Hair transplants breed a new type of tourist in Turkey
Revenue from popular procedure adds to country's $7B medical tourism industry
There is a new way to spot tourists in Turkey, and it doesn't rely on catching a glimpse of selfie sticks, maps or cameras slung around their necks.
Instead, look for the black terry cloth headbands and a telltale triangle of red spots on their scalps.
Tens of thousands of male visitors sport that look in Turkey every year.
Sure, they'll take in Istanbul's sites, but the real reason they're here is to get their hair back.
"You know, I'm young so I need to have a good look," the 36-year-old says.
Alfaraj is here with his older brother who also just had the procedure done as part of a three-day hair transplant and tourism package deal.
"You can pay around $1,900 to have around 4,000 pieces of hair implanted. It's a reasonable price and it's considered to be cheap compared to Europe and U.S.A.," Abdullah Alfaraj says.
"We can enjoy our time [and] go around and see Istanbul so it's two things in one."
The brothers are among the roughly 200 patients who have hair transplants done in Turkey every day, according to Dr. Hamid Aydin, the managing physician at EstetIstanbul, a private clinic specializing in hair transplants.
Aydin says those patients in particular bring in nearly half a billion dollars a year, adding to the country's $7-billion medical tourism industry.
The procedure involves taking more than three thousand grafts from a fertile part of the scalp, often the back of the patient's head above the neck. They are then implanted in the bald area. Aydin says on average the operation takes about five hours.
Among the reasons for the recent explosion in the procedure, Aydin says, are Turkey's proficiency in the field, new hair transplant technology and affordability.
He says the country is already well-known for medical tourism in other disciplines including in vitro fertilization, optometry and cardiology.
The Turkish government also helps support the industry by subsidizing the offices of Turkish companies promoting their clinics abroad.
But there's clearly a cultural shift at play, too — a new phase in the metrosexual movement, if you will.
"Men are following women and starting to track the trends," Aydin adds, noting that in recent years there's been a shift toward more rhinoplasty in addition to hair transplants.
Men are close to surpassing women in terms of nose jobs, he says.
Social media is another factor.
Services catering to men who want to spoil themselves are everywhere, even in countries where men are known to be macho. Traditional barbershops in Turkey, even budget ones, have made waxing and facial masks part of their regular services.
Eighty per cent of Aydin's business comes from hair transplants.
His office recently saw a patient from Canada, but the majority of clients apart from Arabs are from Holland, Italy, Russia and England, he says. Northern Africa is a growing market.
Politics has an impact on where the clients come from, too. The recent rift between the Turkish and Israeli governments has slowed the tide of Israelis, who used to make up a large part of the patient lists. Arab tourists quickly filled the gap.
Interestingly, Hamid says Israelis wanted hair implanted elsewhere. Not on their scalps, but their chests.
Majid Alfaraj is all about his new head of hair. He says he underwent the procedure for his wife but she doesn't know he's done it.
"It's going to be a surprise for her," he says. "You know women like younger guys."