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The Holywood hair loss expert with a unique alternative to transplants

Mark Smith knows the emotional struggles that hair loss can cause, having had a receding hairline from his early 20s. But now he is offering a specialised treatment involving applying ink to the scalp with a fine needle - and he has already won a series of top accolades for his skills, writes Stephanie Bell

Sharp end: Mark Smith preparing to work on a hair tattoo or SMP
Sharp end: Mark Smith preparing to work on a hair tattoo or SMP
Picture perfect: Mark Smith with a photo of his client Robert Childs after he underwent a hair tattoo treatment

A Co Antrim man has taken the global hair loss industry by storm after scooping a series of top awards for a ground breaking treatment which involves tattooing the scalp.

Mark Smith, from Newtownabbey, was a graphic designer for most of his career until his own hair transplant led him to retrain just last year in the art of scalp micropigmentation.

Also known as SMP, or a hair tattoo, scalp micropigmentation is a cosmetic hair loss treatment that simulates a shaved hair follicle on the scalp with tiny pigments of ink.

When layered over and over on the scalp they create a look similar to shaved hairs.

A more cost-effective alternative to hair transplant, it is a common treatment across the world for partial hair loss, thinning hair, scar camouflage and various types of alopecia.

Relatively new to Northern Ireland - Mark's is the first dedicated clinic here - more than 100 men and women have had the treatment done in the past year.

Mark has worked in the hair loss industry as a graphic designer and then a consultant since 2011, training in this new technique last January.

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Within just six months of opening his new clinic, he had been nominated as a finalist five times in four of the industry's world competitions.

He went on to win gold in three different contests including World's Rising Star, World's Best New Artist and UK Best Scalp Artist.

Mark was also ranked third in the UK at the MPUK19 conference, up against experienced practitioners who have been working in the business for years.

And just last weekend he won Specialist Salon/Clinic to Watch at the Northern Ireland Beauty Excellence Awards.

He says: "I feel overwhelmed but extremely happy and humbled to have won these awards. I have been helping men and women who suffer with hair loss for many years as a consultant.

"There were always some that I had to sadly turn away because they weren't suitable for hair transplants.

"This treatment was a missing alternative that many men and women can now take advantage of.

"I feel so privileged that, every day, many men and women place their trust in me to provide this treatment to them.

"It is such a rewarding feeling to see the change I am making in people's lives. People are literally transformed in front of my eyes and I see self-esteem and confidence return immediately. There's nothing like it."

Sharp end: Mark Smith preparing to work on a hair tattoo or SMP
Sharp end: Mark Smith preparing to work on a hair tattoo or SMP

Mark (42) who is married to Lisa (42) and has two children, Carter (9) and Jessica (12), runs his clinic, Dot Micro, in Holywood.

Now a globally respected micropigmentation artist, he explains how he first got involved in the hair loss business when he himself struggled with a receding hairline in his early 20s.

He says: "I started to lose my hair when I was 24 and I was really freaking out about it. I lost a lot of my confidence. After a few years I decided to shave it and then, in 2011, I travelled to Greece to get a hair transplant with a company called DHI who are global.

"I started working with them as a graphic designer creating their marketing and then in 2016 I became a consultant for them in Northern Ireland."

Not everyone who wants a hair transplant can have one. It depends on the extent of the baldness and the area on the head where hair can be transplanted from.

Having to increasingly witness the disappointment of clients being told they couldn't have a transplant, Mark thought there had to be a better option to the only other alternative which was wearing a wig.

He heard about scalp micro pigmentation while at a conference in England and was impressed by pictures of the results.

He enrolled in a course and, after just five days training and a lot of practice from volunteers, he became certified.

With his IT skills, he quickly established a presence for his new business on social media.

Sharp end: Mark Smith preparing to work on a hair tattoo or SMP
Sharp end: Mark Smith preparing to work on a hair tattoo or SMP

To further establish his clinic, he decided to go for some world accolades - hoping at the very most to be shortlisted and never expecting to come away with three gold awards.

He says: "I just thought if I worked hard and got some accolades under my belt, even some nominations, it would really help the business. I found the main global award events online which people from all over the world, many who have been doing this a long time, would enter.

"They are all very recognised organisations. It's just amazing to win three awards and to be recognised in the UK, where I was up against the finest of the finest, and come third - it is like coming from nowhere and getting into the premiership league."

The treatment itself is carried out over three sessions lasting between two and three hours. Some clients may require a fourth or fifth session.

Unlike traditional tattoos, the ink is applied in the upper derma layer, which Mark assures is not painful. He explains: "We use a carbon-based pigment and a very fine needle which is specifically designed for working on the scalp.

"A very tiny amount of the pigment is put into the upper dermis layer. We use a shade of grey to suit the skin and we build it up over three sessions. It isn't painful and I work to create a natural looking hairline which sometimes requires a fourth or fifth visit."

The cost of the treatment is around £2,500 although Mark currently has a special offer on at £1,800. Although he only opened a year ago, his business has been booming with an increasing number of women now seeking help with hair loss and hair thinning. It is an emotional step for people to take, as many of Mark's clients will have struggled with their confidence and self-esteem due to naturally thinning hair as well as the medical condition alopecia.

He adds: "Thankfully, so far I have had no unhappy clients. I see people who have been so badly affected by the stress of hair loss that when they see the treatment for the first time they have been so overwhelmed they have burst into tears.

"For many people, just getting a hairline back has made them look younger. I've seen people come in who are very shy and after the treatment you see a transformation and they are bubbling and bouncing with new confidence, like completely different people.

"The job is hard work and involves long hours but it is extremely rewarding personally and I'm looking forward to helping more people. Occasionally I also do a free treatment for alopecia cases for folks who couldn't otherwise afford it."

And since making himself a global star in the industry, many new doors have opened.

He adds: "Since the awards I've also been offered sponsorship by two of the largest machine and needle manufacturers, as well as some major deals to learn how to become a scalp micropigmentation trainer and teach others how to do it."

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