Istanbul’s hair transplant industry is expected to rake in $2 billion in 2022, up from $1.5 billion in 2019. In the first half of 2022 alone, Turkey has played host to more than 500,000 ‘hair tourists’, with hair transplant patients keen to put the pandemic behind them so they can get on with their procedure.
To me, these astronomic stats should ring alarm bells. Wouldn’t you wonder whether medical standards are being lowered in favour of profit in Turkey? To allow you to make a more informed decision, I’m going to set out everything you need to know about hair transplants in Turkey – the good and the bad.
A Lack Of Regulation
Hair transplantation is often an industry based on volume. In locations where it is vastly under-regulated, the focus is on getting as many people through the doors for operations as possible. But at what cost? After all, a hair transplant is still surgery. Sure, it’s not performed under a general anaesthetic, but it’s a genuine medical procedure – one that comes with its own array of risks, from poor results through to infections, bleeding and protracted pain.
“It’s vital patients conduct comprehensive research when considering hair transplantation and that they aren’t simply influenced by price. This is surgery after all and you want an experienced ethical doctor at the helm to guide you accurately and in your best interest.” – Nadeem Khan, director of The Harley Street Hair Clinic, London.
The outcome can be devastating for patients in the wrong hands. For starters, if a person goes in for a hair transplant and the ‘surgeon’ happens to be a dodgy operator – which we hear of all the time on The Bald Truth UK podcast – they will often be left with a scalp that needs a re-transplant or has irreparable scarring. The mental impact can be just as damaging, especially when you consider that hair loss can be a major contributor to anxiety and depression in a person who had no previous history of the conditions.
Now, this unscrupulous behaviour can obviously happen anywhere. In fact, for years the UK was infamous for its poor standards and many patients would instead fly to the US for treatment. A lot has changed since then though, including the introduction of tough regulations and legal accountability for clinics. Yet in Turkey, the hair transplant industry continues to be very lightly regulated. As a result, statistics around the numbers of clinics and the numbers of transplants performed every year are unreliable at best. Conservative estimates put the number at between 1,500 and 2,000 operations… per day! And some of them are performed by technicians, not actual surgeons who are accountable to a licensing board.
While technicians are utilised in the US, UK and EU, they are generally only allowed to assist – certainly not cut into the skin. In Turkey, however, as in other medical tourism spots around the world, there are no regulations prohibiting a technician to perform the entire procedure. Ethically, the surgeon should perform all the incisions and extractions. Technicians lack the experience and medical qualifications required to perform surgery, which is a big red flag.
Furthermore, while the Turkish Ministry of Health sets EU-aligned standards for its hair transplant industry, there is no requirement for clinics to provide figures on the number of procedures they perform. Membership of medical associations is voluntary, so no one is really keeping an eye on these clinics to make sure they’re doing their due diligence.
Another common issue with hair transplants performed in Turkey is the trend towards ‘cookie cutter’ hair transplants featuring closed temples and a low, straight hairline. This is all well and good for a younger man, but as he ages into his 40s, 50s and 60s it’s simply not an appropriate look because the transplanted hair is permanent and won’t transition through the decades like a natural hairline does. It’s a problem highlighted in the video below by Joe Tillman at hairtransplantmentor.com:
With these kinds of transplants, a lot of donor hair is required to populate the front. This will be a problem later on when you experience future hair loss – which is pretty much inevitable – and you won’t have enough donor hair for another transplant.
Medical Tourism Is Irresistible To Hair Transplant Consumers
Why choose a hair transplant surgeon in your own city at double the price when you can have a holiday in an exotic location, be pampered with one-on-one attention in a plush clinic AND save a ton of money?
This is why the Turkish hair transplant industry has exploded. Not only does it appear to offer a superior experience for a much lower investment, but because the industry is so poorly regulated, it’s extremely hard to make an informed opinion. Some clinics go as far as establishing multiple identities, complete with separate websites and social media accounts, even though they are all under the same parent organisation. Each then has its own marketing approach – whether it’s lower prices, irresistible perks or influencer backing – to appeal to different consumers, who make their choice accordingly. Ultimately, the parent organisation simply captures more of the overall market.
How do you know if you’re dealing with an inexperienced surgeon? How can you tell if the practice is reputable? How will you know you’ll be safe? After all, an internet search and social media can only tell you so much. And frankly, when someone’s in a vulnerable, potentially desperate frame of mind, they’ll often miss the red flags because they so badly want to believe it to be true.
One search through Instagram for ‘Istanbul hair transplant clinics’ will reveal an endless array of options. Trust me when I say that these clinics are spending untold amounts of money on marketing to be heard above the competition and to get through to YOU, the hair loss sufferer. It’s important to be aware of this fact when researching and treat everything you come across with a healthy level of suspicion.
There Are Some Shining Stars
I don’t want to give you the blanket impression that Turkey is a bad place to go for a hair transplant, because it isn’t – there are a number of excellent transplant surgeons located there, and the country is home to some world-class clinics, including some that are accepted members of the highly reputable International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons (IAHRS).
However, it’s imperative you conduct your own research and establish if your clinic or surgeon has been accepted into credible organisations like IAHRS. You can also investigate whether your choice of surgeon is involved with or part of FUE Europe and/or The Global Hair Loss Summit – two further organisations which are raising the bar for the industry and helping to train and educate the current and next generation of hair transplant doctors.
Always Do Your Research
In my experience as a hair loss patient advocate – and someone who has had 13 hair transplants myself (including repair transplants) – I hear from people all the time who have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly. What I typically hear from those who have had a bad hair transplant is that they end up getting their repairs done in their home country, swearing off any future medical tourism decisions.
With that in mind, if you are determined to pursue a hair transplant option in a medical tourism destination, I implore you to do your research. Avoid making hasty decisions based on pretty pictures, lowball prices and the idea of an affordable holiday in an exotic locale. Remember, this is your health – your mental and physical health – and you must safeguard it as well as you can.