, is historically rooted in tattooing. In fact, in most states, scalp micropigmentation practitioners are regulated under the same laws as tattoo artists. This being said, most scalp micropigmentation procedures are now performed in clinics, a far cry from the tattoo experience. This shift is the result of a conscientious move by providers to distance themselves from the culture and stigmas of tattooing as well as the refinement of the procedure by specialists and medical professionals.

As a result of these advancements and the subsequent growth of the industry, the majority of scalp micropigmentation providers are now more informed, better trained, and better equipped than ten years ago. However, the rapid growth of the industry and lagging regulation has created a landscape fraught with unverified claims, and aggressive marketing and sales tactics as clinics battle for a larger slice of this burgeoning market. Concerning as this may be, the simple awareness of these pitfalls and a little education on how to find the best practitioner can arm prospective clients with the means to find the right practitioner for their specific needs.

More than a Technical Procedure: Understanding the Importance of the Individual

“There are many variables in performing Scalp Micropigmentation that makes this process more of an art form than a science.”
-William R. Rassman MD. et al., Scalp Micropigmentation a Useful Treatment for Hair Loss

This statement, from a technically minded profession, made in a peer reviewed journal, recognizes the role of the individual practitioner as the most important factor in the success of a procedure (aside hygienic conditions). While the article documents the highly technical nature of the procedure (due to its many variables), the authors acknowledge the many “soft” variables (artistic decisions) necessary in producing the best results. In other words, past results of the individual operator should be the main factor in deciding where to get scalp micropigmentation.

The best SMP practitioners combine the technical knowledge of craftsmen with the eye of an artist to provide their clients with the most personalized and natural looking treatment possible. Acquiring these skills is a product of training, one’s natural eye, and above all experience. Below is a shorthand guide for assessing individual practitioners for the aforementioned qualities.

More than a Technical Procedure: Understanding the Importance of the Individual

  • Ask to see the specific practitioners portfolio (not just before and after from the clinic in general) for whatever procedure you would like done. You should ask for a minimum of 25 examples, and the after photos should be of “healed” or “cured results”
  • Ask to see the results of a previous client in-person. Again, be sure you are seeing the work of the specific artist and not a representative of the work of the clinic in general.
  • Be sure your practitioner is transparent about their methods: How many sessions will the procedure entail, how long each session is, and how much time is in between sessions.
  • Be wary of clinics that use aggressive marketing and sales campaigns.
  • Be wary of clinics making claims about their procedure that contradict the consensus view of multiple sessions (as mentioned above).
  • Be wary of clinics/practitioners that are not transparent with their methods. Claims of proprietary training methods (without providing specific details about those methods), proprietary needless and inks/dyes/pigments, are often used to impress the client while avoiding specific details about their procedures.
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