For months, the cap was Paul’s indispensable ally. He wore it summer and winter, outdoors and indoors. Not to protect herself from the sun, but to hide her growing baldness. “The jokes of those who told me that I was losing my hair had become unbearable”, loose the one who began to see his skull bald at 25 years old. At 28, his baldness had become a real complex.
In the fall of 2020, he came across a live Instagram from a friend who had a hair transplant in Turkey, a country renowned for this industry and more generally for medical tourism. The prices are much more attractive there than in France. The operation consists of taking hair from the back of the skull, where the density is higher, to implant them in the front, on the bald areas.
Intrigued, Paul asks him if the operation went well. His friend is delighted. Three months later, the young man took off for Istanbul with a friend who also wanted to play billiards. “We didn’t hesitate for long: my friend had been happy with her clinic, which was clean and gave convincing results according to the before/after photos of patients that she posted on Instagram. »
Another argument that tipped the balance: the price, “very affordable”. The duo pays 1,800 euros each for a package including the surgery, three nights in a hotel on site with breakfast and airport transfers. To this sum are added 200 euros of plane tickets from Toulouse.
The day after their arrival, the duo consults a doctor for a precise diagnosis. In the afternoon, both are operated under local anesthesia. Back in France two days later, time for regrowth, which requires at least six months to hope for a homogeneous result. A year and a half later, Paul has put his cap away. “The rendering is natural, he enthuses. It changed my life and for the price, it’s a gift! »
An operation that is becoming more democratic
They are more and more numerous, like him, to push the door of clinics in order to afford hair implants. According to figures from the International society of hair restoration surgery, hair transplant surgeries increased by 5% between 2019 and 2021 in Europe, and by 240% between 2010 and 2021. “This intervention is becoming more democratic”confirm Tracy Cohen Sayag director of the Champs Elysées Clinic , a large aesthetic medicine group with seven clinics in France, one in New York and one in Dubai. In his Paris clinic, 740 appointments were made in 2021 with a view to performing a hair transplant, compared to 230 in 2019.
According to her, there are several reasons for this. First, the development of FUE (Follicular unit extraction). This surgical technique consists of removing the hair one by one from the areas of the skull provided with hair, without leaving a scar. That’s what Paul used. A less invasive technique than FUT (Follicular unit transplantation), an older process. This requires taking a strip of scalp from the back of the head, from which follicular units are removed which are then transplanted one by one. The skin is then sewn up, leaving a mark on the back of the skull which can be seen on short hair.
Personalities who talk about it
Another reason for the increase in demand, according to Tracy Cohen Sayag: the fact that the transplant is less taboo, in particular because “Influencers talk about it openly when they have surgery. This allows us to reveal behind the scenes of an unknown sector, which could perhaps be scary ».
Among those who have told their community that they have used it, with supporting images, are reality TV candidates followed by at least 1 million people on Instagram: Thibault Garcia, Greg Yeya, Nikola Lozina, Ricardo… Other personalities have publicly said to have had hair implants: singers Florent Pagny, Elton John, Robbie Williams, former TV host Julien Lepers… The subject is also discussed in series or films and is the subject of memes on social networks.
Some personalities have even made a business out of it. Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo, owner of several aesthetic clinics, announced in September 2021 on Instagram the opening of a clinic specializing in hair transplantation in Spain, with 15 rooms dedicated to this intervention.
If the transplant is less taboo, it is perhaps also due to the offensive marketing of certain foreign clinics, with great blows of sponsored posts on social networks, purchase of keywords on search engines and publicity. – press releases in the media. Kevin, 28, took the plunge after doing some research on the web regarding beard transplants and then being bombarded with advertisements. He too ended up flying to Turkey in 2021, to perform a hair and beard transplant from his hair, for 4,500 euros all included.
This offensive communication, French surgeons deplore it and denounce unfair competition. “They come to canvass in France shamelessly while we, French practitioners, do not have the right to communicate for advertising purposes”thunders plastic surgeon Guillaume Lemierre, member of the French Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.
This represents a serious shortfall for them. But French surgeons know that the price battle is lost against certain countries. In France, transplants cost between 3,000 and 11,000 euros. In Turkey, patients potentially get out of it for half the cost, with a package of services on site. Tunisia also appears among the attractive countries. Rates that can be explained, among other things, by much lower charges.
Is the quality there abroad? Tracy Cohen Sayag and Guillaume Lemierre speak with one voice: there is some very good and some less good. Patients may experience complications. It still remains “fairly rare and less serious than operations such as a facelift or breast implants”explains the plastic surgeon.
In terms of results, some can be disappointing. ” Over the months, I noticed very little regrowth, laments a young man on the International hairloss forum, supporting photos, after an operation in Turkey. Scions that are not dead are just a field of ruin. They were planted out of order. They’ve been spaced too far apart, so there’s no density, with white holes showing the skull everywhere. »
The disappointments are not specific to foreign clinics. In France too, patients report failed transplants. But for those returning from abroad, it is above all the post-operative follow-up that is lacking, warns Muriel Bessis, president of the Association of successes and failures in cosmetic surgery (Arches). In France, surgeons can easily see patients again in the event of complications. To stimulate regrowth, they sometimes offer them PRP sessions (Platelet Rich Plasma) or led sessions if necessary.
A follow-up that the French do not operate outside our borders. “When they have problems following an operation, they are told ‘well come back!’. They feel isolated, left to themselves, and will then knock on the door of French surgeons. » But the latter are not always open to receiving them, in particular because they do not know in what conditions the patients were operated.
French professionals warn: it is not because the price is very attractive that you have to rush headlong. If the operation is performed too early, the alopecia (hair loss) may progress, and the young man will then end up with a bald area between the grafted hair at the front and the back of the skull. A not really aesthetic result, which pushes some to have a second transplant… but you still have to have enough hair in your donor.
If specialists recommend thinking long term, it is also because the profile of patients who take the plunge has evolved. Ten years ago, the exclusive scalp surgeon dermatologist Pierre Bouhanna operated mainly on people in their forties. Now the patient base is younger. “Men in their twenties, with still very moderate baldness, approach us. » Tracy Cohen Sayag goes in the same direction. At the Clinique des Champs Elysées, the 25-35 age group is the most represented among those who have hair transplants. They represent 39% of patients in 2020, followed by 35-45 year olds.
Paul, he knows that his baldness may progress. “I preferred to do a first operation, regain confidence and possibly have a second operation, rather than wait…”
A business that takes root in Turkey
In 2019, 480,000 people traveled to the country for hair transplants, according to Emin Cakmak, chairman of Turkey’s Health Tourism Development Council. In 2021, there were 756,000, or 57% more. Hair implant tourism thus brings nearly six out of ten patients from abroad to Turkey.