The flight left Istanbul for Paris, like dozens of others every month. Onboard, there were tourists who were happy to have seen the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar; there were business travelers; and then there was a small group of passengers who looked a little strange, their freshly shaven heads wrapped up with a surgical bandage printed with a doctor’s name or a clinic’s logo.
For several years, this bald fraternity encompassing all kinds of people has been filling up economy-class seats, as well as the waiting rooms in the hair clinics that have sprung up all over the former Ottoman Empire. Hair transplant tourism is a manna for Turkey, the destination of choice for foreign patients, nearly a quarter of whom are French. Contenders for transplants are increasingly young, coming to the shores of the Bosphorus to find an affordable solution to take away their growing anxieties or their already deep-seated hang-ups.
While Turks around the city no longer seem to pay attention to this horde of bald vacationers, the postoperative head-bandaged crowd on the other hand (a head bandage is worn to minimize the risk of edema beneath the implanted area), exchange knowing looks and feedback. “At the clinic on the day of the operation, there were three of us from France. The next day, we met up for a drink. And, on the plane back home, a third of the passengers had a head bandage on,” said 31-year-old Normann (some of the people we spoke to wished to remain anonymous), who was operated on at a clinic in Istanbul in September 2022.
An insurance salesman from Nantes, Normann took the plunge after two years of deliberation and research, particularly online. He had started to lose his hair when he was 20. Over the years, this form of alopecia (hair loss) spread to his temples and vertex (the technical term for the top of the head). “The jokes about my hair loss, the little digs about Mr. Clean had become unbearable,” he said. To hide his increasingly bald head, he had come “to wear a cap or hat as much as possible, dreading the moment when it had to be removed.”
From the twenties
Initially, Normann was “not very happy about going abroad to have surgery abroad,” but when he asked two French practitioners, the solution was obvious. “The first cosmetic physician gave me an estimate of €15,000; the second, who was a little cheaper, did not seem very keen on doing the operation.” The procedure in Turkey cost him a total of €2,400 for an all-inclusive package (including local transport, the hotel and the operation itself), only the airfare was extra. Four months later, the regrowth began (it takes a year for the final result to come through). “It’s very promising,” he said. “I’ve regained my confidence back and I don’t feel bald anymore.”
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