Hair Transplants: No Longer Just for the Rich and Famous

Apparently Matthew McConaughey has had one, so have Sylvester Stallone and John Travolta. There are rumors that even Arnold Schwarzenegger has had one too. Hair transplants used to be only available to the rich and famous due to the extortionate costs involved. English footballer Wayne Rooney apparently forked out in excess of £15,000 for his new mullet.

As with everything, when competition increases, prices tend to fall. Cosmetic tourism, or to be more specific, hair transplant tourism has seen a massive boom in the last five years because of falling prices. This can largely be attributed to cheap prices offered by clinics in Turkey.

Hair transplants in Turkey have seen a massive rise, and this is despite the recent terrorist attacks and even more recent attempted military coup. The influx of people arriving in the country to get a hair transplant seems to be continuing.

Apparently, thousands of Americans and Europeans are travelling to Istanbul every month to undergo the procedure, resulting in a massive $1 billion injection into the Turkish economy.

John Henderson, a 35 year old dentist from London is sat waiting for his hair operation at a leading Istanbul clinic waiting room. Sitting in his medical gown, he has a thick line drawn across the top of his protruding forehead, and he explains that he’s pretty nervous.

What attracted him to travel all the way to Istanbul to get a hair transplant were the alluring low prices compared to those back in Europe. “I’ve been losing hair since I was 18ish. I tried every trick in the book including using fancy hair tonics, lotions and oils. I even tried minoxidil (Rogain), but nothing seemed to work. The prices in England for hair transplants were way out of my reach, so I decided to look abroad. After a bit of research, I found that Istanbul was the place to go”, he explains.

According to the Turkish health Ministry, up to 200 hair transplants were performed a day, mostly on Americans, Europeans and people from the oil-rich Gulf countries in 2015 alone.

The geographical convenience that Turkey offers, coupled with low prices, individuals from the Middle East and North Africa arriving in the country also seems to be multiplying.

According to Dr Hassan, a leading hair transplant surgeon working for a world renowned clinic in Istanbul, “Arabs don’t really care about hair density; all they care about is being able to grow it long. The Italians on the other hand are all about high density, they’re very difficult to deal with. The Spanish are easy, they say Doctor do whatever you feel is best and that’s good enough for them”.

Dr Hassan’s company, cleverly named LetsFUE (the FUE stands for follicular unit extraction) has seen rapid growth in 2 short years since its birth. The company has an office in Leeds (UK) and is already looking at further offices in Birmingham and London. Last year alone, in its first year of trading, LetsFUE brought over more than 300 patients, mainly from the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

This year, LetsFUE have already exceeded the 300 mark in 6 months.

When LetsFUE clients arrive in Istanbul, they are collected from the airport by a dedicated chauffeur and taken to a luxury, all-inclusive hotel. Dr Hassan explains “many patients turn their trip into a mini holiday because there’s a lot to see and experience in Istanbul. We offer specialist packages for the more discerning individuals. They stay in 5 star hotels, and can be chaperoned by English staff should they require”.

The surgery itself, follicular unit extraction, uses specialist instruments to pick out thousands of hair and follicles from the back and the sides of the head. These are then replanted on the thinning or balding areas. Patients are administered local anesthesia, and they can watch TV, read a magazine or even have a snooze during the operation. By the time the operation finishes, a look in the mirror can be a bit of a scare because of the thousands of globules drenched in blood on the top and sides of the head.

Patients typically have a rest day, the day after the operation before making their way home. According to Dr Hassan, it takes between six and eight months for the transplanted hairs to settle and start functioning normally.

The recent terrorist attacks as well as the attempted military takeover of the government in Turkey have put a lot of people off visiting the country as a holiday destination, but according to the health Ministry, hair transplant tourism is almost completely unaffected. This comes as a major surprise to the professionals working in the industry including Dr Hassan, “the airport bombing and the attempted military coup got many people in my industry thinking that these were the final nails in the coffin, but surprisingly we have not seen any major falls in numbers”.

The whole experience, excluding flights can cost as little as £2,450 and prices go all the way up to £2,950, which is the LetsFUE “Gold Package”, which includes luxury Istanbul excursions.

John Henderson isn’t put-off coming to Turkey for his hair transplant because he believes that these things can happen anywhere, “we’ve already experienced terrorism in London”. He believes that the massive financial difference and the opportunity to get a full head of hair drives thousands of men like him to become hair transplant tourists every year. He asks “why would I pay £10k upwards for a procedure in the UK, which can cost me as little as £3k by an equally qualified, and probably more experienced surgeon?”