Istanbul’s hairy business

Some people travel to Turkey for the sun and the Oriental culture, but others go for medical tourism. Turkey earns a lot of money from this group of travellers. In 2018 over 600.000 medical tourists went to Istanbul. One of the most popular treatments are hair transplantations. In Istanbul alone, there are more than 350 hair transplantation clinics. One of the biggest is the Dr Serkan Aygin Hair Transplant Clinic in Sisi key plaça.

Text and photos by Iraide Ibarrondo and Iris van Schie

Sisi key plaça is located in a big and modern building, which differs from the modest and older architecture in Istanbul. Above the main entrance, there is a sign that says that the building belongs to Dr. Serkan Aygin. In the spacious waiting room, clips are shown non-stop about the positive effects of a hair transplantation. Bald men with black bandages around their heads are walking in and out, while women are waiting on the couch for the return of their boyfriends or husbands and their fresh hair.

Patients might have to wait between 2 and 3 months to do the operation.

Hussan Ali is the operation coordinator in the clinic, where he underwent a hair transplantation himself four years ago. He explains how big the hair transplantation business is: “All days are busy days, in our clinic we do between 10 and 12 treatments per day. Patients might have to wait between 2 and 3 months to do the operation depending on the country they are from. We have patients from all over the world.”

The waiting room at the Dr. Serkan Aygin clinic.

Patients that visit the clinic are mostly from southern-European countries such as Spain, Italy and France, and also from Middle Eastern countries such as Israel and Saudi-Arabia. Dr. Serkan Aygin’s clinic tries to serve several markets in case of diplomatic tensions between Turkey and the country of their customer. “We don’t focus our market just in one country, because if politics go bad between our government and theirs, we may lose the clients from that country”, says Hussan Ali.

The reason why all these men travel to Istanbul for these treatments are the low tax system, the inflation and salaries of the Turks which makes the price for the treatment lower than in their own country. The cost for a hair transplant starts from about 2000 euro, but sometimes several operations are needed, which may lift the total expenses to over 10.000 euro.

It’s important that clients understand very well what’s going on.

In order to supply the language needs of their international patients, clinics work with several translators and international travel agencies. Gamze Amous, content and communication manager at the Dr. Serkan Aygin clinic, says that it’s a matter of confidence and safety: “It’s important that clients understand very well what’s going on during the treatment and don’t have the wrong expectations.”

In fact, misunderstandings about the end results are quite common with this type of surgery according to Amous: “Many men come with high expectations of getting a lot of hair again, but they need to be realistic. They most probably won’t look the same as they looked like in their twenties. This isn’t magic, it’s biology.”

Two men (from Kazakhstan and Oman), just a day after their operation. The black bandage they wear minimizes the swelling.

The amount of hair you grow after a treatment depends on the genetics of a person. What happens is that from each transplanted graph one to four hairs can grow. On each person the amount of hair that grows per graph is different, so the same intervention’s results can look very different from one person to another.

Although 95% of the patients in the clinic are men, women also sometimes apply for a hair transplantation. Hussan Ali: “Women usually have higher expectations of a treatment than men. That’s because men have less physical role models to follow. Women have very specific beauty standards and are following a lot of role models.”

Sometimes I get emotional when young men in their twenties come.

Many clients arrive at the clinics with serious self-esteem problems. Amous really believes that their job is important for many people: “Sometimes I get emotional when young men in their twenties come in. When they leave the clinic after the procedure, you can see that they really have gained more confidence.”

But despite of this positive psychological note, aesthetic operations is big business in Istanbul. While men get their hair done, women in the waiting room are shown botox and aesthetic advertisements. The question for them is: how much new hair and beauty do I need? In the same way the clinic solves self-esteem problems, they may also contribute to creating them.