Jose Armos, 28, a paramedic who lives in Miami, looked so young that, when responding to 911 calls, he seemed to add to some patients’ distress.
“They would look at me and be like, ‘OK, is this 16-year-old really going to take care of me?’” said Armos, who had the sparsest of beards. “It was hard for people to trust me because I had that baby face.”
This year, Armos visited the Miami office of Dr. Jeffrey S. Epstein, a hair restoration surgeon.
“I wanted that stronger, manlier look,” Armos said.
He had a full beard transplant, from sideburns to chin, at a cost of about $7,000. More than a thousand individual hair follicles were harvested from the back of his head, where hair grows thickest, and transplanted to his face.
“It does play a role in me looking more mature, more manly, and just kind of getting respect from people,” Armos said.
Epstein, who has offices in Miami and New York City, performed four or five facial hair transplants annually a decade ago. Now, he said, the average is three a week.
According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, a nonprofit medical association, beard transplants grew from 1.5 percent of all hair restoration procedures performed internationally in 2012 to 3.7 percent in 2014.
Hair transplants from a generation ago had the unfortunate effect of making the scalp look like a doll’s head, because what were transplanted were pluglike grafts of about 15 hair follicles. Those who underwent the procedure could disguise the plugs by growing their hair longer and teasing it into Trumpian swirls.
A beard transplant was not possible then because the procedure would have left the patient with a cobblestoned complexion.
Today, surgeons, whether working on a scalp or face, transplant single hair follicles instead of plugs of 15 of them. That means more natural-looking beards, which can be shaved and then regrown, just as with regular beards.
“No one suspected,” said Jeff, 30, a health care consultant who lives outside of Toronto. (Like other men interviewed, he asked that his last name not be used.) Dr. Jamil Asaria, a facial plastic surgeon in Toronto, performed the beard transplant at a cost of about $10,000. “It’s like I was never a beard guy, and now I grew a beard,” Jeff said, “so I would say it was pretty stealth.”
Dr. Marc Dauer, a hair transplant surgeon in Los Angeles, said that five years ago he performed about five beard transplants in a year. Now he does that many in a month.
Phira, 33, who works in talent management in Los Angeles, went to see Dauer last December because of the large patches on his cheeks where no whiskers grew.
“It looked like I had facial-hair leprosy or something,” said Phira, who had the spots filled in with follicles transplanted from the back of his scalp at a cost of roughly $4,000.
Ray, 53, who works at a Pittsburgh university, said he had always looked forward to growing a beard, from as young as age 12. But whiskers never appeared on his cheeks.
After his first procedure, in 2011, Ray wanted his beard to be denser and climb higher up his cheeks. He had a second transplant in 2012, from another hair restoration specialist, Dr. Glenn Charles, who practices in Boca Raton, Florida. In 2013 Ray returned to Charles for a third go-round. Total cost: $22,000.
“I don’t really even care that much if people know that I’ve had the transplants,” Ray said. “I just don’t want them to know how much I’ve spent on it, because then they’ll think I’m crazy.”
But whenever he catches his reflection as he passes a mirror, he gets a jolt of satisfaction.
“A lot of guys go through a midlife crisis and they buy the sports car,” Ray said. “I just got a beard.”
Writer Andrew Adam Newman/NYT