The hair transplant industry in Istanbul, Turkey is said to be worth more than a billion dollars. Every year, more than 200,000 people from all over the world travel there in hopes of getting their hair back. However, the industry in Istanbul is very lightly regulated and therefore in an average clinic the work will be performed by a technician, not a doctor, which sets alarm bells ringing for me.
While the Turkish Ministry of Health sets industry standards in line with EU regulations, there is no obligation for clinics to disclose how many procedures they perform, and membership of medical associations remains voluntary. Transplantation practices can have multiple clinics — all operating under different names and offering different prices — so there’s no real way to compare apples to apples.
Statistics on the number of hair transplants are also not readily available. It is estimated that up to 2,000 procedures are performed each day in Turkey, and some clinics will perform up to 50 transplants per day. Unsurprisingly, this begs the question: does profit take precedence over patient care standards? I was recently featured in a Bloomberg documentary that specifically discussed this:
Surgery has become a commodity
There is no doubt that hair transplant surgery has become a commodity – something that can be offered and traded at the lowest possible price. In my opinion this is a mockery. People need to remember this is actually surgery. It’s not like going to a hairdresser. There is blood involved, there is anesthetic for pain, there is permanent scarring and real recovery time. Why entrust your physical well-being to anyone other than a fully-fledged medical professional highly trained in this specialty?
In the wrong hands, hair transplants can have devastating results. At best, the transplant can be done poorly and must be repeated (by someone with real skill and care). In the worst cases, there can be a life-threatening infection, disfiguring scarring, nerve damage and even an allergic reaction to anesthesia.
However, we should not stereotype. There are some extremely reliable, accredited clinics in Turkey that are run by excellent surgeons. But medical tourism – in any country – has a lot to answer for when dozens of operators set up shop and invest untold sums of money in social media marketing. Their glossy ad campaigns promise superior results, ensure health and safety and invite you to have fun while you’re at it. And all for thousands of dollars less than what you would pay at home. Younger men are particularly susceptible to these persistent retargeting ads, which shut down multiple times a day every time a man picks up his phone, until he’s been so overexposed to the bright lights and perfect hair as promised, that he wouldn’t. do even dream of exploring options at home.
You can hardly blame them for being sucked into the promise of a hair transplant for half the price he’d pay elsewhere. These men are so desperate and so vulnerable that they react with a knee-jerk reaction when they see an irresistible offer. Still, I have to think how ridiculous it is for patients to find a clinic through a sponsored Instagram ad and then choose to fly from the US or UK to Turkey for surgery. If you live in a country known for its world-class superior medical care, why put your wellbeing in the hands of operators in another country?
How to find a reliable clinic?
In my work as a patient advocate in the hair loss industry, I can tell you that I have spoken to countless men who have jumped on a plane to pursue their hair transplant and have deeply regretted it afterwards. And that’s because many clinics don’t perform surgery with the patient’s best interest first. In the UK there is a large number of repair patients, and I was one of them. I’ve had 13 hair transplants, mostly because of the crappy work done when I was younger. You really don’t want to end up in the same situation – the impact on your physical and mental health, as well as your bank balance, is huge.
This is why I’m so passionate about this topic – because I’ve been through it and don’t want people to make the same mistake. So, what’s the solution? Well, it is possible to find legit patient centered hair transplant clinics without having to suffer the ramifications of medical tourism if you know where to look. Start watching the list of approved surgeons on the International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons website. Every surgeon accepted as a member of the IAHRS is highly experienced, ethical and an expert in their field. While their fees will be higher than those in medical tourism hotspots, remember that this is the going rate you should expect to pay for safe, reliable medical care that will deliver long-term results. Never skimp on your health.