Rudy Ionides recently had a beard transplant and has absolutely no regrets.
"I felt uncomfortable growing out a beard before because I had some patches that didn’t grow in the same way. Now I’m much more confident."
And he’s not the only one. Beard transplants are a growing trend — literally. The International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery ( an association of physicians) found that the number of facial hair transplants increased by 9.5 per cent globally from 2010 to 2012.
Dr. Jamil Asaria, a facial plastic surgeon in Toronto specializing in this procedure, has noticed a similar trend in Canada.
"It's something that in our clinic we would see patients for maybe once or twice a year a few years ago, and now we're doing it on a weekly basis," Asaria said in an interview.
He said the growth is primarily in the major cities, with three or four surgeons who perform this in Toronto and one or two people offering it in Western Canada. Fifty per cent of Asaria's patients are from out of town, including Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and the U.S.
The procedure costs anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000 for a major restoration. The cost depends on the number of hairs transplanted — each hair follicle has to be individually harvested from one part of the body and transplanted onto the face. The number of "grafts" or follicles can range from 500 to 2,000.
Facial hair transplant procedure
Beard transplants can take a few hours to almost a full day. They are usually done under local anesthetic.
Asaria said side-effects are minimal, and include:
- Infection — one per cent risk of "folliculitis" or infection of the follicle. To prevent this, patients are given antibiotics for a week.
- Swelling that can last up to a week (during which time patients may choose to work from home).
- Rejection of the follicle can be up to 10 per cent, lower than with scalp hair.
- In-grown hairs.
Patients are usually able to shave 10 to 14 days after the procedure.
Asaria said most patients do quite well and have minimal complications.
"I’m 100 per cent happy with the results," says Ionides, one of Asaria's Toronto patients. "The opportunity to have a beard is fantastic."
The scalp and beard aren’t the only place hair is being transplanted. Asaria’s practice is 15 per cent hair restoration, and includes not only facial hair for men, but eyebrow restoration, eyelash restoration and even chest hair transplantation.
In fact, facial hair transplants (1.5 per cent) are the third most popular hair transplantations worldwide, behind scalp (92.9 per cent) and eyebrow (4.5 per cent), according to the international society.
Why the 'growing' popularity?
"I think it's a societal trend," Asaria says. "If we look at Hollywood as a reflection of society, this year at the Oscars we saw men like Brad Pitt, Bradley Cooper, Leonardo Dicaprio, Jared Leto, all these celebrities who are known for their clean-cut appearance who were all sporting full beards at the Oscars."
Not to mention U.S. Press Secretary Jay Carney and all those guys who take part in Movember, the November campaign to raise awareness of male cancers.
But while facial hair is part of the current "hipster" culture, Ionides says for him, it was just awareness.
"I’d always wanted to have a beard, and when I heard about the procedure through my social network and the news I started thinking about making it happen."
For Ionides it doesn’t seem to be a body image issue either; he jokingly told CBC News that he was "always hot," but now he gets to be hot with a beard.
Asaria says that beard transplants are being done across every demographic and age group for a variety of reasons.
"For some people, facial hair is much more important than their receding hairline. So some people will say, 'You know, I’ve had receding hair for a long time, my whole family has receding hair, I’m happy with that. But I want a fuller, thicker beard.'"
In the Middle East, where beards are strongly linked to masculinity, the International Society of Hair Restoration found in its most recent census that beard transplants went up 263 per cent between 2010 and 2012. The census also showed that the procedure was most common in Asia (1,904), with the U.S. (1,315) and Middle East (1,017) following.
"There’s no question that it’s a sign of masculinity," Asaria said. "I’ll get patients coming in from the Middle East who already have a full beard but just want more beard."
To naysayers who believe this procedure is a form of 'beard cheating,' Asaria says "it’s no different from a nose-job or other cosmetic procedure like laser hair removal. The safety profile is great and patients are very happy with the results. And unlike other trends where the change is permanent, you can always shave it off."
Are beards the new male sex symbol?
According to several members of The Toronto Facial Hair Club, if they are not a sex symbol, beards certainly attract attention.
"I’ll get people come over and just start touching it and I have to be like, 'Hey, hands off the merchandise (unless she’s hot, in which case I sometimes let it go),'" said one member.
“My girlfriend told me she loves it. She’d never let me get rid of it," said another.
"Sometimes when people talk to me, they are actually looking at the beard. I have to say, 'Hey! Eyes up here!'" said a third.
They say that they started their beards long before the trend and will be sporting them long after the trend is over. And that beards have changed their lives.
"It does make it easier when applying for jobs and things," says Samuel Janzen of the club. "People used to see the beard and do a double take and I wouldn’t get a job because of the beard. Now it’s okay. It also gives me a lot more credibility in my band. Before when I played, people would think it was just okay. Now I get way more credit for my music."
But not everyone is giving the beard trend a warm welcome.
"I don’t like beards because they get all wiry and you can get food in them. Especially the longer ones," says Cassandra Toris, who echoed the sentiments of others CBC interviewed on the streets of Toronto.
David Hughes from the Toronto Facial Hair Club disagrees.
"Women love it! Before my beard I barely got any female attention. Now I get women wanting to touch my beard all the time."
"My daughter won’t even come out with me in public anymore because women keep coming up to me and engaging me in conversation, about the beard," says Mark Wrzesniewski, another proud club member.
It just so happens, Wrzesniewski won the Gold Medal for best Fu Manchu at the World Beard Championships in Las Vegas last year. The Toronto Facial Hair club thinks that its chances at this year’s world championships in Austria are better than ever.
"Women are hit and miss. I'll tell you that," Asaria says. "There are women who hate facial hair 'I do not want you to have it,' and some women who love it. I don't think a lot of people are in that middle ground."
At least for the time being, beards are no longer unacceptable. The Society of Bearded Gentlemen, an international, online community dedicated to “all beard wearing folks and those who admire them” has 4159 members and has been “serving the bearded community since 2009” as stated on its website. Founder Gary Norman says it helps form a natural bond among men, and is a forum where men can discuss issues like ‘beard maintenance tools,' ‘beard discrimination’ and ‘grooming techniques.'
And for people like Rudy Ionides who have been thinking about growing a beard for some time, this new cultural 'green-light' combined with the relative success of beard transplants has made this possible.