Meet Harry and Sally, the robot stars of MD Hair Labs. Harry and Sally, lovingly named by the owners of MD Hair Labs, are changing the landscape for hair restoration. While in the past, hair transplants involved either fake-looking hair plugs or invasive scalp surgery, today’s technology allows a much gentler and more sophisticated approach.
Harry and Sally — state-of-the-art robotic machines — use artificial intelligence, multicamera vision and a seven-axis robotic arm to carefully extract “donor” hair. The robots analyze and select tiny grafts from areas of the head where hair is fuller and then precisely extract them to be transplanted later onto thinning areas. The process is called follicular unit incision and extraction (FUE), a procedure that is gaining traction worldwide and growing by 39 percent annually. Harry and Sally may be impressive, but behind every good robot there’s a good doctor. Or so the old saying goes.
In this case, the good doctors behind the robotic arms are MD Hair Labs owners Dr. Missy Clifton and Dr. Lance Manning. Clifton is the founder of Premier Dermatology, a leading practice in Northwest Arkansas with locations in Bentonville, Fayetteville and Bella Vista. After years of treating patients with alopecia and hereditary-pattern baldness, she had often considered branching out into hair restoration.
Manning, whom Clifton refers to as a “brilliant and talented” surgeon, is a triple-board-certified fellow for facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, otolaryngology head and neck surgery as well as sleep medicine. Manning also had a passion for hair restoration and wanted to take his expertise a step further. Together, they opened MD Hair Labs, which recently celebrated its one-year anniversary.
First of its kind
The work performed at MD Hair Labs elevates Arkansas to the forefront of hair restoration technology. Located in Rogers, it is the only practice in the state — and surrounding regions — to offer robotic hair restoration. As the market for hair loss treatments continues to grow, Manning and Clifton are excited to be the first to bring this technology to the area.
Worldwide, more than 1.2 billion men suffer from hereditary baldness. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Americans spent $16.7 billion on cosmetic procedures that included hair transplants and hair removal in 2019. Fortune Business Insights expects the U.S. hair transplant procedure market to surpass 200,000 procedures by 2027 while exhibiting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.1 percent between 2020 and 2027.
Clifton explains that the market growth comes with removing the barriers that have kept men from treating their hair loss. Men in particular are hesitant to undergo major cosmetic procedures, but now that they have more options that are safe, proven to be effective and are more natural-looking, men are finding it easier to cross that bridge.
The main draw is that the technologically advanced method performed at MD Hair Labs, FUE, looks more natural than other options. Manning and Clifton use their expert eye (trained in cosmetic procedures) to methodically place individual hairs onto the patient’s head by hand. They take each follicle and carefully insert it, following the angle of the surrounding hairs to recreate the soft curves of a natural hairline. Single hair follicles are placed toward the front. Follicles containing larger numbers of hair are placed toward the back for realistic depth. The doctors even recreate the hair swirl at the crown.
Looking back on the first year in business, Clifton acknowledges that establishing MD Hair Labs has had its challenges, but the results are well worth it. The startup cost, including the high investment in technology, was a major leap. The first year was also difficult in terms of building a reputation. It can take nine months for a patient to see significant results, which meant they didn’t have before and after pictures until months later.
“At Premier, if I do a filler or Botox, they come back in three weeks and look fabulous,” Clifton noted. “I have millions of before and after pictures that I can show patients.”
Now, MD Hair Labs has more than 50 photos to showcase its work. “I want people to know that I’m not just selling them a bill of goods,” she added. “I want to prove that in my hands, they are going to get the results they want.”
Another challenge has been the price of FUE. The procedure can cost between $5,000 and $20,000 depending on how many graphs are needed. To help with this hurdle, MD Hair Labs offers a no-interest payment plan. The practice also parnters with salons and barbershops to offer special pricing for their customers and to hold periodic special events where discounts are offered as well.
For Clifton, the highs of opening MD Hair Labs highly outweigh the first-year growing pains. As a native Arkansan, Clifton is proud to elevate her home state in medical technology.
“I think part of my drive has been to prove to the world that Arkansas is awesome, and that there are some really brilliant people here doing some brilliant and amazing things,” she said. “I want to be one of those people who is adding value to living in Northwest Arkansas.”
Clifton also noted that one of the most important and rewarding aspects of her job is giving confidence back to people. She has seen patients walk in, self-conscious, wearing ball caps and not making eye contact. Months later, the same person walks in “a totally different human being,” engaging, confident, highly social. “It’s super rewarding to see that kind of a change,” she said.
It’s too soon to say if there will be a second MD Hair Labs at some point. For now, Manning and Clifton are focusing on the current location, getting all the business processes down and making sure everything is running smoothly.
“If it becomes an option later that we can take it somewhere else, then we are definitely open to that,” Clifton said.