Hair transplants have become very popular, with 11,000 performed in 2014, but do they actually make you seem more attractive and youthful? A small new study published Thursday in JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery suggests that they absolutely do.

Researchers recruited 122 volunteers to take an online survey. The volunteers, in random order, were shown photo sets of 13 men of varying ages, 7 of whom were suffering from androgenetic alopecia, or male pattern baldness (a similar version exists in women, though to a lesser degree). With the balding men, photos were shown before and after they had obtained a hair graft transplant. The participants were then asked to rate each photograph on a variety of characteristics, including their perceived age, attractiveness, and successfulness. Across the board, they rated the made-over men to be the belle of the ball compared to their earlier snapshots.

“Men were reported to look younger after hair transplant,” concluded the researchers. “Men who underwent this procedure were also perceived as being more attractive, successful, and approachable than their pretransplant counterparts by casual observers.”

Specifically, the researchers calculated that if a balding man was considered average in looks, on a scale of 1 to 100, prior to a hair transplant, the operation would boost him 19 points to number 69th on the list. Similar boosts would be seen for rankings of successfulness and approachability as well. When it came to age, the men with hair transplants were on average thought to be 3.6 years younger than their actual age, and 1.1 years younger compared to the control subjects.

Unsurprising as these findings may seem, there’s been little scientific exploration of the real-life benefits that come with hair transplants, the researchers noted. On the other hand, it’s well known that hair loss causes plenty of stress, anxiety, and other mental health woes, even if baldness isn’t quite the social stigma it once was, and balding people are rated less attractive, likeable, and successful. In that sense, the current study is meant to be a trial run for later research.

And indeed, the findings do come with several limitations. Aside from the relatively small number of survey takers, the study only used 13 picture sets, all with the men sitting completely stone-faced — the beauty and age improvements may turn out to be smaller or even larger when people are looking at smiling photographs. And at least part of the improvement seen was simply because people were told beforehand that they would be comparing two photos of the same person to one another. That prior information primed them to see improvements even between photos of the control subjects who didn’t obtain any hair transplants. While these improvements weren’t as significant as the differences seen in the transplant group, future researchers may need to design tests that can better control for this comparison effect.

Overall, though, the study indicates that hair transplants really can be worth the cost for men (and presumingly women) who are struggling to cope with their pattern baldness — provided that they’re performed properly. An accompanying editorial by Dr. Jeffrey Epstein, a plastic and facial reconstructive surgeon at the University of Miami, noted that there are “few plastic surgery procedure results more obvious (and more ridiculed) than an unnatural-appearing hair transplant.”

While hair transplant surgery may certainly be the right step for someone to take, Epstein further wrote, it’s a decision that should be made only for the best interests of the potential patient rather than for the adoration of a hypothetical crowd. After all, there’s no law saying that bald can’t be beautiful all on its own.

Source: Bater K, Ishii M, Joseph A, et al. Perception of Hair Transplant for Androgenetic Alopecia. JAMA Facial Plastic Surgery. 2016.

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