Gearing up for Micro-pigmentation
Hello BTT Forum Members - After years of suffering with hair loss (I am age 41 and at the beginning stages of a Norwood IV level) I finally decided that smp is going to be the best bet for me personally. It bothered me for many years before I really looked into the options and started reading to educate myself. I am a biomedical engineer and almost as interested in smp from an engineering prospect as I am from a cosmetic point of view. Been visiting this forum to read up on advice and opinions for about two months now and finally decided to make my first post.
I know some forum members consider smp to be nothing but a head tattoo, but I do not have the density of hair needed in the back for a decent hair transplant. Many of the before and after pictures have usually not impressed me for most HTs, and while balding bothers me, it does not do so to the tune of $30,000 or more.
I was used to wearing my hair very short before I even began to thin out at age 27, so for me, smp is the best bet for the look I am considering and the price. Of course before posting here, I read up on many of the other threads and heard the word 'schill' bandied about quite often. So, while I have chosen my provider and booked dates in July and August, I wont mention them by name here. If the results turn out well then I will eventually reveal my provider at the end and post pics and if they dont turn out well, I will discuss the results, keep the provider's name unmentioned and not show pics.
By reading here and and at other sites, I see many are strongly opposed to smp but I am begining this thread as the start of my journey to get back my freedom (if possible). Until this point I have been wearing an expensive ($1600) synthetic hair wig that fools most people from two feet or further away. I look like Fabio in it and most people really think it is my own hair. But it is hot, hard to exercise in and slightly detectable if you had to work with me daily and interact often with me. And we all know what most North Americans feel about a man who wears a wig. So, time for a change.
Will smp be a life changer or simply a bad tattoo that does not match my head and looks fakey? I dont know yet, but my first appointment is in July and I will keep this updated as my journey to getting some freedrom back progresses.
(also, I dont work for or am on the staff of any smp companies, or am I here to promote them. I am a balding academic in the San Fran Bay Area who hates hair loss and finally got motivated to get off my butt and do something. (which is funny, cause my father is a Norwood IV too and it never seemed to phase him). As I go thru the process, feel free to private message and I will try to help out)
Here is a bit of background info on myself - Background – Currently, a 41 year old caucasian male (white – non-hispanic) of Scotish heritage who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and is at either Level III or the beginning of Level IV on the Norwood chart. No previous hair transplants or operations/smp/ or tatooing of any kind. (also never used any medications or scalp drugs, except for Rogaine which I tried for four months and stopped due to scalp itchiness and dryness when I was 29 years old). Thirteen years married with one small son, so considering the smp process more from the anti-hat/anti-wig wearing angle than from the younger single man angle. Began to lose hair at age 27 and by age ~33, it was clearly noticeable, especially with my already high forehead. Since then, balding has slowed, and if I follow like my father, will stop at around the Norwood Level IV stage. Have some density of hair in the back and weaker at the sides with just a little bit left on top including peachfuzz and none at the apex of the back crown. Definitely not enough though to get really dense coverage if I considered a major hair transplant (which I will not, due to the scarring, pain, difficulty in finding the correct doctor, overpriced expense, etc...). Despite having found my wife fairly early, went thru grad school with several colleagues who had great heads of hair and by age 30 began to feel like the odd man out with the see thru scalp at social functions. By age 31 or so I began to wear a hat most of the time and by age 33, I was never caught outside my home without it on. Remember a trip to Italy with wife several years back when the Swiss Guard at the Vatican motioned for me to remove my hat upon entering St Peters, and I cringed for the next three hours I was inside constantly moving to cover my head with my hand. Although, not anti-religious, it got so bad that if someone invited me or my wife to a church service, I would not attend. From age 33 to age 37, I just got some clippers and trimmed it to about 10mm long all over, which was mehhh, okay, but looked a bit like a balding serviceman. At age 37, when I landed a university teaching position and moved to the Bay Area, I bought an expensive custom made human hair wig and it looked fabulous. I was transformed from Archie Bunker's head to Fabio instantly and most people standing from further than around 2-3 feet away never noticed. The problem was some of my intelligent colleagues who I had to constantly work with in close proximity could guess that something was up. Plus I didnt like presenting myself as a 'fake' as it were. It is also tight fitting, hot and a royal pain in the arse if I want to do a 5k run or swim, etc... And so, that journey has brought me to micro-pigmentation, and considering a new change of life. I currently shave my head twice a week with a wet razor anyway to fit on the wig, and I am considering the look where the top of the head is dotted dark enough with pigmentation to last for 2 to 3 days before shaving it again.
So that gives you a bit of background and I will post some pics of my untreated dome here in the next few days.
Thanks for sharing your story, I have been thinking about doing SMP ever since I first learned about such a proceedure. About 5 years ago I was walking in Manhattan with my girlfriend going to the museum and I saw this guy who was covered in tattoos but the thing that caught my attention was his scalp was covered with small little maybe 1/4 inch dashes that was replicating hair. And I thought to myself that's cool. He got the coverage on his bare scalp and at the same time it went with his overall look. But it was really crude and no where near as refined as it is today. Ever since that day I have always though about it. So now we have state of the art work being done and still I am apprehensive about doing it. Reason being is all the negitive feedback from other forum users. I keep hearing shill and misrepresentation etc. Then I went to a IRHS doctor to see if there was any chance to get some light coverage or at least a decent hairline with a HT. And was told that I did not have enough donor hair. I then asked what was his opinion of the SMP. He said it hasen't been around long enough to really know the long term viability. Also he said that being that I was fair skin on my head and my shaved shadow on my head was so light it probably would not look so good. And once it's there, there is no turning back.
Originally Posted by HatingHats
I heard Spencer talk about some woman in Italy that does a temporary SMP proceedure that last's 2 years. I wish we can find out more information on this proceedure and how it looks. I think I would be willing to jump in for the proceedure knowing that it's only temporary and if it does not look good it's reversible.
Let us know how it turns out and best of luck to you.
First - Apologies above for the incorrect word "phase" which should be "faze", and schill, which should be "shill". Guess there is a 30 min time limit or something for editing.
To Horseshoe - I have all the same concerns you just made lucid. First and foremost being, Will it turn blue down the road ? Second, will it smear? and third, will it fade away?
The last thing I want to end up as, is as a stooge with a giant blue smurf head, LOL.
So, saying that, I can answer a few of your concerns even though my procedure is not until July. Primarily, you can receive a test patch. They will take a tiny area wherever you choose on your scalp and then put in several dozen follicular 'dots', and you can see how that holds up for weeks, months or years before, or if you decide to return for a full smp procedure (at least this is possible at the provider I have chosen, I cannot comment for the others). You can make this test area very, very tiny if you choose (like 3mm by 3mm or 1/8th inch by 1/8th inch).
Removal is done by laser as I understand it, if you really did not like the smp treatment (adn the laser service can be done by the provider I have chosen or by a dermatologist's office). This is easier (on average) than tattoo removal because smp pigment is placed about 2mm into the skin (into the upper dermis, the layer below the epidermis) and is trapped in the lumen of your upper collagen matrix. With a tattoo, ink is placed lower into the middle dermis (usually about 4 mm as I understand it). The deeper the ink or pigment, the harder it is to break up with nanosecond pulsed laser light, and the longer it takes your phagocytes to remove the ink. After speaking with a few dermatologist offices in my area, they all said, that if indeed the insertion depth is 2mm, then barring some unusual ink, the removal process is fairly easy. The provider I have chosen is currently testing the removal process on two clients and it looks as if it will be offered by the fall of 2012 at the hourly rate (instead of the main procedure rate).
As to the pigment turning blue, that is a much more complex question. Part of the reason the pigment is placed in the upper dermis is so that it can easily be seen through the epidermis and 'appear' as hair follicles. Unfortunately, placing a pigment or ink that close to the epidermis means that light and sunlight can easily reach it. And UV light from the sun carries quite an energetic punch in joules which can often degrade many pigment types. Which brings us to the $64,000 dollar question which differentiates the providers, what exactly is the pigment being used ? If the pigment is a metal oxide as is used in many modern tattoos then it is highly resistant to UV fading, but the small molecular size of a metal oxide (say 30 to 100 nanometers) means that it can easily float thru the spaces (lumen) of your collagen matrix and spread out (which means fade) as the years pass. If the pigment used is a large organic polymer (say with diameter of one or two microns) then it cannot move around easily in the collagen but is more likely to degrade if exposed to UV radiation (which means sunscreen is paramount). The provider I have chosen has said that all providers tend to keep their pigment choices a secret, but that they will give me much more info on my treatment dates. So, for the pigment choice, I am in a small way putting myself up as a guinea pig. This is part of the reason I am interested in smp from an engineering aspect is that it is essentially a polymer optimization problem (and mathematically this is a diffusion model).
There is also much that is specific to the individual in the smp process that cannot assesed directly with a second order ordinary differential equation (ODE) or PDE type model. For example, after reading about test case after test case, some people 'took' to the ink in only one to two treatments, but others had much fading after each treatment and took five or more steps to get the desired look they wanted. This (I am making a guesstimate here) is likely due to their individual collagen micro-structure as coded by their DNA when in utero, and then perhaps effected slightly throughout life epigenetically. Also, the "dots' of pigment that are placed on the head do spread out a bit and this varies from person to person. In a normal healthy human, the average hair on a causcasian person's head is about 77 Um (micrometers) in diameter, about 67 Um in those of Asian descent and about 120 Um in those of African descent. But, the needle used for making the 'dots' is larger. How much larger, I cannot nail down yet, but from numerous hi-def pictures, I would roughly guess something like 300 Um (or 3/10ths of one millimeter). And that individual micro-structure of the upper dermis plays the critical role in whether a person comes out of the treatment looking very realistic from one foot away, or looking 'dotty' and a bit fakey.
@Admins - If someone sees this, can they set my account so that I can make edit changes for up to one hour or so. Thanks
To continue from above....
That upper collagen structure also plays the crucial role in rate of fading and smearing. I can also say that when some past forum members I have seen compare smp to tattooing as regards to fading, that is generally incorrect. I have been told this is because tatto ink is deeper in the dermis and there is more movement of phagocytes and mytocyctic cells the deeper you go in the dermis (or hypodermis for that matter). This normal component of the immune system gradually breaks up pigment globs and moves them to your lymph nodes. That is why in old sailors for example you see these faded and stretched tattoos. It is the level of the ink and often the fact that the ink used was of poor quality. I am not a dermatologist and I cannot accept what smp providers tell me at face value, but I do find credence in some aspects of their claims. Modern organic and metal oxide inks are much more resistant to UV degradation and fade than many of the pigments used decades ago.
Also, to you personally Horseshoe, I have heard of that service in Italy (of which I do not know if it excellent or poor) but I live on the West Coast of the USA, so had to find someone in country if possible (and I did, eventually). I have spent the last several months researching four major providers and several minor ones, including several cosmotolgists who specialize in permanent makeup. I have nothing bad to say about any of the firms I contacted except one in Florida which treated me poorly on the phone, did not answer my scientific questions to my satisfaction and make me feel sketchy. (name omitted to stick with my neutrality theme)
About the providers - If you are considering having this done, do research and think it over. Then, when you have decided. Go out for a good night with friends, and think it over some more and keep reading. Each provider I have phoned, emailed or texted has had some degree (from very very minor to fairly large) of shadiness. This includes mis-quotes on pricing, time (or number of sessions) it takes to achieve the look you are after, the pain level or general scientific knowledge. This smp is fairly new stuff and it preys upon the desparation that many younger balding men feel. Obviously, laying out three to six grand large, to get a smurf head is like a huge nail in the confidence coffin. Fortunately, for me, these crap balding genes have taken their toll slowly and I was already with my future spouse before thinning started. But if you are 21 years old and already a Norwood 3 or 4, these places are ripe to take your money. Some will work with you quite dilligently over many sessions to get the look you paid for, and others are a one shot and your out on your azz deal. And that is not factoring in hundreds or thousands in travel cost and lost work time.
Research carefully. Call and ask detailed questions like:
1 - (Obviously) How much is the price? (most places say the cost starts at around $500, but in reality, even if you are a Norwood 1, it starts at about $1200, but for most folks it is roughly $2800 to $6600, not couting tax)
2 - How deep does the needle go? (they should be going about 2mm deep)
3 - How big is the follicle dot, the needle makes ? (in most cases it is about ~300 Um, which is the same as 3/10ths of a millimeter)
4 - How is the needle operated and how many needles are there? (in all places but two, a standard 3 round needle is used and it is operated with a slightly special tattoo gun)
5 - How many sessions will I need? (unless the Virgin Mary comes down and rubs her nether regions on your smp scalp and you turn out to be that one guy in 300 who looks set with no fading after only one session, you will need more than one session, and sometimes up to five or six. Scars are even harder to treat and take pigment very unevenly).
6 - Do you use special proprietary needles or pigment ? (many will claim to do this but in actuality, the truth is likely they are taking standard pigments that are widely available and abasing them slightly with a minute amount of something else to claim their ink is special. Same for needles or needle techniques. Do not fall for the 'patent pending' line. Many tens of thousands of patents are filed for every year, but only a small percentage are actually approved by USPTO).
7 - etc.... make sure you educate yourself and prepare before any email, phone or Skype consultation.
Edit - In the post above, desparation should be desperation. There is also an 'is' missing. Dang 15 min edit feature. I tend to type fast and correct later.
Durability - A person sent me an email privately at another location online about durability and will micro-pigmentation last 10, 20 or more years down the road. The answer is, I dont know.
I am not a dermatologist, permanent makeup cosmotologist or skin specialist. I will make a best guess based on the info I have so far and say scalp micro-pigmentation using a metal oxide based pigment will have bleed and fade similar to a good tattoo. If the pigment is branched C-H chains that spans the collagen lumen of your upper dermis, the bleed will be less. In the long run, 15 years or more down the road, my guess is it will depend upon your particular micro-dermal structure as coded by your DNA. My best guess is that for a healthy male, on average expect a touch-up every 5-8 years with some fading also every 5-8 years. After two or three touch ups, around 12 to 25 years, you might expect to receive some form of laser removal to 'lighten' the area before having another touch up. This is only a best guess, and for guys that think smp is going to be a one session, BANG and you are done for life type procedure, I think that is highly inaccurate. Another reason why choosing the correct provider is important is that some offer touch-ups after the first year at an hourly fee (which is much less than the initial procedure fee) and some do not.
HatingHats, you are the man! You did your homework and then some. I appreciate your diligence. As for me, I'm still on the fence and to be quite honest a little scared of a negitive outcome. I still have many questions that I don't think can be honestly answered by the SMP providers. What they tell you and what they do can be slightly or drastically different. Here are some of my concerns:
1. They say the SMP is placed 2mm into the skin. How would we know if that is in fact the case? What if they go deeper like a traditional tattoo?
2. As they place the dots on your scalp and then you need a touch up, what is the likelihood that they will get the dot right on top of the old dot? Not likely in my opinion. So therefore the dot will be elongated and no longer look like a follicle. Then when you get enough dots that are connecting now you have a road map for disaster on your head. And this does not take into account if the dot spreads like a traditional tattoo.
3. What is in the ink? They can tell it is a speacial proprietary formula. How would we know if that is true? The only way is to send it to a lab for analysis.
4. Is the Ink safe? Once again they say they changed the formula and it's a secret. Is there toxic metals in the ink? Once again needs to be lab tested.
5. If you did not like it or they made a mistake or you needed a touch up in a couple years and they tell you that you need to get laser treatment to remove the old ink; what will that do to the dormant follicles in your scalp? I know that they use lasers to remove hair by killing the follices and I think that will destroy the follicles in your scalp. If there comes a day when a cell based cure is available and you damaged your follicles with the laser removal then what?
And in closing, I did go see a SMP clinic in NY (HIS) and the representative giving the consultation was young in his mid 20's and he said he would be the one applying the SMP. He also had the procedure done and here was my take on it:
The first thing I noticed was that it was very hard to see in the dim yellow lighting that was in the establishment. Second, I asked to see in better lighting so we went next to the window facing outside. What I noticecd is that he already had a lot of hair follices that were approximately 1/8 inch in length which gave it depth and 3D view. And being that he had real hair coverage all over his scalp including his hairline it looked decent. But I don't have any hair coverage being a NW7 and no follices except for the Horseshoe area. So will it look the good for me? I don't know. As I further analyzed his SMP I noticed that I really could not see any seperate follicle dots only his real hair follicles were visable. But because he had so much real hair the SMP really acted sort of like putting makeup on the scalp. The SMP looked like it was all connected. I guess if you have that kind of full head thinning coverage going on and then you shade in the lighter scalp it will definately make it appear as if you have a full head of cropped hair.
I guess that is my dilemma and my experience.
I will try to answer your questions as best I am able Horseshoe, but remember that my procedure does not begin until July.
1- Smp as I understand it is applied with a tattoo gun (tattooists call this a tattoo machine) and they can set the depth with an adjustment dial on the machine. You can ask them to show you this if you have an actual session. This is also necessary as some folk's skin is denser than others.
2 - I think you are half correct. If the pigment used is a metal oxide (as is used with most modern tattoos) then the manner of fade and touch-ups would create elongated dots. And, there is no way with a tattoo machine's needle moving up and down that fast, that they would go over the same dots. If the pigment is an organic polymer then the fade rate (diffusion) is different (and often anisotropic) and the dots often will not merge into blobs. To see an example of this, google the Cujo thread for HIS Hair Clinic. The guy started off initially unhappy but ended up with an excellent treatment. (I would add case studies from other smp providers but they dont have forums where former clients can post their results)
3 - You cannot tell if what they put in your scalp is truly ink or colored horse piss. Tattoo inks are not regulated by the FDA and most states do not have laws that control tattoo pigments. They could put dried blood from Vlad Dracul in your scalp and you would not be able to tell, ....well,...until fangs started to sprout from your mouth a few weeks later. That said, several places use standard tattoo metal oxide inks that can be color and density matched in one or two treatments. I do believe that the three reputable providers of SMP currently in the USA are using standardized inks or organics, but some cosmetic makeup people are using specialized mixes that I would not put much faith in. Specialized pigments though may take 3 to 5 treatments to match.
4 - No way to tell about long term toxicity or carcinogens. However, the upper dermis of the skin is very, very non-reactive to most compounds surprisingly. The true unknown is how digested pigment molecules react with immune system responses once they are moved to the lymph nodes. However, as with anything, must weigh the risks. If you are only 21 years old and a Norwood 4 or greater, then chances are that the decrease in confidence is much more damaging than any small toxicity effects thirty years down the road. Better to get some dates, get laid and go on and lead a normal life than to stay single, move in to your mom's basement, fume over your baldness and eventually become a crazed postal employee. (Okay, I digress... but you see the point)
5 - That is a question, I cannot answer well yet. I know that lasers destroy darker colored hair follicles more easily. There is currently experimentation going on with regards to pulsed nano-second lasers for pigmentation removal. SMP providers would say that it can be lasered off quickly without hair destruction, but I suspect that is not entirely true. Cant answer with science yet. Still learning in this area.
It sounds like you are saying that going with organic polymer is the way to go since it will not spread like traditional ink. Also you said that it will take several treatments to complete the end product. So does that mean that they put down the first lets say layer of ink and then they need to go over it again for it to take, maybe two or three times? And if that is the case, doesn't that cause the elongated dots? I know I sound like a pain but this is something permanent and after seeing that last SMP clinic and not seeing the seperate dots on his head it gives me apprehension to say the least. I need to do more research and getting advise from forum users experience always helps.
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