The local black market is linked to a network of travel agencies desperate to stay in business after a disastrous year. A network of unlicensed hair-transplant businesses is spread across Istanbul and in other major Turkish cities.
This expanding network of clinics profits from an ever-growing number of visitors from abroad, mainly from Arab countries, the vast majority of whom do not realise they are being treated by illegal and often dangerous operators.
Every day scores of clients’ documents and lists of customers are delivered by middlemen to and from dozens of tourism agencies in central Istanbul.
Then the agencies introduce the patients to a clinic, which in return pays the agency a certain amount of commission per visitor. Once those seeking hair-replacement therapy have decided on a treatment, they usually arrive on an all-inclusive package covering a welcome at the airport, transport in luxury cars, a hotel reservation in a central location and transfer back after the treatment is finished.
Most foreign patients come from the Gulf to reverse hereditary hair loss. Many patients are lured by bargain prices and geographical proximity. A sub-industry has emerged – moustache transplants – attracting male patients inspired by Turkish soap opera actors or Hollywood celebrities. Most patients bring a picture of their favourite movie star or singer whom they want to look like.
The fake clinics offer a 100 % guarantee that the patient will look like his dreams, which ends in frustration.
Turkish surgeons and dermatologists have built good reputations for hair implant surgery but the mushrooming illegal clinics threaten to undermine Turkey’s regional place in the sector, while also damaging tourism.
I stanbul used to have only a handful of hair transplant clinics, all with a valid health ministry licences, but now many as six out of every 10 clinics operate illegally. Observers say the local authorities have long turned a blind eye to this problem and a lack of monitoring and auditing have contributed to the growth of such places. Istanbul City Health Council ducks any responsibility buy claiming that it is the health ministry’s duty to audit the clinics.
Professional clinics are primarily concerned that their unlicensed rivals are putting patients’ lives at risk, while also stealing potential customers.
The Turkish Society of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons and the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery have both issued warnings for patients to be aware of potential health risks due to illegal clinics in Turkey.