In the last decade, the hair transplant industry grew by 192% according to the International Society Of Hair Restorations, helped in part by lowering prices and celebrities like Elon Musk and Wayne Rooney going public about their treatment. A recent study of 90 hair treatment clinics operating in 11 different countries has analysed the motivations behind this growth. Kilian Wisskirchen, Founder of Medihair, who led the study, explains the results.
Seeking solutions to hair loss is not new, but what is groundbreaking is the recent scale of the surge of hair transplant tourism.
In just one of the leading destinations for hair transplant tourism, Turkey, the Foreign Economic Relations Board (DEİK) claimed that their hair transplant industry had surpassed U$1 billion in 2018.
Hair transplant cost around the world
The Medihair 2021 Hair Transplant Study found that cost was the second most important decision criterion for choosing a hair restoration clinic. The survey found that 45.8% of the patients were inclined toward travelling abroad for their hair transplant, motivated by the significant variation found in average treatment costs between countries.
In brief, the research concluded:
- The clinics in the US, Canada, Australia and UK are the most expensive. On average, a hair transplant of 2,500 grafts in the UK will cost US$8,218, and in the US, the price rises to US$13,610.
- The reason for inbound hair transplant travel to Turkey is clear: extremely low cost. Hair transplants cost on average US$2,675.
- The cost in clinics in India is affordable at US$3,350, and in Thailand at US$5,758. Mexico is another low cost option offering hair restoration surgery for only US$3,201.
Given this cost difference, it is likely that demand for hair transplantation abroad will continue to grow.
There are various reasons for the global price difference, but labour costs in the country is the major determining factor. Generally, a hair transplant takes around 6 to 8 hours performed by at least one surgeon and two technicians. Since Turkey and India have significantly lower labour costs when compared to the US or the UK, clinics abroad are able to offer hair transplants at a much cheaper rate.
Another factor is government support. Countries like Turkey support their hair clinics financially, as they recognise patients from abroad bring in foreign exchange from treatment and for accommodation, food and cultural activities. Due to the partial subsidy, lower prices can be charged for the surgery.
Lastly, importing medical equipment causes some countries to incur additional shipping and taxation charges. This leads to higher price ranges. Turkey has its own domestic industry producing the required equipment for a hair transplant.
Other reasons besides cost
The study found there were various other reasons in favour of patients travelling for hair transplants.
Firstly, most of the patients from the survey would also travel for hair restoration in their own country. Around 45% of the patients travelled to another state or over 20 miles to perform the surgery.
Once willing to travel for treatment, arguably the step to travel even further and abroad is a small one. In addition to that, up to 75% of the hair transplant patients are younger than 45 years. Travelling for them is not seen as a major hurdle.
Thirdly, modern techniques like DHI, a modified version of FUE hair implantation, are especially offered abroad. The DHI technique uses a special tool to directly implant the grafts into the scalp without having to create incisions ahead of time. Consequently, these developments make the surgery less fatiguing and more successful. Similarly, with less responsibility on surgeons, they can handle more cases a day which allows them to offer extra discounts.
Lastly, many clinics abroad rely heavily on acquiring new patients via digital marketing. Their websites use of social media platforms tend to be more modern and appealing to a younger audience, compared to hair clinic websites in the US other western countries. Extensive patient reviews are frequently published, with before-and-after photos of former patients on YouTube and Instagram.
A flagship for medical tourism?
A separate study by Medihair on global cosmetic surgery demand in 2020 found that 117,000 people searched for hair transplants per month, ranking it the 4th most popular treatment in cosmetic surgery searches after Botox, liposuction, and rhinoplasty.
Now that hair transplant industry is one of the more globalised industries in the plastic surgery space, perhaps serious consideration should be given to adding it as important economic pillar for medical tourism.
About the author
Kilian C. Wisskirchen is the founder of medihair.com, an online review platform for medically-proven hair loss treatments. After his first corporate job, Kilian began to notice the effects of hair loss on his own hairline and started researching the topic. Besides general information and relevant industry studies, the platform publishes in-depth patient cases, journeys, and clinic reviews. Since the launch in 2017, the platform has helped over 100,000 individuals suffering from hair loss to find the right treatment to improve their hair confidence.