Black women are known for their commanding versatility and limitless creativity through the art of hairstyling. Whether exploring a new cut and color or diving into cornrows, lace wigs or traditional sew-in weaves, we have generationally mastered the ability to become shapeshifters with cutting-edge looks that set cultural trends for months, years and even decades after they make their stylish debut on the social scene.
Parallel to the online and offline chatter of contemporary and classic hairstyles, however, is another topic of conversation that has become increasingly taboo within the Black community: hair loss. The revelation from United States Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley in sharing her alopecia areatajourney in 2020 – a condition which causes patches of hair loss that can eventually lead to baldness – is one public example of hair conditions that adversely affect the Black community. “People may lie, but hair doesn’t,” explains Ohnica Thomas of HAIR BY OHNICA®, a seasoned haircare professional based in Trinidad and Tobago who specializes in hair health for her clients. “Traction alopecia, improper chemical application and poor techniques of braids, weaves and other styles, as well as insufficient hair routines, are among the causes of hair loss that I’ve noticed throughout my career. Knowing the right products for you and understanding that hair care takes time is critical to good hair and scalp health,” she shares.
One recent study from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology even highlighted that African Americans are experiencing alopecia at a higher rate than other ethnic groups. And, with lifestyle causes at the root for women (including hair loss caused by postpartum hormone changes, extreme stress, genetics, poor haircare routines, unhealthy diet and age-related realities), Black women and men are now seeking more permanent medical solutions for hair loss.
For many around the world, the cost-effective answer to this ongoing issue lies across the Mediterranean – in the Republic of Türkiye. The ultra-luxe medical tourism hair transplant and restoration scene in this country has exploded in recent years, and among scores of clinic options, casual online research may lead you to the doors of EsteNove – a premier, qualified hair transplant clinic. Located in the nation’s capital, Istanbul, it has established a partnership with Harvard Medical School in the United States. Boasting a 90-95% success rate, the medical company is committed to quality results, designed according to an individual patient’s needs-based analysis and performed using the latest cutting-edge technology available on the market. But for the head of the medical team, Zafer Çetinkaya, MD, the end result is one layer. Knowledge, training and expertise are of paramount importance to the success of any hair transplant that requires careful pre-, during and post-operative care.
“We have very qualified doctors and technicians here at our facility in Türkiye, which is the reason we have so many patients coming,” he explains during our visit to the medical facility in the heart of Istanbul, with the help of a staff translator. Çetinkaya, who is a certified professional and has worked extensively in the industry for nearly a decade alongside a large team of nurses, technicians, operations and administrative staff, uses techniques such as follicular unit extraction and ICE direct hair implementation. He estimates that out of 100 persons who undergo the major operation at EsteNove in Türkiye, about 30 of them are of African descent.
With modern medical breakthroughs, hair transplant procedures in Türkiye can potentially be a viable option to offer relief to Black women, and open new doors of confidence to those who often suffer from this condition, according to Murat Alsaç, co-founder of EsteNove. “Recognizing that hair transplants are a major decision made by persons from all backgrounds, our specialization comes in two parts: our skilled team and our customer service. One journey here doesn’t take just five hours. Think about starting the conversation, then application and of course seeing the full results – it takes about 24 months,” he underscores, noting that women can now also explore solutions that suit their needs. He also notes that hair transplants are increasingly becoming socially acceptable, with social media hashtags garnering millions of views and comments on platforms such as TikTok and Instagram. “Especially for Afro-American and Caribbean hair types and the rise in popularity for hair transplants, the procedure reinforces the need for a specially-qualified expertise. We have patients coming from Africa, America, the United Kingdom and Europe, and other parts of the world. We are a service country, and our company puts a lot of effort into making sure that people know that Türkiye is your top choice for hair transplants.”
When asked about the difference in the process for African-American and Afro-Caribbean patients, Çetinkaya explains that special attention is paid to the curl pattern varying kinds of Black hair, which can have a greater density than patients of other ethnicities. “Before the operation, we assess and plan through individual consultations because of the curl pattern. Some of the patients want a straighter hairline, while others want a more curved finish,” he notes. General consultations for all patients also include a preliminary health assessment, which includes patients disclosing information on existing chronic conditions. Ailments such as thyroid disease, blood disorders or cancer, Çetinkaya notes, can affect the results of hair transplant surgery, and stresses the importance of being truthful in the assessments.
“Sometimes, we have to tell patients that we can’t do the hair transplant operation. For example, some people are cancer survivors and come to us after surgery or treatment for the cancer, such as chemotherapy,” he says. “If the treatments happened in the last year, we advise them to wait at least two years before undergoing hair transplant surgery. Most importantly, during surgery we take our time with the extraction process, which requires more care and precision.”
The extraction process means that hair is usually taken from the back of a patient’s head, known as the “donor area.” Hair follicles are harvested under local anaesthesia with the assistance of special micro-punches, which are then grafted and transplanted to thinning or balding areas of the scalp. Twenty-four hours after the procedure, the bandages are removed and the hair is washed by medical staff with a special foam to stimulate and cleanse the scalp. While individual cases may vary, overall, the healing journey can take up to 12 months, with the first 12-14 days after surgery being the most important for routine and convenient virtual check-ins with the medical support team (mostly via Whatsapp) after a patient has left Türkiye.
While the increase in demand largely lies in the 25 to 34-year-old age range at EsteNove, accounting for over 40% of the company’s procedures, there is still a disproportionate ratio of male to female patients, with men accounting for over 95% of its patient roster. The increasing demand for hair transplant surgery overseas is also tied into the affordability of the procedure. While in the U.S., pricing can be as high as $25,000. In Türkiye, a hair transplant can cost around $4,500, which is over 80% cheaper than what is offered in North America. The attractive economic considerations statistically add up. In June 2022, there was a reported 115% increase in foreign visitors in June 2022 compared to the previous year.
EsteNove is widely known as a “one-stop luxury travel shop” for hair transplant patients around the world, which removes the burden of trip-planning from patients and offers travelers a real opportunity to explore the best of the medical and vacationing world. The company offers VIP transportation, four- and five-star accommodations, patent-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, required medications, an after-care kit, and year-long post operative assistance from Nova Care. And with Turkish Airlines celebrating its 90th anniversary in 2023, as well as Türkiye commemorating 100 years as a Republic, there are a few tempting travel perks if adventurers decide to make their way to Atatürk International Airport, cleverly known on social media as “the hairport.” With the Istanbul “Stopover” program, the national airline carrier will now provide a two-night stay in a four-star hotel for economy class travelers and a three-night stay in a five-star hotel for business class passengers with a hotel voucher that can be redeemed online once flights have been booked. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Türkiye’s hospitality goodwill makes it a tourism force on the global stage, as the country ranks in the top 10 most visited countries in the world, according to its investment office.
As one of hundreds of clinics scattered across Istanbul, the unique convenience makes the country an attractive destination to engage in touristic activities such as sightseeing and shopping while in the city for hair transplant surgery, since an outpatient’s recovery time is relatively quick. It’s a bonus offering that has put EsteNove on the map as a preferred clinic of choice for new and existing patients. “Sometimes, my patients return to Istanbul for routine check-ups, and you truly see the difference in them – not just in their hair, but in their confidence. It’s almost like watching a new person,” Çetinkaya states with great pride. “It is a rewarding feeling to see that change and it’s the best part of the job for me…to see people happy.”
Tenille Clarke is an avid storyteller, seasoned publicist and cultural enthusiast from Trinidad and Tobago who often pens about her ongoing love affair with travel, entertainment and culture through a Caribbean lens. Follow her digital journey @tenilleclarke1 on Instagram and Twitter.