But I did have a passport, a high tolerance for risk, and plenty of time to dick around on Reddit.
I tumbled down the rabbit hole of the Hair Transplants subreddit, fascinated by the endless stream of Before and After pics. Here, hundreds of bros proudly share their transformations from Baldie to Hottie; it’s a surprisingly friendly brotherhood that often divulges where they went and what they paid. One destination kept popping up: Turkey. Clinics with names like Hair of Istanbul, Hair Transplant Turkey, World Plast Hair Istanbul, Hairpol Istanbul, Hair Health Istanbul, Hair Time Istanbul.
Why is Turkey such a hair-restoration hotbed? The first reason is obvious. “Turkey is a developing country,” Ali Caglayan, founder of tourist guide IstanBeautiful, told me. “The wages are very low here. The cost of renting an office is very low compared to the U.S.”
Of course, this is also true in places like Mexico and Thailand and the Caribbean, where there are plenty of hair clinics. But, at least according to the Turkish clinics, they’ve set themselves apart with the quality of their doctors. “In the beginning the reason was money, that it was cheaper than other countries in Europe,” says Mehmet Fatih Akdemir, founder of Hair of Istanbul. “For this reason the Turkish doctors became more experienced. They just got better.” It was, he claims, a virtuous cycle: the rise in hair tourism led to better doctors, which led to more tourism, which led to even better doctors.
Turkey’s Ministry of Health saw this growing industry as an opportunity to help boost medical tourism, says Cagalyan, so they offered tax breaks and reimbursements for things like medical equipment, digital marketing, and even the patients’ comped hotel rooms. The plan worked: Caglayan estimates that Turkey now sees between 1.5 million to 2 million medical tourists per year, mostly for hair transplants, plastic surgery, dental work, and weight loss treatments.
Many of these Turkish hair clinics have a mixed and even polarizing reputation, and are dismissed by both online critics and U.S. surgeons as “hair mills” that use assistants and technicians—not doctors—to crank out as many surgeries as possible. They warn that, sure, maybe a medical professional draws the hairline and gives a quick consultation, but a team of assistants actually does the work of punching the holes and implanting the grafts. Hence the bargain prices.
“The biggest risk is falling into the wrong hands and not doing your proper research,” says Dr. Ricardo Mejia, who sits on the Board of Governors of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (İSHRS), a non-profit medical association (which also includes Turkish doctors). He strongly recommends ensuring that the doctor is registered with the İSHRS, and points me to an ISHRS page that outlines the horror stories from “black market pirate clinics”: scarring, infections, poor hair growth, and unnatural hair lines. “Who’s going to be doing your surgery?” he asked me. “Is it a doctor or technician? Is it the taxi driver that they trained last week?”