Turkey's booming health tourism sector is getting hairier.
Transplants have long been offered to those who are thin on top, but now facial hair implants are gaining in popularity, with men who want a more manly look flying in to make the most of the services on offer in the country.
Tulunay, a doctor, said moustache and beard implants started to become popular two years ago, and that 10 to 15 of his 60 monthly hair transplant patients now asked for facial hair transplantation. Most are from the Middle East.
"Both in Turkey and in Arab countries facial hair is associated with masculinity, and its lack can cause social difficulties. In Turkish there is a word for it: kose, meaning baldness of the face, and it is usually not considered a good thing," Tulunay said.
"Businessmen come to me to get beard and moustache implants because they say that business partners do not take them seriously if they don't sport facial hair."
Ali Mezdegi, a cosmetic surgeon who has been in the business for more than 10 years, said many of his patients asked for transplants before they took a second, third, or even fourth wife. "Thick hair is a status symbol and a sign of strength and virility," he said. Arabs, mostly from the Gulf countries, make up 75 per cent of his customers.
Irfan Atik, general manager of a tourism agency that specialises in hair transplant tour packages, estimates that at least 50 Arab tourists go to Istanbul every day for the procedure. Packages cost about US$2,300 and include medical and overnight costs incurred during the four days that the procedure usually takes.
While most of Atik's customers are from the Middle East, he hopes to extend his business to European countries, especially Britain, but laments that a lack of hair seems to be more fashionable there.
Mezdegi said about 50 per cent of patients came through an agency such as that run by Atik, or through word of mouth.
Turkey's growing influence in the Arab world has transformed its tourism sector, now dominated by Arabs: more than four million tourists from Arab countries visited Turkey last year, compared with 700,000 in 2001.
"Many of my visitors tell me how much they love [Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip] Erdogan," Atik said. "They they say he is strong and a real man." But he admitted that so far none had asked for the "almond" moustache sported by Erdogan.