I Got A Hair Transplant To Restore My Edges

Photographed by Rochelle Brock.
“Looking for places that do hair transplants for Black women was like finding a pin in a haystack,” shares hairstylist and Brixton salon owner, Andrée Marie. “At one point, I started looking at clinics that showed photos of white men with coarse hair,” she adds laughing.

For our Zoom conversation, she’s wearing a long, honey brown wig (laid to perfection, may I add) but as she explains to Unbothered, underneath the wig her hair is very short, still healing from her recent hair transplant to help restore her hairline and thinning “edges” after years of dealing with traction alopecia. And so far, so good. 

It’s been four months since the 36-year-old entrepreneur ventured to cosmetic surgery hotspot Turkey to undergo an Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) hair transplant, an expensive and exhaustive procedure which sees hair follicles plucked from a shaved area of the head and implanted in the area experiencing hair loss. In recently posted videos to Instagram and Youtube, Andrée Marie has been documenting her hair transplant journey from the very first implantation. The video has had 12,000 shares from people exclaiming they “never knew this was possible, especially for women.”
Andrée Marie
While hair-transplants are nothing new by male celebrity standards (Lebron James, Jamie Foxx, Lewis Hamilton, etc, etc) women make up just 13% of hair transplant patients and there’s much less data on how much Black women make those numbers. At the same time ‘one-third to one half of all Black women experience hair loss in their lifetime’ and traction alopecia (hair loss caused by high tension applied to the follicle) disproportionately affects Black women due to common styles such braids, wigs and weaves. Given full, thick “slayed edges” is a pervasive Black beauty standard that causes many Black people to be extra insecure about their hairlines (especially if they’ve been ‘snatched’) it’s a wonder why hair transplants aren’t more widely publicised as a solution to these sensitive issues. 
“It’s such taboo conversation,” Andrée Marie explains. “I’m a hairdresser so I am passionate about sharing my experience to help educate others, because so many women in my salon chair and in my comments don’t know this exists for them. Not many Black women are sharing their hair transplants publicly and I had so many questions, such as ‘can I wear a wig after?’"
Andrée Marie owns Brixton-based afro hair salon Maison Style Hair and is known for her pixie-cuts, expertly laid wigs, and educating customers on keeping natural hair healthy. However in her own hair journey, she explains she was hit by a “double whammy’ of traction alopecia around her hairline (hair loss caused by tight hairstyles and “miseducation” before she became a stylist) and hereditary hair thinning at the crown of her head, also caused by two pregnancies over the last few years. 
“I've had traction alopecia since I was quite young but it was focused in the areas where my hair was braided. There was literally nothing that you could really see but as the years went on, and the more I had bad braids back-to-back the worse it became,” she says. 
Andrée paints a familiar scenario of wearing tight protective styles such as cornrows and braids that would pull along the hairline causing your “edges” to weaken and the hairs to fall out over time. Seeking solutions, Andrée visited a trichologist in London, who both recommended alternative treatments to help with her hereditary hair loss, and green-lighted getting the hair transplant for traction alopecia if she was happy to. After two years of research, she decided on a Turkish clinic that had previously worked with Black women. She describes the procedure as “painful” in moments and “embarrassing” for some women with long hair who have to shave large sections as part of a process that can take months to see long-lasting results. Yet, despite the tedious nature of hair transplants, looking at Andrée Marie’s results, it’s easy to see how the procedure could become tempting for Black women struggling with hair loss. 

“Prevention [of traction alopecia] is easy and simple but it's not what everyone wants to hear. Stop the tight styles"

Eleanore Richardson, Consultant Trichologist at  Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic
“Hair transplantation for traction alopecia is becoming more common, probably because of the accessibility of it and also probably because what was a largely white male dominated market is looking for growth and the unspoken trauma of Black female hair loss provides an excellent growth opportunity,” says Eleanore Richardson, Consultant Trichologist at  Fulham Scalp & Hair Clinic considered one of the UK’s most sought after clinic for afro hair trichologists. 
“We are talking about a mulit-billion dollar industry which is slowly recognising that Black women spend far more than their white counterparts on hair products and solutions, '' adds Richardson. “The question is, is this the best solution for patients with traction alopecia? I would argue no, not immediately.”
It’s worth nothing that hair transplants aren’t cheap. Per the NHS, prices range from £1000 to even £30,000 depending on how much hair needs to be restored and where you choose to do the procedure. While hair transplants can have a high success rate for traction alopecia if performed by a doctor experienced in curly hair types, afro hair care experts, such as Richardson, suggest basic hair education can also have a positive impact on hair growth.
“From my clinic's perspective we spend a huge amount of time re-educating our patients on how to care for their hair, how to step away from high tension styles and how to feel confident wearing their own beautiful hair out,” Richardson explains further. “Prevention [of traction alopecia] is easy and simple but it's not what everyone wants to hear. Stop the tight styles. We need to be looking to embrace lower tension styling  and natural hair being worn out without added hair pieces. This is not to disregard the rich cultural history that comes with Black hair styling and design, but we do need to wake up to the fact these incredible styles are not the healthiest choice for our follicles in the long term. That is a fact.”
As Richardson suggests, prevention is better than cure when it comes to traction alopecia (although easier said than done in some cases) but are hair transplants the best solution for those experiencing lasting damage?
Richardson adds: “I'm not anti-transplants, I think they are an incredible long term solution if you are experiencing scarring (non-recoverable hair loss) from traction alopecia, but I also want the surgeons to become excellent and experienced in working with Afro hair and clear about the hair care practices that need to be discussed if a transplant is to be successful, which currently cannot be assumed.”
Andrée Marie also advises her clients to seek advice from a trichologist before booking a hair transplant appointment. “As a hair stylist I can make your hair pretty and I can get your hair to a certain level. But when it comes to serious hair concerns like traction alopecia, I almost need a partnership with a trichologist to help your hair to a stage you’re happy with.”
“Everybody wants a quick fix,” she adds “ But [hair transplants] are not a quick fix journey, it is very tedious. You have to have so much patience. And I know a few people that found it quite traumatic.For me, it was just one of those things where I'm just like, I'm not gonna see true results until maybe 6,7,8, 9 months down the line. Am I okay with that? Yes, I am.”

"I’ve accepted that I have alopecia... if the transplant doesn't work that's fine too"

Following recents conversations about alopecia and celebrating “Black, bald beauty,” at times, talking to Andrée Marie about hair transplants feels out of sync. Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating baldness? 
Yet, Andrée Marie wants me to know that she has long made “peace” with her traction alopecia, in fact, wearing her hair short or completely bald isn’t something she feels she needs to hide. In fact, the hairstylist's decision to undergo a hair transplant wasn’t about hiding at all. 
“I'm cool with it, I’ve accepted that I have alopecia,” she urges over Zoom. “[My choice to get the procedure] was a case of, if there's something I can do, great! But if the transplant doesn't work, that’s fine too.”
“I know that my hair could naturally thin over time even though I've done the transplant, maybe 10-15 years time, I might have to do another [hair transplant]. Even though it's permanent, you never know how you will age? So [I’ve been] taking that into consideration as well.”
“I see women every day, and I didn’t realise how much we don’t accept our hair, the texture, density, the length. I already know there’s a limit to what my hair can do, and I’m fine with that, and if I want to be a babes with extra long hair — there’s wigs for that! Wherever my journey grows, that’s where I’m going to glow.”

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