I Got Scalp Injections For My Thinning Hair — & This Is What Happened

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
My hair started falling out in my early 20s. It was sudden and dramatic. One day, my brush resembled, well, a brush, and the next, it looked more like a Lhasa Apso. The shedding itself didn’t bother me. But after a few months, when I noticed my part widening and my ponytail shrinking, panic set in.

The Diagnosis — & What I Tried Next
My dermatologist ran blood tests to rule out typical hair-loss culprits like hypothyroidism and anemia. When the results came back normal, I was given the diagnosis of mild androgenetic alopecia, or Female Pattern Hair Loss (FPHL). Essentially, this meant my hair follicles were shrinking, causing the hair to fall out faster and grow back finer and shorter in a process called “miniaturization.” Surprisingly common, the condition affects roughly 30 million adult women in the U.S. alone. It can start anytime from your 20s to 60s, and can be caused by hormonal and hereditary factors.

I spent the next few years trying to make my strands stick around. I started using minoxidil, the only hair-loss treatment approved by the FDA for women. I also tried a follicle-stimulating laser comb and spironolactone, a blood-pressure medication believed to help some FPHL suffers. Alas, the only thing the comb “stimulated” was dandruff, and the spironolactone — a diuretic —had me running to the bathroom every five minutes.

By my 30s, I’d all but given up, resigning myself to a life of deep side-parts and mousse. Then, this past summer, I heard about a new hair-loss treatment. It was my dermatologist who clued me in. During a routine mole check, I made a grumbling aside about my scrawny locks. “You should try PRP treatment; it’s really starting to get good results,” she said, giving me the number of local dermatologist and hair specialist Brian Dubow, MD.

Two weeks later (his first available appointment), I was in Dr. Dubow’s Beverly Hills office peppering him with questions.

Enter: PRP
So what exactly is PRP? "It stands for 'platelet-rich plasma,'" explained Dr. Dubow. "Platelets, which are found in your blood, are loaded with proteins called growth factors that accelerate wound healing." As it turns out, in high enough concentrations, growth factors are also believed to help battle hair loss. "They stimulate the hair follicle to turn on, if it’s been in a sleeping state, and if it’s already awake, it’s like giving it a vitamin boost, helping the hair grow longer and thicker," said Dr. Dubow.

The pain was…exquisite. I howled and yelped and spoke in whole sentences comprised of the f-word...

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The treatment was pretty straightforward. Blood taken from the patient is placed in a special centrifuge and spun to separate the components: red blood cells, plasma, and platelet-rich plasma. The latter is then extracted and spun a second time to achieve an optimal concentration of growth factors (five to 10 times greater than in the bloodstream). Finally, it’s injected into the patient’s scalp wherever they are experiencing thinning.

Done in office, the treatment takes less than 20 minutes and is considered fairly safe, the biggest risk factor being infection at the injection sites. For an optimal outcome, six sessions within a year are recommended. Dr. Dubow started offering PRP less than a year ago, but he has already been seeing positive results. “About 80% of my patients have seen their shedding slow down or stop completely,” he said, noting he recommends doing the therapy in conjunction with other hair-loss treatments, like minoxidil or spironolactone. “A lot also see new growth and tell me their existing hair feels thicker and fuller.” The cost? The average is somewhere in the ballpark of $1,250 a treatment (or $5,900 if you prepay for your first year). [Ed. note: I ended up paying a bit less than this thanks to a press discount, or, as I like to call it, a (very lucky) beauty-writer-guinea-pig discount.]

Wait, How Much?
“There’s a wide range of fees out there,” said Dr. Dubow, noting he’d seen treatments offered for as low as $500. “But the systems that achieve the highest PRP concentrations are the ones that are more labor-intensive. I also think it’s important to have an actual physician do the injections.”

It definitely wasn’t going to be cheap, even with a press discount. But dammit, I wanted hair! Thick locks like Gigi Hadid’s may be out of reach, but didn’t I at least deserve Bella’s? This didn't feel like going through a bad breakout or having hips that didn't mesh well with fashion's latest trendy silhouettes. Women aren’t supposed to lose their hair. Never mind how common it actually is, in our society, it’s not just unattractive but downright un-female, I thought. (I know, I know, my hair isn't what makes me me, but I want to be honest about the way I felt here...and this is it.)

Dr. Dubow bent down closer to examine my scalp. He counted 18 hairs within a small area that normally houses around 25. “You’re a good candidate,” he concluded. “This treatment doesn’t work on areas with little or no hair. You’re thinning, but you’re not too far gone yet.”

Yet?
Oof. I had my credit card ready before I’d reached the receptionist. A week later, I returned for my first treatment, but things didn’t exactly go according to plan.


Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Let's Do This
The nurse, Manuel, informed me he’d be taking 50 cc's of my blood. For someone who gets queasy at the sight of a paper cut, this was not welcome news. Thankfully, Manuel, an expert conversationalist, chattily steered away my attention until it was all over.

Afterward, Dr. Dubow arrived and offered to anesthetize the treatment area. “No time,” I said, explaining I was due back at work in an hour for a meeting. Using a coolant roller as a numbing agent, he proceeded to administer 35 injections in a grid formation — five rows, seven injections a row — on the top frontal portion of my scalp.

The pain was…exquisite. I howled and yelped and spoke in whole sentences comprised of the f-word.

When it was over, I was angry I’d put myself through something that, if the other hair-loss treatments I’d tried were any indication, probably wouldn’t work anyway.

But the next night when I washed my hair, something funny happened. I barely shed. Normally, I bid adieu to around 15 to 20 hairs, but this time? Five — max! It stayed at that rate, too. Then, about a month later, I noticed patches of baby hairs had sprouted all over the top of my head. Hundreds of them. I had to slick them down with hair spray. It definitely wasn’t my best look, but I didn’t mind.

At my second appointment, Dr. Dubow observed the new hairs, too. “You’re responding nicely,” he said. However, he was quick to remind me the treatment isn’t a magic bullet — at least not yet. “We’re not at the stage where you can expect to regrow a full head of hair,” he said. “But I think PRP will improve with time. Harnessing the power of the human body is where a lot of the promise of the future of medicine is. Up to this point, we’ve relied mostly on drugs.”

I nodded. I realized I’d given hair loss my best fight. If voluminous locks weren’t in my future, I’d find other ways to feel beautiful. A woman is not the sum of hairs on her head.

“Would you like local anesthesia this time?” asked Dr. Dubow, picking up a syringe.

"Yes," I said. "Please."

Correction: An earlier version of this story noted the blood taken was 500 cc's. It is actually 50 cc's.
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