Facial-hair transplants are at the fringe of a broader medical tourism boom in Turkey, which last year generated $1 billion in revenues. The number of visitors Turkey welcomed specifically for surgical procedures rose to 270,000 last year from 156,000 in 2011, according to data from a 2012 report by Turkey’s Health Ministry.
The report showed 100,000 people traveled to Turkey specifically for plastic surgery in 2012, although the numbers don’t break out figures for facial-hair transplants.
The mustachioed and bearded stars of Turkish soap operas — wildly popular across the Middle East, North Africa and the Balkans — have helped again make facial hair a popular symbol of virility and machismo. Surgeons say many patients request the full-bodied mustache worn by Turkish singer Ibrahim Tatlises, which has long set the standard for top-drawer whiskers. Another popular style is the stubble beard worn by Turkish TV show heartthrob and model Kivanç Tatlitug, surgeons say.
“My patients often bring pictures of the stars they want to look like, but I never do what they say because it wouldn’t suit their face,” said Canan Melike Koksuz, a surgeon at Isom, an Istanbul cosmetic surgery practice, which says it has welcomed chief executives and celebrities from as far away as China and Australia for hair transplants. “Once there was less demand because facial hair was more political, but now mustaches and beards are more fashionable, and people want to look trendy.”
It isn’t only men who are seeking ways to emulate Turkey’s rising stars. Clinics in the Middle East have reported that Arab women, who previously favored the full lips, small noses and protruding cheekbones of Lebanese singers, are now requesting the more natural looks of Turkish soap stars.
“Turkish TV series have introduced the natural look. Women who had nose remodeling operations in the past are now unhappy with the shape; they want their tip-tilted noses to look more natural,” said Zekeriya Kul, a plastic surgeon who says he recently moved from Dubai to his native Turkey to profit from the surgery boom.
According to surgeons and agencies specializing in medical tourism, the vast majority of clients come from the Middle East, where facial hair still bristles with political meaning. To be clean shaven has for decades been a political statement of solidarity with the secular, Westernizing elites who were pre-eminent across much of the Arab world until the series of uprisings that came to be known as the Arab Spring.
Despite Turkey’s emergence as a hub for facial hair transplants, the number of Turkish men wearing mustaches has declined rapidly, according to pollsters. A study by Istanbul’s TNS Market Research Companyfound that while 77 percent of Turkish men had mustaches in 1993, the figure fell to 34 percent in 2011 and is still sliding.