One such is Sayeed, 32, from Saudi Arabia. As he leaves a new clinic he found recently for post-surgery treatment with a large bandage around his head discoloured by dried blood, he readily admits he initially did little research into his first treatment. With his blood-soaked, bandaged head, he does look unsettling.
Sayeed was in Istanbul a year ago, hoping to get an attractive new look from a local implant clinic he signed up with in advance. He did not know it was unlicensed. “It could have been easy to spot these illegal places but I made very little research on that,” he says.
The treatment was not a success and so he was forced to return to Istanbul to repair the damage done.
Many patients are lured by bargain prices and geographical proximity. Most recently a sub-industry has emerged – moustache transplants – attracting male patients inspired by Turkish soap opera actors or Hollywood celebrities, the general manager at the licensed Natural Hair Turkey, Ersin Murtezaoglu, tells The National. Most patients bring a picture of their favourite movie star or singer whom they want to look like, he says.
“The fake clinics offer a 100 per cent guarantee that the patient will look like his dreams, which of course, ends in frustration,” he adds.
After years of hard-work, many Turkish surgeons and dermatologists have built good reputations for hair implant surgeries but now the mushrooming illegal clinics threaten to undermine Turkey’s regional place in the sector while also damaging tourism.
Istanbul used to have only a handful of hair transplant clinics, all with a valid health ministry licences, a decade ago, today as 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 to a great extent. When contacted by The National for comment, Istanbul City Health Council, which represents the health ministry locally, says only that “it is the health ministry’s duty to audit the clinics” and it “cannot further comment”.
Professional clinics are primarily concerned that their unlicensed rivals are putting the 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.