Hair transplant, a booming business driven by the appetite of young people

For months, the cap was Paul’s indispensable ally. He wore it summer and winter, outside and inside. Not to protect herself from the sun, but to hide her growing baldness. “The jokes of those who told me I was losing my hair had become unbearable”, release the one who began to see his skull bald at the age of 25. By the age of 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 known for this industry and more generally for medical tourism. The prices there are much more attractive than in France. The surgery consists of removing hair from the back of the skull, where the density is higher, to implant them in the front, on the bald spots.

Intrigued, Paul asks him if the surgery went well. His friend is happy. Three months later, the young man left 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 she posted on Instagram. »

Another argument that tipped the balance: the price, “very affordable”. The duo each pay 1,800 euros for a package including surgery, three nights in an on-site hotel with breakfast and airport transfers. To this amount is added another 200 euros in airline tickets from Toulouse.

The day after their arrival, the duo consult a doctor for a precise diagnosis. In the afternoon both are operated under local anaesthetic. Back in France two days later, time for regrowth, which needs at least six months to hope for a homogeneous result. A year and a half later, Paul has put away his cap. “The rendering is natural, he enthusiastically. It changed my life and for the price it’s a gift! »

An operation that is becoming more and more democratic

They are more and more numerous, just like him, to push the door of clinics to pay for hair implants. According to figures from the International Society of Hair Recovery Surgery, hair transplants in Europe increased by 5% between 2019 and 2021 and by 240% between 2010 and 2021. “This intervention is becoming more and more democratic”, confirms Tracy Cohen Sayag, director of the Clinique des Champs Elysées, a large group of aesthetic medicine with seven clinics in France, one in New York and one in Dubai. At his clinic in Paris, 740 appointments were made in 2021 to perform a hair transplant, compared to 230 in 2019.

There are several reasons for this, she says. Firstly, the development of FUE (Follicular Unit Extraction). This surgical technique consists of removing the hairs one by one on the hairy parts of the skull, 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 and then transplanted one at a time. The skin is then stitched up, leaving a mark on the back of the skull that can be seen on short hair.

Personalities talking about it

Another reason for the increase in demand, according to Tracy Cohen Sayag, is the fact that the transplant is less taboo, especially because “Influencers talk openly about it when they have surgery. This allows us to reveal behind the scenes of an unknown sector, which might 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 said publicly against hair implants: singers Florent Pagny, Elton John, Robbie Williams, former TV presenter Julien Lepers… The topic is also discussed in series or movies and is the subject of memes on social networks.

Some personalities have even turned it into a business. Portuguese striker Cristiano Ronaldo, owner of several aesthetic clinics, announced on Instagram in September 2021 the opening of a clinic specializing in hair transplantation in Spain, with 15 rooms dedicated to this intervention.

Offensive Marketing

If the transplant is less taboo, it may also be due to the offensive marketing of certain foreign clinics, with big hits from 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 internet about beard transplants and then being bombarded with ads. He also flew to Turkey in 2021 to perform a hair and beard transplant there, for 4,500 euros all-inclusive.

This offensive communication, French surgeons regret and denounce unfair competition. “They shamelessly come to France to recruit when we French practitioners have no right to communicate for advertising purposes”thunders plastic surgeon Guillaume Lemierre, member of the French Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons.

This is a serious shortcoming for them. But French surgeons know that the price battle against certain countries is lost. In France, transplants cost between 3,000 and 11,000 euros. In Turkey, patients may be able to get it for half the cost, with a package of services on site. Tunisia is also among the attractive countries. Rates that can be explained by, among other things, much lower rates.

Disappointing results

Is the quality there abroad? Tracy Cohen Sayag and Guillaume Lemierre speak with one voice: there are some very good ones and some less good ones. Patients may experience complications. It still stays “quite rare and less serious than surgeries 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, complains a young man on the International hairloss forum, which supports photos, after an operation in Turkey. Scions that are not dead are only a ruin. They were planted incorrectly. They’re spaced too far apart so there’s no density, with white holes all over showing the skull. »

The disappointments are not specific to foreign clinics. In France, too, patients report failed transplants. But for those returning from abroad, it is mainly the postoperative follow-up that is lacking, warns Muriel Bessis, president of the Association of Success and Failures in Cosmetic Surgery (Arches). In France, surgeons can easily see patients again in case of complications. To encourage regrowth, they sometimes offer PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) sessions or LED sessions as needed.

A sequel that the French do not operate outside our borders. “If they have problems after surgery, they are told ‘Come back!’. They feel isolated, left to themselves and will then turn to French surgeons. » But the latter are not always open to it, mainly because they do not know under what circumstances the patients were operated on.

younger patients

French professionals warn: it’s not because the price is very attractive that you have to run headlong. If the surgery is performed too early, the alopecia (hair loss) may worsen and the young man will have a bald area between the grafted hair at the front and the back of the skull. A not really aesthetic result, which leads some to have a second transplant… but you still have to have enough hair in your donor.

When specialists advise to think long term, it is also because the profile of patients taking the plunge has evolved. Ten years ago, the exclusive scalp surgeon dermatologist Pierre Bouhanna mainly operated in the forties. Now the patient base is younger. “Men in their twenties, with still very moderate baldness, come to us. » Tracy Cohen Sayag is heading in the same direction. In the Clinique des Champs Elysées, the 25-35 age group is most represented among those undergoing hair transplants. They represent 39% of patients in 2020, followed by 35-45 year olds.

Paul, he knows his baldness could get worse. “I preferred to have a first surgery, regain confidence, and possibly have a second surgery, rather than wait…”

A company that takes root in Turkey

In 2019, 480,000 people traveled to the country for hair transplants, according to Emin Cakmak, president of the Turkish Health Tourism Development Council. In 2021 there were 756,000, or 57% more. Hair implant tourism brings nearly six out of ten patients from abroad to Turkey.

In Istanbul, according to Emin Cakmak, there are about 2,000 clinics and hospitals that perform this procedure. Patients from abroad come mainly from the Middle East, followed by Europe.

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