Scalp micropigmentation (SMP) is a method of creating the illusion of hair growing out of the scalp, in low density or bald areas, by implanting specially formulated pigment into the skin with a digital machine.

The digital device uses a disposable needle cartridge which delicately implants single ‘dots’ into the surface of the scalp. Every single implantation is deposited to re-create a natural looking head of hair. People consider having SMP for either the shaved effect, to give the illusion of more density in thinning hair or to camouflage scar tissue.

Who is SMP suitable for?

SMP offers a natural solution to both men and women affected by hair loss.

What type of hair loss can be treated with SMP? – The simple answer is all to some degree.  The type of hair loss does not always determine whether SMP is suitable but the extent of the hair loss, any additional treatments/solutions being used, the overall desired result and how natural the effect would be are all factors to be considered.  A SMP specialist will be able to advise during consultation whether SMP is suitable for you.

How long does it last?

SMP is a long-lasting procedure therefore the decision to have the procedure is not one to be taken lightly. How long it lasts depends on individual factors, such as skin type (oily/dry), environmental factors such as sun exposure, the skin products you use, your age and general health. Talking to people who have had SMP, we know that for some it is no longer visible after a year or two but for others it is still visible many years later. You also need to consider how it might look when you first have SMP compared to a few years down the line. Initially, it is designed to look like individual hair stands, whereas over time it may not have the same effect. Those who provide SMP recommend that it can last between 2-6 years before a top-up is required, depending on your skin type. It is also recommended that your procedure is monitored and topped up to ensure the created effect stays looking natural. You may need to consider this an ongoing cost, which although it may sound relatively infrequent, may be a significant cost depending on your personal circumstances.

How long does it take?

SMP is tailored to the client’s individual needs and hair loss so it’s difficult to say how long the process would take without consultation – a lot of this will be determined by the size of the area to be covered for example and the skin type. 

As SMP is very different from body-art and other micropigmentation treatments and to ensure the result is natural and effective it is a multi-treatment process.  The average number of treatments in the initial treatment plan is 3, with the average amount of time per session being 2-4 hours.  Sessions are spaced between 2-4 weeks apart.  Once the initial treatment plan, of 3 sessions for example, is complete then the treatment will just need periodic colour boost one-off treatments, again with the time it would take depending on the area to be treated.

What should I expect?

Before starting the process of SMP you will need to have a consultation to discuss things like colour, density and style and your suitability for the treatment.

A full consultation with a specialist practitioner will cover all the details of the treatment, what to expect, how many treatments it is likely to take and what aftercare you will need to follow.

During the consultation you will complete a medical history and consent form, which details any potential contraindications for treatment and your bespoke treatment plan.  All pros and cons of the treatment should be covered for you to consider, along with future treatment plans. 

Prior to treatment the area will be cleaned and prepared, it is advisable to arrive with freshly washed but dry hair/scalp skin as you will not be able to get the area wet for at least 4 days after treatment.

The treatment is minimally invasive and does not require any anaesthetic. Some describe the sensation as irritating rather than painful and some even fall asleep during treatment! It is advisable, due to the duration of some appointments, to ensure you have eaten and are well hydrated before the session, and bring snacks with you if necessary.

Once the treatment session is complete any residual pigment will be cleaned, and aftercare balm may be applied to the area.  The plan for the next session along with aftercare will also be discussed.  

As the initial treatment plan is staggered over multiple sessions the result ‘builds’ over the sessions and so is less noticeable after the first and second sessions.

Is there any aftercare involved or recovery time?

Immediately after the treatment the area may show some redness, which can take 24-48 hours to completely subside.  As the treatment is minimally invasive there is no real recovery time. The area is often described as mildly ‘itchy’ as it heals over the days post treatment, some also describe feeling a little tired after a long session.

The area must be kept dry for 4 days. Shampoo and/or hair products need to be avoided for seven days.  These time frames must be taken into consideration when planning your sessions to allow for social events and/or fitness and exercise. Sun exposure, swimming, sweating and dusty environments should be avoided for at least a week after treatment.  This is to allow the pigment sufficient time to heal and seal in the skin and give you the best possible healed result.

Longer-term, the treatment should be protected from strong UV exposure, to ensure the colour remains true for as long as possible in the skin and to keep colour-boost treatments to a minimum.

What are the benefits?

SMP gives instant yet gradually defining results. It is a hair loss solution where you start to see the difference very quickly and the results are built over time to give you a bespoke natural result. 

SMP offers long-lasting camouflage for hair loss, giving coverage where it is lacking and restoring confidence.  The low recovery time and gradual building, alongside it being low maintenance, are real benefits.  Once the initial treatment plan is complete the treatment takes care of itself, the pigment does not wash off, it is always in place to give camouflage and coverage where required. 

What do I need to think about when considering SMP?

Costing is one of the points to consider. It is difficult to give an exact costing and time frame for the sessions until you have a consultation but as a guideline the average costs are £250-£750 per session (with the initial treatment plan being an average of three sessions).  The timeframe for each session is between 2 and 4 hours typically but can be slightly longer for larger areas.  Upon completion of the initial sessions your practitioner will advise on when you will need to consider a follow up or consultation.

You also need to consider how the aftercare, keeping the area dry for at least four days and not washing for seven, will impact any plans or lifestyle choices you have, exercise regimes for example.  The aftercare is a vital step in the overall treatment as how you look after the treatment can impact on how many sessions you may need initially.

It is important to also consider how the treatment will work in combination with any other hair loss treatments/solutions or surgery you are having. 

How do I decide where to have SMP?

Locality is often a big factor for people but with more and more SMP practitioners offering treatments, it’s important to choose the one that suits you best rather than the one who is closest.

It is important to know what type of pigment/ink the practitioner uses. For example if you are looking for a long-term solution then an ink that lasts longer in the skin before requiring a colour boost is more suitable compared to rather a shorter-term pigment.

It’s always good to ask to see pictures of the practitioners’ treatments like your own requirements and, if possible, healed results.  A good practitioner will take time to listen to your questions and answer them fully. It is important that you feel comfortable and confident in the practitioner’s knowledge and skills and never feel pressured to go ahead with any treatment.

Where possible it is always good to have an in-person consultation with the practitioner, so they can assess the area, and you can see the clinic setting and meet them. Where this is not possible, some practitioners will host a virtual consult to cover everything.

What do I need to watch out for?

It is always ok to ask a question. For example, it is ok to ask to see qualification certificates if you want to or to ask about local health authority licences, insurances etc.  A professional will never be offended when asked to confirm their status.

In order to practice SMP, a practitioner must have completed practical training and be adhering to health and hygiene practices.  SMP is very different to other tattoo and micropigmentation techniques. It is not sufficient to be trained in these procedures. You should look for someone with specific SMP training. 

A Level-4 qualification in SMP is not mandatory in the UK but more and more practitioners are choosing to achieve this qualification to demonstrate that they have taken the extra step in health and hygiene practices as well as practical training.  A salon who has Level-4 qualifications will have had to complete additional training, showing a commitment to standards.

It is also important to ensure you have a patch test for the ink/pigment being used prior to the appointment to ensure there is no sensitivity or allergies to the product.

A good practitioner will be happy to show their work, their qualifications and take the time to discuss all the options with you.

Thank you to Emma Furlong at FTG Clinics for providing this information.