There are some things you just want to set and forget. Your coffee machine, for example. Why go through the daily motions if you can have it set to brew on a timer? Or maybe you’d rather just wake up with long lashes, so you’ve traded in your finicky falsies for extensions.
Micropigmentation is like that, but for your hair. You’re probably most familiar with eyebrow microblading—a kind of semi-permanent tattoo to help fill out your eyebrows—but this technique isn’t limited to your brows. If you spend a significant amount of time trying to hide thinning hair or looking for hair growth solutions that actually work, scalp micropigmentation (SMP) could make your life a whole lot easier.
While scalp micropigmentation isn’t a substitute for good ol’ Minoxidil and isn’t a “regrowth” solution per se, the idea is that it will fill in any thinning areas and make your hair look denser. But is semi-permanent the way to go for a thinning scalp? We turned to experts—aesthetician Courtney Benvisto, microblading salon founder Ramon Padilla, and board-certified dermatologists Robin Blum, MD, FAAD, and Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD—to find out.
Meet the Expert
- Courtney Benvisto is an aesthetician at New York Dermatology Group in New York City.
- Robin Blum, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist at Central Park South Dermatology in New York City.
- Arash Akhavan, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of The Dermatology and Laser Group in New York City.
- Ramon Padilla is the founder and creative director of EverTrue Microblading Salon in New York City.
What Is Scalp Micropigmentation?
Scalp micropigmentation is a semi-permanent way to hide hair loss by mimicking hair with pigment or ink. “As with all forms of permanent makeup, pigment is being manually deposited into the skin,” says Benvisto. “This can be done with a tattoo machine or hand tool, creating little dots that when spaced close together create a shaded effect.”
Technically, it’s a tattoo for your scalp. “It creates the appearance of real hair and can conceal areas of thinning hair on the scalp,” says Blum.
Scalp Micropigmentation vs. Scalp Microblading
The difference between micropigmentation and microblading is subtle but important to note. While both involve imparting pigment into the skin, the technique is slightly different. Micropigmentation uses a tattoo device to create individual pin-pricks of pigment to mimic hair follicles and create an overall shaded or ombre effect along the scalp.
Microblading, on the other hand, is done with a thin, needle-tipped, non-electric tool to essentially “draw on” individual hairs on the outermost layer of the skin. This treatment is better suited for the brows and hairline than the scalp. “Microblading is gentler on the skin and offers more predictable recovery and results,” says Benvisto. “The problem with microblading on the scalp is that the strokes can spread under the skin and blur with time. Carefully placed strokes can look great on the brows because brow hair has very little natural movement, whereas with the scalp the head is constantly moving so the strokes can appear more noticeable and fake.”
Benefits of Scalp Micropigmentation
- Immediate results: Who doesn’t love instant gratification? “This treatment gives you immediate results that are visible to the eye,” says Akhavan. “No medications involved, no harmful chemicals, no downtime.”
- More control over the results: Because this treatment is done by human hand, you have a bit more say when it comes to your final look. “You can dictate volume, or how far down the forehead and temples you want to go. That’s not possible to do with treatments like hair regrowth formulas,” says Padilla.
- The pigment can last up to 18 months: Scalp micropigmentation can last anywhere from 12 to 18 months, depending. “Results vary based on skin type, sun exposure, and how often one washes their hair,” says Blum. “It’s not recommended for people with oily skin or people with a lot of sun exposure—because it will fade faster.”
- Less painful than other hair transplant or PRP methods: Though not totally painless, our experts agree that this ranks lower on the pain scale than most hair transplant methods.
How to Prepare for Scalp Micropigmentation
Our experts recommend only getting this treatment from someone who specializes in micropigmentation. This could be an aesthetician at a medspa or at a dermatologist's office, but once you’ve found someone you’re comfortable with, you can work out how much pigment you’re looking for, what will look best, and find the best color match.
When the day comes, Akhavan recommends showing up with a fully clean scalp, having avoided alcohol for 24 hours prior to your appointment.
What to Expect During Scalp Micropigmentation
While scalp micropigmentation is less painful than other hair transplant methods, it's not totally painless. There are needles and blades involved, after all. “Prior to the procedure, patients are numbed with topical numbing cream,” says Akhavan. Once the area is numb, the technician will use the tattoo machine to create dots or strokes in which pigment is then embedded, filling in the spots of the scalp that are experiencing sparse hair or baldness.
“Pain level depends on the patient’s pain tolerance, but numbing cream helps and the strokes are very light so it is not too painful. The sensation can be compared to a scratching feeling,” says Akhavan. She adds that the process can take anywhere from two to five hours depending on the size of the treatment area, and it may take more than one session to get the exact coverage you want.
Potential Side Effects
If you are prone to keloids—which you may know better from piercing irritation—scalp micropigmentation is not the best option. This treatment is also not recommended if you are pregnant, nursing, or on any blood-thinning medications (though Padilla adds that this is a good treatment for postpartum hair loss).
You should also take your scalp health into consideration. “It may exacerbate underlying scalp conditions, such as psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis,” says Blum.
Treatments typically cost anywhere from $500 to $1,200 depending on location.
“We ask clients to refrain from exposing the treatment area to water for one week,” says Padilla. Unfortunately, that means no washing your hair, which can be frustrating if there is any crusting or scabbing in the treatment area. You should also avoid sun exposure until fully healed, and use an SPF on your scalp if you go outside (which you’ve totally been doing anyway, right?).
The Final Takeaway
Given the cost and commitment, scalp micropigmentation isn’t for everyone. If you’re experiencing light shedding or thinning hair, it may be worthwhile to visit a trichologist or consider subtler treatments like hair masks, supplements, or Minoxidil to see what kind of results you get.
If you are still feeling self-conscious about your scalp being visible through your hair—or are frustrated with how long hair growth solutions are taking—this would be a good next step. You can go in for your treatment in the morning and be off to brunch immediately after (though maybe avoid the mimosas for the day).