Everything You Need to Know About Scalp Micropigmentation

The truth about the master of illusion treatment that makes every day a good hair day.

MINI JOURNEY: Scalp Micropigmentation

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Hair is a funny thing. We want more of it on our heads and less on our bodies, yet accomplishing that can be more difficult to achieve than it appears. No matter how many hair-growth supplements you pop or rounds of PRP you spend cash on, there comes a time when a longer-lasting treatment that ‘cheats’ the look of more hair deserves a spot in your hair routine. Enter: scalp micropigmentation.

The power of precisely placed pigments is literally working its way up the body. First, deeply deposited pigments made a name for themselves in the form of artistic tattoos, then as part of eyebrow microblading to create the illusion of perfect arches. Today, pigments have gained a solid reputation as the go-to for camouflaging visible contrast between the scalp and thinning hair—or no hair—exists by laying down pigments in the scalp, sort of like a tattoo, just different.

With more women succumbing to the unwanted effects of thinning hair and hair loss due to stress, aging and even long-term effects of COVID, and longing for their hair to look full and luscious again with less scalp show, many are turning to semi-permanent scalp micropigmentation. The treatment is easy, effective and an instant confidence booster—who wouldn’t want that?

Beyond the physical improvement, the procedure also provides a significant emotional component to build back confidence. According to Melissa Pruett, Founder of MELT by Melissa, thinning hair can crush a woman’s spirit, especially those who don’t love wearing their hair down where the scalp skin is visible at their part line. “It's challenging when women feel like they can't confidently pull their hair back or put it into a ponytail without feeling like a thin, receding hairline is visible," Pruett says. "Scalp micropigmentation is such an easy boost of confidence and it adds density and dimension where it’s needed so women can truly wear their best hair!"

If covering up patchy spots on the scalp sounds like it may be what the doctor ordered, keep reading to learn every detail about scalp micropigmentation.

What is scalp micropigmentation?

Even though scalp micropigmentation and eyebrow microblading are often grouped under the same umbrella, the treatments are quite different in terms of how they work and what they deliver, and that’s where knowing what you’re signing up for makes all the difference.

Scalp micropigmentation is a minimally-invasive procedure that delivers microscopic dots of unique pigments into the scalp via tiny needles. The addition of pigment fills in areas on the scalp where there’s more skin exposed due to either thinning hairs that can’t cover the scalp or bald spots. Scalp micropigmentation is, in a nutshell, nothing more than a well-done optical illusion because the added pigments look like authentic hair follicles and give the illusion of hair, although no new hair is grown as a result of the treatment.

Hair transplant surgeon Dr. Rae Lynne Kinler of Ziering Medical, explains that scalp micropigmentation, an ancient Asian beautification practice that has gained popularity worldwide, uses metabolically inert pigment granules implanted just below the epidermis. “It is done with organic blends of various-sized molecules to create colors that will both be accepted and adapted into the skin without activating the histamine defense response.”

To artfully deposit the tiny dots of pigments into the scalp so that it takes on the appearance of a hair follicle rather than a messy smattering of color, Pruett explains that a unique technique is used. “With microblading, the pigments are placed by hand with several tiny needles that are in the shape of a blade which etches extremely fine hair-like strokes into the upper layers of the skin. But with scalp micropigmentation, we use a permanent makeup machine to create tiny polka-dot-like pixels in the hairline, which produces a shadow effect where follicles are sparse. This shadowing effect is more like microshading for the brows,” she adds.

Sculpted Studios owner and master artist Steven Greitzer says that even though the effect of scalp micropigmentation is similar to what can be achieved with dyes and fibers, there’s more consistency and longevity with the semi-permanent treatment, and of course, no daily mess. “People are turning to scalp micropigmentation more because the process is guaranteed. There is no ‘what if’ about whether it works.” He adds that men, particularly, are fans of the procedure because hair loss along the hairline changes how they view the facial structure and proportions. “Downtime-free scalp micropigmentation gives that back.”

How does scalp micropigmentation work?

For the pigments, which are always customized to perfectly match each client’s natural hair follicles, to be implanted into the scalp, the process of micropigmentation must rely on specialized tools, machines and needles. “The impression made in the scalp is the perfect shape, which allows it to look identical to a real hair follicle,” Greitzer says. “By placing the pigment into the papillary layer of the dermis, which is the most stable area, we can create the perfect effect in three sessions.” Each session takes two to five hours, so be prepared to devote some serious time.

Scalp micropigmentation relies on specialty pigments to make the transition between the scalp and the hair follicle's color less obvious. Adding pigment to sparse areas creates the look of more hair coverage sans new hair. To create the most natural look, hair transplant surgeon Dr. William D. Yates shares that the color of the pigment should match the color of the client's hair as it grows out. A mix-and-match approach using various pigment hues best mimics the hair's natural color and density, so it's impossible to discern what are natural hair follicles on the scalp and what are not. 

Using a powered pigment-depositing machine with a fine-tipped needle, small, gentle strokes exactingly add cosmetic-grade color pigments (not tattoo ink or anything like it) directly one to two millimeters under the skin in a follicular growth pattern so that the color appears natural and doesn’t migrate, fade or bleed. "It's essential not to put the pigment too close together, or you will create a diffuse pattern that looks unnatural," Dr. Yates says. "It is also important to create a natural-looking hairline with normal recession built into it rather than one that is too low or boxy, which will look contrived." Conversely, positioning the pigment too superficially into the skin can cause it to not look like a hair follicle, so precision is key.

Most artists, Greitzer included, build up to the final color over a few treatment sessions rather than adding all the pigments to the scalp at once, which can create a muddy and unnatural look. "Adding the pigment in steps allows us to create the perfect size, shape and level of saturation to look identical to the client's natural look."

It's critical to come to the appointment with a clean scalp and hair that hasn't been treated with topical hair products, including exfoliating scrubs and hair growth serums. "We are working on the skin with pigments, so the skin needs to be in ideal condition before and not exposed to product during healing," Greitzer explains. Hair follicles that contain debris or product can impede the delivery of the pigment and the outcome. Pruett also instructs her clients to avoid drinking alcohol before their appointment since it can thin the blood and cause more bleeding (it's normal) during the procedure. It's also expected for the treated areas to be red or feel tender to the touch after.

scalp micropigmentation


Does scalp micropigmentation hurt?

Since everyone has different thresholds of pain and what's considered painful versus tolerable, it's hard to say where on the pain-o-meter scalp micropigmentation falls. Topical numbing cream is applied to the area to make the process more comfortable. Some people say scalp micropigmentation feels like nothing more than a deep tickle on the scalp, while others say it feels like getting a tattoo.

Are there risks associated with scalp micropigmentation?

Scalp micropigmentation is one of the safer and more reliable hair-related procedures, but it's imperative to find a skilled technician to perform the procedure. Greitzer says an artist can not use microblading techniques for scalp micropigmentation. If that happens, the results won't look natural, and the pigment won't represent the look of hair. If you're unhappy with the results, a pigment-reducing laser is the only way to correct them.

Who is a good candidate for scalp micropigmentation?

Almost anyone of any age bothered by patchy areas of thinning hair, hair loss or a receding hairline can likely benefit from scalp micropigmentation. But, as Dr. Kinler says, candidate selection is key as with most treatment protocols. "Because it creates the look of thicker, denser hair, scalp micropigmentation is an excellent way to supplement transplantations. Post-hair replacement surgical patients often make great candidates." But you don't need to be a surgery patient to undergo scalp micropigmentation. "We can also use it to help blend scars, hypogonadism or partial alopecia." However, she adds that when a patient has progressive or aggressive pattern baldness and ongoing hair loss, scalp micropigmentation may not necessarily be the best procedure because it may not be able to support a camouflage as more hair loss occurs.

For those who wear their hair longer, scalp micropigmentation can garner great results. As Dr. Kinler explains, pigmentation is designed to replicate short hair or a full follicle on a shaved or stubbed cut. "Women most often keep long hair, so they get the full benefit of color and the appearance of overall texture, volume and fullness but not from the same close-to-the-scalp perspective as male patients."

Skin type plays an integral role. Dry to normal scalps hold the pigments better than oily scalps. But that doesn't mean scalp micropigmentation is off the table for those skin types; it just may not provide as long of a result or as dramatic of one, and the process may be more complex.

Scalp micropigmentation aftercare:

After a session is complete, the road to recovery is easy and quick. The treated area will fully recover in 10 days to two weeks, depending on the site size.

It's normal for the scalp to be red, almost like a mild sunburn, for a few hours and feel a little itchy, dry or tight during the first week as the skin heals and regenerates. "You can use a salve or balm to keep the area moist and help eliminate any itching," Dr. Kinler says. Small scabs will form, and the pigment may look darker than usual initially. Over the coming weeks, a portion of the pigment will fade.

Since the scalp will be tender and sore for the first few days, you'll want to treat it with TLC and take it easy with your regular hair routine. The treated areas will likely scab before they fall off on their own.

The most important rule in post-care treatment is not washing the hair for four days and keeping the area as dry as possible to allow the pigments to penetrate properly. Pruett says after that, you should only use baby shampoo on the scalp until you can resume using regular shampoo. Skip working out and hitting the sauna for at least one week since sweat and oils can compromise the results, like water. Then, it's business as usual—opt for sulfate-free and chemical-free hair products to help preserve the color—except for topical hair growth products for one month. "The skin must be in ideal condition and not exposed to product during healing. Many topical products contain ingredients that speed up exfoliation and bleach, which would negatively affect the tattoo and its process," Greitzer explains.

The sun is a known offender and can suck the color of the pigments right out, so take preventive measures when out in the sun. "Long-term care should consist of regular moisturizing and SPF," Greitzer shares.

Hair coloring is optional, and Pruett says it is entirely based on each person's desired look. "Discuss this with your artist before choosing the pigment coloring because scalp micropigmentation coloring is typically matched to the root color."

How much does scalp micropigmentation cost?

What you'll pay for scalp micropigmentation may differ from what your friend will be charged because the procedure is 100% individualized to each person's needs. On average, scalp micropigmentation can start around $1,000 and fetch as high as $5,000 or more, which, of course, depends on the size of the area being treated and the complexity of the hair follicle color customization.

How long do the results of scalp micropigmentation last?

The pigments used last about three to five years. Dr. Kinler stresses that scalp micropigmentation is not permanent and falls within the category of being semi-permanent and bio-absorbable by the immune system through phagocytosis. "It does require maintenance to maintain the results, which also gives the practitioner and patient time to assess the hair loss and pigment placement for the best results." While she says the pigment will fade over time, it should not change color. "To keep any existing pigment looking fresh and the results realistic, I recommend annual touch-ups, which also helps mitigate fading."

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