At the age of 46, I’m a late convert to Tik Tok but already its algorithm seems to think it knows me better than I know myself. I’m lucky enough to have a full head of hair, but on a daily basis it shows me hair transplant videos.
pparently I’m bang in the middle of the age window for men whose receding hair has become a source of concern.
From video diaries of trips abroad, to before and after treatment photos, there seems to be a boom in hair replacement surgery with a side order of medical tourism. So what has happened to trigger this?
I’m just old enough to remember when the vanity of balding men was a regular comedy trope on TV. Bad comb-overs and poorly fitting wigs featured regularly, and for those with receding hairlines, the only acceptable strategy in life was to pretend not to care or maybe start a hat collection.
But somewhere along the line, something happened to Irish culture and we seem to have stopped judging people who get work done quite so much.
You can see it in the number of Botox and filler clinics aimed at women, and by the amount of ever-younger men prepared to fight back against their genes.
And then there are the Irish celebs who have taken the plunge — Brian McFadden, Marty Whelan and James Nesbitt have all had hair transplants.
“Realising I was losing my hair was a big deal to me,” says Eimhin Walsh (25) from Blanchardstown in Dublin “I was probably more conscious of it than the people around me, but I’m into fashion and looks are important to me, so it hit me hard.”
Eimhin first noticed his hair thinning when he was 19 and it started to impact on his daily life. On holidays, he didn’t want to get in the pool because when his hair was wet, he felt everyone could see.
“My situation wasn’t actually that bad, but I knew what was coming down the line so I decided to get it sorted early,” says Eimhin. “People I told were surprised because they thought I didn’t need it, but I felt I did and that was what counted.”
In October 2021, Eimhin travelled to a clinic in Manchester and sat for eight and half hours while the procedure was done. Doctors numbed his scalp, drew a new hairline and then took 1,800 hair follicles from the back of his head and transplanted them to the front, one by one.
After a two-week recovery period, he could go back to normal, wearing a hat and basically getting on with his life.
“It looked like a buzzcut initially and then the scabs fell off and it looked really good. But after about a month, that new hair also fell out and I went back to looking like I did before the procedure, which is what I was told would happen and is entirely normal,” he says.
“After two to three months, the new follicles grew new hair and then I could start to see what has actually been achieved.”
Eimhin is very happy with his results, but cautions others who might be considering doing the same to do a lot of research in advance. “This is 100pc one of the best things I’ve ever done. I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. All you have is your confidence and if this is important to you, then you should absolutely do it,” he says.
“But you need to really make sure that the place you go is reputable and everything is above board. You can spend anything from €1,200 to €10,000, depending on where you go in the world on this. For example, I know someone who paid €1,500 in Turkey for example, but I paid £6,000 for mine.”
Eimhin found his preferred clinic via Instagram, where he follows primarily footballers and “people who’ve been on Love Island”. He researched where to go for his procedure based on their preferences.
“I followed the clinic for a while on Instagram and looked at what they were doing, and was just seriously impressed by the results they were getting, so that was it for me. I could have spent less, but that’s what I wanted.”
For restaurateur Luca de Marzio (39), the decision to get a hair transplant took 10 years to make, but now that it’s done, he hasn’t back. Luca started to lose his hair in his 20s and like Eimhin, he did a lot of research before deciding on a clinic and travelling to Turkey earlier this summer.
“I did a lot of consultations first remotely and then once the flight was booked, it was all go,” says Luca. “I went on holiday with my family, then shaved my head and headed to Istanbul on my own.
“I have two friends who had it done in Ireland and they had a good experience, but I wanted to do it abroad. It was time I put aside for me and I wanted to be able to go somewhere where nobody would know me.”
Luca says there is an entire ecosystem in Istanbul of hotels and clinics that work together to service demand from foreigners and medical tourism is a big deal. He paid €4,500 for his surgery.
“I went to pretty much the most expensive clinic in Istanbul. You can get it done for a lot less, but I didn’t want a cheap job, not for something so important.
“There are people from all over Europe there, and from the US, doing things like this. As soon as you land in Istanbul, you can see people with visible signs that they’ve recently had something done. It’s big business.”
Hair is important to Luca. Looking after it and styling it each morning was a big part of his self-care routine and he didn’t feel ready to say goodbye to that. While it’s early days for his transplant, he’s happy with the work he’s had done.
“The really interesting thing has been other people’s reactions,” he says. “Everyone is really curious and very supportive. My wife’s friends keep texting her looking for information for their husbands, and I’m very happy to talk to anyone about it.
“Girls do crazy stuff with fillers and Botox all the time and, really, as long as it makes you happy, so what? For me, it showed me that it wasn’t a catastrophe — it was something that could be fixed, so why not fix it?”
For 33-year-old cardiac physiologist Ross Keogh, receding hair was something he’d been dealing with since his late teens. His barber was able to partially disguise the issue for him and when he told people he was going to get a transplant, they were surprised. They’d never noticed an issue.
“I did it for my own confidence levels,” he says. “It was absolutely a bigger deal to me than to the people around me. I was aware when I got into the pool and it got wet or when I was out for a run and the wind would blow it — probably nobody else noticed, but I knew.”
Through his barber, Ross heard of a clinic in Turkey that offered the procedure, but before he committed, he made sure to check out their credentials.
“The big thing for me was that they were Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited,” says Ross. “I work in private hospitals here and for a private hospital to operate in Ireland, it must have this certification, so when I saw that, I knew what they had to go through to get that accreditation.
“I was quoted €8,000 here in a private hospital, but I got it for €2,300 in Istanbul. There were travel costs on top of course, but it was still a big saving.”
Because of his medical background, Ross felt he understood the risks involved in undertaking the procedure abroad.
“There are risks to any surgery and there are risks associated with recovery, and I was conscious of that. With a transplant, it takes 10 to 12 months to see the full results, so you’re making a decision that takes a long time to come through and I knew that if there was any trouble, I wouldn’t be able to pop back to the clinic, but they’re pretty good about managing their WhatsApp communications.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. My one and only reason for doing this was for myself. I knew that once I got it done and got a proper hairline, I’d be delighted and I was. I don’t really care what anyone else thinks, but actually people have been very positive about it.”
Despite the good experience of those we spoke with, specialists here in Ireland warn that consumers need to be really careful about travelling to places where standards might not be as high as they are here.
“If there’s one thing I’d like to get across it’s that if someone has concerns about hair loss, they should get several opinions from properly qualified doctors who are specialists in this area, whether it’s here in Ireland or abroad,” says Dr Maurice Collins, a consultant surgeon with Hair Restoration Blackrock in Dublin.
“Get a proper assessment, not just of your current hair loss, but what is projected down the line.
“We do medical treatment of hair loss for young men and that works very well, and we do hair transplantation for all age groups of men. There’s been a big increase in the number of young men in particular looking for this treatment and travelling abroad to places like Turkey and Hungary.
“Unfortunately though, I’ve had to work with people who have had incredibly poor quality work done and are basically permanently disfigured.”
One recent case Dr Collins dealt with involved a man who had a transplant five years ago, but his hair continued to recede around the transplant, leaving him with two ‘horns’ of hair that he needs to shave each morning. A further case involved a man in his 20s who’d been given a female hairline in the wrong shape for his head.
“That’s extreme, but it’s important for people to know that one hair transplant doesn’t solve your hair loss problem,” says Dr Collins.
“If you look at the classic bald man, he’s got no hair on the top of his head and there’s a horseshoe pattern around the back and sides. That remaining hair is normally permanent, so we can harvest it and it will normally grow permanently wherever we put the hair.
“But no patient anywhere in the world, no matter how much money they spend, has enough hair on the back and sides to densely cover the whole top of the head. There is a huge misconception that you can go to Turkey, spend a couple of thousand euro and come back with a full head of hair.”
Dr Collins’ chief concern as a clinician is too many people reduce this procedure down to a single figure, the cost plus flights. He worries that consumers don’t see the bigger picture.
“They haven’t the faintest idea what they’re getting into and they don’t get proper advice that this is a lifelong journey they’re embarking on,” he says. “The problem I have with cleaning up after the problem cases is that we’re talking about people who are psychologically damaged by their experiences.
“The reasons people get this treatment is they’re trying to improve their self-confidence, contentment and peace of mind. That’s a big deal. Yes, for some, vanity is a factor, but I’d say for 99pc of those I treat, it’s all about the person in the mirror. Our personal image of ourselves is super important.”
While Dr Collins does treat women with female pattern hair loss and hair loss due to scarring, most of his patients are men. Hair loss in women is much less common than in men and treatment can be trickier. If a woman has thinning hair, it tends to thin everywhere, rather than just on top as is common in men.
But regardless of the age or gender of the patient, he said vanity is rarely the main reason for someone seeking help. He has three patients who had hair transplants despite being blind and his oldest patient was a man aged 92.
“For them, it was about self-image and being happy in themselves,” he says. “It’s really individual to people. I get some men in my clinic who you would say have a full head of hair, but then you find they’re attending a psychologist about hair loss.
“Other guys notice a bit of hair loss and just shave their heads, get on with their lives and aren’t bothered even a bit. And there’s a whole spectrum in between.
“But unfortunately, there are a load of unscrupulous people out there willing to prey on them.”