What a Hair Transplant Looks Like—Week By Week

Aleksandr Rybalko

Hair loss is my favorite topic to cover as a grooming writer—or rather, hair regrowth and retention are my favorite topics to cover since there are some drastically effective ways to reverse male-pattern thinning or to actually prevent hair loss in the first place. This stuff is life-changing for a guy’s confidence, much more than most moisturizers, tubes of toothpaste, or shampoos prove to be (not that I don’t like writing about those things, too). I feel an obligation to speak openly and proudly about the hair transplant.

Sure, finasteride and minoxidil work fantastically well to keep hairs locked and loaded, but not all lost hair can be brought back without a transplant. I was severely recessed, and recession is usually gone for good without intervention. As for general crown thinning, without a transplant, you can only really restore the hairs you’ve lost in the last one or two years, and it requires persistent use of minoxidil and/or finasteride.

Roughly three-and-a-half years from my transplant, I want to show some of my results, as well as my partner’s results (as of these photos, he’s entering month eight). I’ll explain how our needs differed in terms of hair type, density, and loss patterns, what to expect in terms of results, and I'll give you some cold-hard advice on how to approach a hair transplant (and whether or not you should just forego it altogether).

I want to make one thing clear: There’s no shame in going bald. In fact, I envy the guys who embrace it better than I could have—and I’ve got a bald father and brother, both wearing the polished dome handsomely.

Where We Got Our Hair Transplants

We both went to Turkey for our hair transplants—similar to an anonymous GQ writer who recently did the same. Specifically, my partner André and I went to Dr. Serkan Aygin’s clinic. And if you want the endorsement up front, you’re getting it: Fantastic results. Fan-fricken-tastic.

The decision to go to Istanbul wasn’t a hard one. For starters, we live in Europe, and it was only a few hours’ flight, which took some of the heat off of flying home on a long-haul flight. Secondly, the density of world-class doctors in Istanbul is astounding. You can get a $3,000 or $4,000 procedure in Turkey for what would cost you $10,000 to $30,000 stateside. (FWIW: If you want cheaper Botox than you're getting in NYC: Book a flight to and from Kansas, get Botox, and you still could save money).

In Istanbul, at most world-class facilities, you can often spend around $2,000 to $5,000 inclusive of flights and hotels. So, mull on that before you make any decisions around geographical convenience. Not to mention, every fifth guy in the Istanbul airport has a freshly plucked dome. Not a single person is going to stare at you funny for walking through security with a rosy and scabby scalp—I promise. It’s kind of weird how normal it all feels there.

But hey, some of the best hair transplant surgeons and clinics in the world are across the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Germany, so this is by no means me taking a shot at them. I’d be doing you a disservice not to endorse the most cost-effective options.

Before Photos: Explaining Our Hair Loss Patterns and Separate Hair Types

Here are the different “hair variables” that my partner André and I were both working with before our respective hair transplants. I should add that one comment we both get from friends and family is, “But you didn’t need a hair transplant in the first place!” To which I say—that’s the perfect sweet spot to be in. In this position, you will notice the biggest difference in your results. It’s also a reminder that most people aren’t scrutinizing your appearance the same way you study yourself from sunup to sundown.

I started taking finasteride and minoxidil in 2018 after a haircut revealed some severe thinning. This is when my medium recession became unignorable. I have two big patches of vitiligo—a condition in which parts of the skin and hair lose pigment—atop my scalp. About 90 percent of the white hairs that originated there had also fallen out completely, leaving me with some near-bald spots. Those spots stayed bald despite the medicine working to revive roughly 30 to 40 percent of my pre-existing density. So, my hair transplant would fall in some slight sparseness while primarily creating a new hairline, covering the recession, as well as the bald spots.

I have thick hair, and most of my follicles pre-transplant (with my focused efforts) were sprouting three to four hairs each. So I would need about 3,000 follicular grafts, which would mean relocating about 10,000 hairs, given that my follicles were on the more prolific side.

André’s naturally thin hair has become increasingly sparse in recent years. He doubled down on minoxidil (first, twice-a-day topical applications; switching to once-a-day oral minoxidil). He wanted to avoid finasteride altogether, largely because of the (small but present) libido-compromise risk that oral finasteride carries. Regardless, topical finasteride is a far superior option, so look into it as the better alternative to oral finasteride.

André’s hair is nearly the opposite of mine. With extremely fine strands and follicles that, on average, were sprouting two hairs, he would require closer to 4,000 grafts (about the max they’ll administer in a session) and would still end up with fewer hairs transplanted than me. He needed to cover some general thinning across the dome, though the concentration would go onto his temples and hairline. It’s hard to describe his hair loss pattern, almost a hybrid of recession and thinning, but his thinning was most obvious from the sides, as opposed to the front. At certain angles, you could see all the way to the middle of his scalp. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

What to Expect During a Hair Transplant Procedure

By the time you’re getting a hair transplant, you have been briefed 100 times on what to expect. So, trust that you’ll get answers to all of your questions as soon as you reach out to a clinic for a screening call.

By this point, the doctor and their team will have determined the amount of grafts to extract from the backs and sides of your head (and, in dire situations, from other bodily hair, though it’s less optimal given the different texture). They will have analyzed your follicles to see how many hairs you’re sprouting from each one on average, and they will also approximate your new hairline and target transplant density/scalp concentration.

They’ll give you general anesthesia to have you mostly zonked out, but you’ll be alert enough if they need to get your attention for anything. They will also locally anesthetize the scalp once the general anesthesia has taken hold. Honestly, those few injections I could feel on the scalp were the only things that caused any pain during the procedure. And it was minor, too.

As they extract the follicles, they count each graft to see how many hairs are sprouting; then the teams sort all of those grafts by number (usually one to four hairs each), only to transplant them as outlined on top of your head after the fact. The entire process takes about six to eight hours for 2,000 to 4,000 grafts, and it is a well-oiled process. Because of the funny gas, you will probably only feel like it lasts one or two hours—tops, if not less than that. André and I both feel like it took about an hour. They’ll let you take a bathroom break between the extracting and transplanting phases if needed.

You can also decline the anesthesia if you can’t tolerate it or don’t want it. (Good luck to you, though?) Oh, and rest assured that they won’t leave a scar on the back of your head, either, since modern extraction methods allow them to create tiny micro-wounds that heal cleanly.

I was alone in Istanbul, so the clinic’s excellent hospitality team tended to me afterward. I accompanied André to his procedure in 2023, so I waited in the clinic’s café during his surgery (and may or may not have gone next door to the dermatology clinic to get some moles removed, heh). The whole clinic buzzes all day since there are dozens of patients at a time. It’s an exciting energy, and it also makes the experience feel a lot less lonely, especially if you’re far from home or are traveling alone. I’m pretty sure I saw a German rapper there, too, entourage and all. And a couple of different groups of friends who traveled together for group transplants. Trend alert?

Hair Transplant Recovery Timeline and Expectations

After the procedure, you’ll have an overnight to recover, and you need to do a checkup the following day just to ensure that everything is on the path to healing properly and to remove the bandages that they wrap your head in. It’s a strange first night of sleep since you can’t lay down horizontally for a week or so (to prevent swelling), plus you’re a little hazy with the occasional oozy drop of blood trickling out of the diaper-like wrapping that they’ve given you.

But after that next day, you’re technically free to fly home. I would advise not booking a flight home for anything sooner than the night after the transplant day. So that is, spend one night in the hotel afterward, and don’t rush the following day. Make your control appointment in the morning, then head to the airport (which can take a one or two-hour drive). A nice 5 or 6 p.m. flight could be the sweet spot for you. We flew home like this the day after André’s procedure, and it was so much more preferable than the route I chose: I stayed in Istanbul for another three days and rarely left the hotel. It felt pointless to be there, and I wished I had been home where I could at least be with my comforts.

You’ll want to avoid wearing anything on the head when you fly home (until those follicles really “take” to their new home, they’re rather fragile). So, stick with button-down shirts and, at most, a super loose bucket hat. It’s gonna be a couple of weeks before you’re allowed to work out rigorously and a month or so before you can wear an actual hat, get a haircut, or take a hot shower with full water pressure. Plus, after a couple of weeks of sleeping upright-ish (beyond the initial swelling period, you also want to prevent rolling over onto the sides of the head in case any hairs were transplanted on the recessed front of your upper sides.

Here are the meat and potatoes. I’ll use André’s recent recovery photos to showcase what it’s like from the transplant onwards—before showing both of our “After” results below.

After One Week

Here, you can see the primary areas where his grafts were transplanted. Everything has scabbed over by now, and any swelling has subsided.

After Two Weeks

This is a special period of two or three days where the scabs have fallen out, the shaved hairs are growing again, and they meet your transplanted hairs somewhere in the middle—so while it doesn’t look like a real buzzcut, you at least get the impression of what your hair will look like when it’s all grown back.

After Three Weeks

Now the transplanted hairs start to fall—this is called “shock loss” and is basically a stress response to their relocation. They will all grow back in time, but you’ll soon be back to the drawing board with your old hairline and thinning. Stay patient.

After One Month

You’re basically getting a look at how things are without the transplant. A nice reminder of the reason you did this. There might still be some inflammation, but it’s nearly gone at this point. (Oh, but it’s severely itchy all month, too. That might actually be the worst part of this process.)

After Two Months

Now, it’s a waiting period. Some of the first new sprouts might start appearing, but in general, it’s going to be about four or five months before you get some decent growth from the transplanted hairs. My advice: Grow out your buzzcut, and let those medium-length hairs fall over the new sprouts in four or five months’ time until you’ve got the density (at month seven to nine) to buzz it all and enjoy your new hairline and density.

After Five Months

Jumping ahead three months here just to showcase what it’s like when those hairs do start sprouting in ample supply. This is a fun period—the sweet reward after such a long process. (I forgot to get a front-facing one of him here.)

After Six Months

This fresh haircut does a nice job showcasing how André’s hair is settling into the increasing density. He still has progress to make—those “new” hairs will grow a bit thicker yet, and some still haven’t sprouted.

After Photos: Hair Transplant Results

That brings us to today. Here is André eight months after his transplant. Again, he’s going to see increased improvements yet, but the coverage across his scalp (especially from the side views) is really terrific. The backs and sides have nicely filled in for him, as they have for mine—it all looks natural, despite thousands of hairs moving up top.

As for me, I’m 3.5 years past my hair transplant, so I’ve been enjoying the “full results” for a while now. Here’s a general look at where my hairs were transplanted, followed by the results of late: I grew my hair out well past my shoulders recently—because I can with this dense hair—and just last week cut it short again, which has been just as wonderful for showcasing the results.

I've continued using the hair retention methods, and I can’t say that I’ve lost any hair since the pandemic. In fact, when it was really long, I would probably find 100 to 200 hairs on the floor or in the sink every day. Surely I was losing hair at this rate, I thought. However, when I cut it all off, I revealed the thickest hair I've ever had—no wonder I love writing about hair retention. The results are real, and I speak for both André and myself when I say that we both feel great.

Who Should Get a Hair Transplant—And Who Shouldn’t

The best candidate for a hair transplant is somebody who has already been putting in as much effort as possible to retain and regrow his hair for a long enough period of time. I’m talking about the guys who have been using finasteride and/or minoxidil for a year or more, as well as considering other efforts like laser therapy treatments (and at-home LLLT or LED hair helmets), as well as smart supplementation and significant lifestyle changes (cutting back on vices, namely).

I say all of this because you need to continue doing these things after a hair transplant. Like: more than before. The hair you rearrange from the back and sides of your head to the top of the crown will not fall out. Maybe that sounds perfect to you—un-fallible hair—but I promise you, it’s also a bit of a curse. Imagine if you get a nice crop of transplanted follicles in the front of your head—thousands of them—but then you lose the rest of your hair. Well then, you’ve got to hope that the Friar Tuck hairstyle comes back into fashion—fast. That, or you’ll be shaving those hairs with a razor every day of your life since you won’t even want the shadow of a full-donut stubble.

And with that said, if there aren’t many results to be seen, and if your hair is so far sparsed that the transplant surgeon suggests going bald… well, then I suggest you do not do a transplant either. The last thing you want is subpar results because you had too much real estate to cover and not enough donor grafts to relocate.

Originally Appeared on GQ