Medical Review By: Emmanuel Loucas, MD
If you’re losing your hair, you may think your choices are Rogaine, a hair transplant or lifelong embarrassment. But there’s another option, called platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, which can help trigger new hair growth. PRP therapy has been used since the 1970s to help athletes heal from injuries, but health practitioners have discovered it can also treat a variety of other issues, including hair loss.
“PRP therapy isn’t a magic cure for hair loss, but it can be very effective in certain people, particularly when it’s used with other treatments such as Rogaine and Propecia,” said Emmanuel Loucas, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Water’s Edge Dermatology who specializes in PRP therapy.
What is PRP therapy?
PRP therapy is a series of injections of platelet-rich plasma taken from your own blood. (Platelets are cell fragments that are essential to blood clotting. Plasma is a yellowish liquid that makes up about half of a person’s blood volume.) Platelet-rich plasma contains proteins called growth factors that stimulate the growth of tissue. It’s believed that these growth factors, when injected in the scalp, are what trigger new hair growth.
“Your hair follicles don’t die when you lose hair, so the goal of most available hair loss treatments is to reactivate them,” Dr. Loucas said. “PRP therapy is another method of ‘waking up’ the hair follicles so they’ll function properly again.”
What the treatment entails
When you arrive at your appointment, the doctor will draw about 1 to 2 ounces of blood by placing a needle in your arm. The needle contains a small amount of an anticoagulant to prevent clotting. It can cause a brief stinging sensation, Dr. Loucas said.
Next, the doctor will place your blood in a centrifuge to separate out the plasma. The plasma is then injected in multiple locations on your scalp. Patients usually need 40 to 50 injections per session.
“I know that sounds painful and a little scary, but your doctor will numb the area first with a topical anesthetic or nerve blocker so the injections don’t hurt,” Dr. Loucas explained.
The whole process takes about an hour or two. Recovery is quick. Your scalp may be a little red following treatment, but any redness fades in a few hours. You may also experience some swelling of the scalp for a couple of days.
How many treatments are needed?
A full course of PRP treatment for hair loss involves three sessions spaced eight weeks apart. You should notice new hair growth in four to six weeks following treatment. The effects of PRP are not permanent. You’ll need to get maintenance treatments every six to 12 months to continue seeing results.
The best candidates for PRP therapy
PRP therapy can treat androgenic alopecia, the most common type of hair loss, also known as male-pattern and female-pattern baldness. However, it’s more likely to be effective if you start treatment in the early stages of hair loss, Dr. Loucas said. “You can’t show up with a huge bald spot and expect great results.”
It can also be effective in people with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair to fall out in clumps, leaving round bald spots.
PRP therapy is less likely to work if your hair loss is due to a condition that causes scarring of the scalp, such as lupus. Once scarring has occurred, hair follicles typically can’t be reactivated.
You may get better results by combining PRP therapy with other hair loss treatments, though some people see good results with PRP therapy alone.
PRP therapy may not be recommended if you have an inflammatory skin condition such as psoriasis or a weakened or suppressed immune system.
Possible risks and side effects
Because it uses your own plasma, PRP is generally safe and well-tolerated, Dr. Loucas said. It’s possible to develop an infection, but your doctor will take measures to prevent this, such as cleaning the scalp with alcohol. Other risks include injury to the blood vessels or nerves, calcification at the injection site and development of scar tissue.
To reduce the risk of side effects, it’s important to choose a provider who has taken a training course in PRP therapy and has been performing it for at least a couple of years.
“Technique and training really matter here,” Dr. Loucas said. “Plus, an experienced provider can more accurately determine if you’re a good candidate for PRP therapy, so there’s a greater chance that you’ll get the results you’re seeking.”
Article Written By: Jessica Brown, a health and science writer/editor based in Brooklyn, New York. She has written for Prevention, Johnson & Johnson, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and many other outlets.