Recently, Harry Wallop, a consumer journalist wrote an article for the Daily Mail after traveling to Istanbul, Turkey for an investigative report. Dr. Greg Williams, MBBS, FISHRS and BAHRS President interviewed him after he published the article and below are his answers.
Had you considered having a hair transplant prior to writing the article?
Very vaguely a few years ago when I started to lose my hair and it was in the news a lot with Wayne Rooney etc. A British hair surgeon, who had seen me on the television, emailed me to ask if I wanted a free consultation. It crossed my mind to take his offer seriously — especially as I could have written about it! But after a small amount of research on the internet, I decided against it. Even then, I realised it was a serious procedure and I wasn’t sure I wanted to start down a road that would see me returning possibly on multiple times for top ups.
I have learnt to live with my balding hair!
Why did you decide to write this article?
I was commissioned to write it by a senior editor at the Daily Mail, after they had read another article about the boom in Turkish clinics. But that article had not really explored what those clinics were really like. “Could I dig a bit deeper, and go under cover?” they asked.
I was not even aware that Turkey was one of the global centres in hair transplants. It seemed a really interesting topic and was happy to undertake the article.
Had you seen social media marketing of hair transplants before starting your research and if so, what was your perception of it?
No, I hadn’t.
What research did you do prior to going to Istanbul?
A lot! Or rather a lot more than many similar length articles. I spoke a great length to two anonymous case studies — two UK men, who said they had had very unhappy experiences in Istanbul. They were very useful not only in providing me with testimony, (which a little bit made it into the piece), but also some very useful background about how you go about booking a procedure/what to expect.
I also spoke to two senior UK surgeons: Dr Roshan Vara, and Dr Greg Williams, whom I also then subsequently visited in person to have a consultation to find out what a ‘standard’ consultation might entail. I spoke to Spencer Stevenson, a hair consultant. I spent a long time reading various articles, watching clips and looking into various Istanbul clinics, their websites and reviews. I also spent some time asking for quotes from various Istanbul clinics over WhatsApp to see what promises they were making.
Why did you choose the clinics that you visited in Istanbul?
One was because one of the case studies claimed he had a poor experience at the hands of a particular doctor, Dr Balwi. The other because it had a couple of red flags that warranted further investigation — such as the number of grafts it promised, its cheap price, claims to be pain-free and guaranteed etc.
I ought to say that I could easily find another 10 or 20 clinics with similar red flags. I don’t believe, in my experience, that Cosmeticium is uniquely poor. I am certain that many, many other clinics would have been similarly cavalier in its promises.
What were your impressions in your hotel talking to men who were planning to have a hair transplant ie why they had come to Turkey and why had they chosen the clinic they were booked in at?
Most were a bit nervous but pleased to be having a procedure. They had found clinics from Google or recommendations from friends. All mentioned how much cheaper it was than back home in Germany, Australia, Switzerland etc.
What were your impressions in your hotel talking to men who had had a hair transplant?
I only spoke to one properly — the Australian quoted in the article. He believed a lot of the marketing was misleading, it was not pain free etc. But he was also realistic — he had paid a cheap price, and if the results were good, he did not mind.
Were you randomly approached by anyone in Istanbul to have a hair transplant?
Yes! In the Grand Bazaar. A man selling me some tea offered to introduce me to a man he know.
Did you feel that the facilities you were seen at were safe clinical environments?
Yes. Though I never saw inside the operating theatres.
Did you feel like you were being treated like a medical patient?
Yes, at the Dr Balwi/Eithair clinic. I was asked quite detailed medical history questions and had a blood test. Less so at the other clinic.
Both, however, seemed just as keen on getting me to hand over cash and get me to sign consent forms than to really talk to me to find out what I wanted from a hair transplant.
Would you have gone ahead and had a hair transplant in either of the clinics you were seen at?
Did you feel under pressure by the clinics you saw to have a hair transplant?
Both doctors I saw were good in that respect. They did not put me under any pressure and were understanding when I said I wanted to back out. Their salesmen/patient coordinators — which nearly everyone has because they have booked as part of a package — were a different matter, however. They both went for the hard sell after I said I wanted to back out.
Were you told by the clinics you saw whether the doctor or the assistant would do the FUE extractions?
At Cosmeticium he said assistants would do it. At Elithair, Dr Balwi was happy to admit he would not do any of the surgery at all.
Were you told by the clinics you saw whether the doctor or the assistant would do the recipient site incisions?
At Cosmeticium he said he would do it with assistants’ help. At Elithair, Dr Balwi was happy to admit he would not do any of the surgery at all.
How many grafts were you offered by the clinics you saw?
Between 4000 and 4500 at Cosmeticium. At Elithair: 3,500. Other clinics offered more than 4,000.
What were the prices you were quoted for the graft numbers on offer by the clinics you saw?
Cosmeticium: £1499 for Sapphire ICE FUE, including 2 nights at Hilton DoubleTree and airport transfers.
Elithair: £1850 FUE. The 3 nights in Ramada, and airport transfers were an extra £190.
What would you advise someone thinking of going to Turkey to have a hair transplant?
Do lots and lots of research. And insist on — if possible — having a consultation with the doctor before booking. Don’t rely on the patient coordinators, who in my experience are too happy to exaggerate the clinic’s claims and minimise any downsides. In both cases the doctors I met contradicted some of the promises made on their own websites made by patient coordinators.
What have you learned from your experience?
A lot! A lot of men are prepared to fly around the world for the promise of restoring their hair. And also — from the fallout from the article — if you criticise the low-end Turkish clinics you will be accused of being racist.
If you could do it again, what if anything would you do differently?
I would love to have visited a third clinic, just for thoroughness. And also to have interviewed some men in detail while I was out there. But I was wary about blowing my cover by interviewing people in the lobby of my hotel, a hotel that was almost entirely funded by the hair transplant industry.
Note: The views expressed from the answers to this interview are solely from the interviewee. They do not necessarily reflect the the opinions or views of the ISHRS or its members. While there are reputable hair transplant clinics in Turkey, we encourage patients to do a thorough research first on what surgeon is going to operate on them.