the history of hair transplants begins in 1930s Japan

A Brief History of Hair Transplants

It’s no surprise that at the Hair Doctor we talk about hair and hair transplants a lot. Who is a good candidate, how do transplants work, what are the benefits of Follicular Unit Extraction. We can tell you everything there is to know about medical hair restoration.

But only recently did we realize how little we know about the history of hair transplants. Who invented them and how long have they been around?

We decided to do a little bit of research. Here is what we learned.

World War II Kept Hair Transplants a Secret

Modern hair transplant technology has its roots – no pun intended! – in 1930s Japan. Japanese doctors were the first to perform groundbreaking work in surgical hair restoration. Dr. Okuda, a dermatologist by training, created a technique to help burn victims and people with scalp injuries. He extracted round sections of hair-bearing scalp and implanted them into the damaged areas where they took root and over time produced new hair.

In the 1940s this technique was refined by another Japanese dermatologist, Dr. Tamura. He extracted strips of tissue, dissected them into individual grafts, and transplanted these to repair damaged areas.

Had these advances happened at another time in history, they likely would have jump started a new hair transplant industry then and there. But due to the war and Japan’s role in it, these advances remained unknown to Western medicine for another decade.

The Discovery of “Donor-Dominant” Hair

In 1952 another dermatologist, this time an American, successfully performed the first hair transplant to treat male pattern baldness. His name was Dr. Norman Orentreich, a graduate of the New York University School of Medicine. He was the first to realize that not all hair is equal, that certain areas of scalp lend themselves better than any others as donor areas. Until then, it was not at all clear that the transplanted hair would retain the characteristics of the area where it came from and continue to thrive in its new location. It was possible, so the thinking went, that transplanted hair would fall victim to its new surroundings and fall out just as all the other hair in that area had done.

But no, the donor hair proved resistant to baldness, and this was a huge breakthrough. This idea of  “Donor Dominance” allows hair transplants to be nearly-permanent procedures. Because of donor resistance to baldness, the same areas rarely have to be treated more than once.

A Huge Leap with Follicular Unit Extraction

Without Japan’s isolation from the West during World War II, it is possible that the field of surgical hair restoration would not have suffered such a bad reputation for many years. Why? Because Dr. Orentreich’s technique was not nearly as refined as Dr. Tamura’s. While he is widely viewed as the “father of hair transplants” and deserves credit for his role in identifying donor hair, his cruder approach of cutting out entire sections of scalp led to many aesthetically questionable outcomes.

If you have a daughter, go to her room and see if you can find a doll. When you check out her hairline, you will see that the hair sprouts from her forehead in bunches or “plugs” rather than naturally. This “dolls’ hair” look was a common complaint of the Orentreich “punch graft” method.

With new breakthrough technology developed in the late 1980s and 1990s, these woes were soon forgotten. Modern-day hair transplants are so much better than their predecessors just 20 years ago. Ever since the invention of the Follicular Unit Extraction or FUE method in 2003, it has been possible to transplant individual follicles of hair with thousand of pin-prick-like extractions and insertions. It is virtually impossible to detect a well-performed FUE hair transplant where individual grafts of hair have been artfully placed to create a new hairline and fill in the crown.

And this is of course what men – and also women – want from a hair transplant. Else they would be wearing a wig!

Speaking of wigs, you might enjoy this entertaining story about Elton John and his struggles with hair loss.

We hope that you’ve learned something new from our excursion into the past. And now, back to the future. Would you like to know how many grafts it would take to  make your balding areas disappear? Request a free, no-obligation hair transplant quote by uploading your picture right now!


With over 20 years of experience in FUE hair restoration, we are a leading provider of affordable hair transplants in the Southeast. Our results speak for themselves, and our personal attention is what our patients rave about. Conveniently located in Nashville, Memphis, and Louisville, we also offer travel packages for out-of-town patients. Request Free Quote>>