In what is called follicular unit extraction, hair implantation is simply removing hair from the back of the patient’s head and replanting it on the balding parts.
It is predominantly male patients who seek this treatment, while female visitors often opt for surgeries such as eyebrow implants. It takes three days to finalise the implant process and another six to eight months before transplants settle and hair grows normally. The official price of hair implant surgery by a licensed clinic starts from $1,500 but this can drop to as low as $800 among the illegal black market operators amid cut-throat competition to lure patients.
Officially, hair transplant surgeries can only be performed in a hospital by a doctor, dermatologist or plastic surgeon. The hospital must clearly state the procedures of hair implant surgery treatment in its records, it must be equipped with an emergency unit and at least one surgery room as defined by the health ministry. It also has to be properly registered with the national healthcare system according to Turkish laws. But illegal clinics are mostly operating in residential buildings, offices or sometimes at very small-scale hospitals.
Many patients are risking their health by not thoroughly researching the clinics they choose to visit, licensed surgeons tell The National.
“In all unlicensed clinics surgeons leave the work to technicians, inexperienced medical students and sometimes even to drivers or cleaners,” says Gülten Ünveren, the general manager of the licensed Istanbul-based hair implant centre Mega HairTrans.
“These people are playing with the health of hundreds of tourists.” Apart from post-surgery infections or disappointing results, the patients’ lives are at stake, Ms Ünveren says, adding that a hair implant is not simple surgery as promoted by clinics in the black market.
In some cases, if the patient has a heart disease for instance, there is a very real danger of serious injury or even death, she adds.
Ms Ünveren points to an example of how easy it is for black market clinics to set up. Earlier this year, she says, a driver who worked for a hair implant clinic in Istanbul told her that he had opened his own clinic in a central district and that now he earns as much as 30,000 Turkish lira (Dh37,023) per month, more than 20 times Turkey’s minimum wage. “I knew this guy before; apparently he was allowed to join surgeries and learnt how to make incisions and harvesting grafts,” she says.
“After six months, he opens his own place. This is ridiculous since the whole sector and local authorities are aware of this but nobody is taking action.”
It is all to easy for a patient to be attracted by what appears to be a bargain, but anyone considering such cosmetic surgery must be careful she says.
“The customers ask if they can get this treatment for below $1,000. Well, you have to be suspicious with any price offered below the $1,500 mark; imagine that they do this job for $15,000 in the US.” She says that alone should be warning enough for those considering surgery and is surprised so few seem to get suspicious. “How can customers be fooled by such people if the price is so low – and the treatment so dangerous