Turkey teeth and hair transplants: the rise and rise of cosmetic tourism

Whether scrolling through Instagram or hate-watching Love Island, you’re bound to have spotted them. Those dazzling fresh sets of pearly-white veneers. Once known as the Hollywood smile, they’ve now – due to where they’re commonly procured – earned the nickname ‘Turkey teeth’.

Alongside popular cosmetic procedures such as rhinoplasty, boob jobs, BBLs and botox, these blinding sets of synthetic gnashers have been the preferred look of many influencers and reality stars in the UK for some time – leading their followers untouched by fame to follow suit, travelling overseas to achieve the same glamorous look at a cut-price cost.

All this surgery-seeking is changing the face of travel as we know it. Though we lack official numbers regarding outbound medical tourists, the Office for National Statistics estimates that in 2019, 248,000 UK residents traveled abroad for medical treatment, up from 120,000 in 2015. Meanwhile, subjective evidence indicates that these numbers are continuing to rise. It’s no wonder: when compared to the cost of cosmetic treatments in the UK, procedures abroad are significantly cheaper, bringing them in reach of Brits who could barely afford them back home.

The Love Island effect

The omnipresence of these glaring chompers isn’t the only indication of cosmetic tourism’s soaring popularity. London’s transport network TfL came under fire last year for displaying controversial ads for cheap breast augmentation and denistry abroad. And then there are the huge numbers of people vlogging their experiences of overseas cosmetic procedures and posting them online – with surgery-seekers heading to places such as Türkiye, Croatia and Eastern Europe to return with blinding smiles, Kendall Jenner-coded fox eyes and yassified bums, boobs and tums.

@tonksta Big up @DENTATUR Dental Turkey everytime 🥰 love my new teeth #fyp #travel #vlog #veneers #turkey ♬ Wonderful World – Muspace Lofi

Anecdotally at least, there’s a clear link between our growing interest in these treatments and what we’re exposed to via our screens. In June, as this summer’s season of Love Island UK aired, searches for ‘Turkey teeth’ reportedly increased by a whopping 10,000 percent overnight after islander Jess Harding described her type as a ‘pretty boy with Turkey teeth’.

And it’s not just the girlies. Plenty of men, like the ones Jess Harding’s after, are heading abroad for dentistry and surgical procedures, too. Hair transplantation is fast becoming the most popular procedure for men, with up to a million people a year flocking to Türkiye to get a set of freshly plotted hair follicles, which in time will sprout into a brand-new head of hair.

There’s a general sense that people are increasingly at risk of being tempted into booking themselves in for seriously cheap, super speedy procedures abroad in a bid to keep up with fast-changing trends. But is this really the case?

People are increasingly booking themselves in for seriously cheap, super speedy procedures abroad in a bid to keep up with fast-changing trends

25-year-old Janay Hunter from Croydon, London, first began considering cosmetic surgery seven years ago following the birth of her child, and only finally took the plunge last October. ‘I took a very long time to think about it,’ she says. ‘I was researching clinics in the UK to see if I could get financing options, but I don’t have the best credit, so I looked into going abroad.’ The content creator decided to get a tummy tuck with 360 lipo – a popular procedure with women following pregnancy that tightens abs and removes excess fat in the sides, back and stomach.

‘I chose [Türkiye] because I was looking at prices in the UK and it’s ridiculously expensive,’ she says. The price for a tummy tuck in the UK can be anywhere between £5000 and £10,000, while 360 lipo costs upwards of £7000. Put together, that’s one hell of a bill. Though Hunter had read all the horror stories about foreign procedures gone wrong, ultimately, she trusted her research had put her in a good position to proceed wisely.

Poring over endless options for hotel packages and clinics, she settled on one of Türkiye’s biggest cosmetic tourism companies, MedAway. The total cost for her selected package, which included the surgery, a lavish, all-inclusive Istanbul hotel, car rides between the hotel and surgery, and bringing a friend along for the trip would cost her only £4800. She was in.

Risk vs reward

For all intents and purposes, Hunter’s week-long trip ran like a well-oiled machine. ‘My results are honestly amazing,’ she says. On top of a successful surgery, the clinical facilities were hygienic, the staff she engaged with professional and caring and the hotel was surprisingly luxurious. ‘The only thing I’m a little bit disappointed with is the aftercare since being back in the UK, but there are no concerns at all now.’

While Hunter had a good experience, she didn’t speak to her operating surgeon up until the point she arrived in Türkiye. Counter to the ‘strong’ advice given by the UK’s Royal College of Surgeons’ that patients should take two weeks minimum between consultation and surgery, Hunter had her initial consultation after touching down, and went under for the procedure the following day. She was also asked to pay in cash, which she did.

But even with so many success stories proliferating our For You feeds, it’s impossible to ignore the picture painted by the media: one of dodgy hygiene practices, botched outcomes and shock deaths. Since 2019, at least 25 British medical tourists who had procedures in Türkiye have died, including 31-year-old Melissa Kerr, whose death in 2019 following Brazilian butt lift surgery was recently in the news when the UK announced that officials would travel to Türkiye for regulatory talks.

Türkiye’s medical tourism boom

Meanwhile, according to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, there’s been a 94 percent increase in UK tourists who’ve had corrective surgeries and dentistry in the past three years – and procedures carried out in Türkiye account for more than three-quarters of those in the past six months alone.

In November it was announced that Türkiye is set to overtake France as Europe’s second-most popular destination thanks to its booming medical tourism industry. The stats speak for themselves: in 2022, Türkiye welcomed 1.2 million medical tourists and medical tourism is now estimated to bring £2 billion into the country every year. It would be easy to think that there’s a bright side to all this – that, as a result of all these tourists, destinations like Türkiye are flourishing. Surely this influx of foreign money is more than welcome in a floundering economy plagued with 61 percent inflation?

The case of Antalya

Sinan Baran Bayar, a sustainable tourism expert from Antalya – Türkiye’s’s second most popular cosmetic tourism destination following Istanbul – is quick to burst my bubble. ‘Economic conditions in Türkiye are not good,’ he says. ‘Many people in my family, including me, work in the tourism industry. And although it may seem beneficial, those of us who live in the city feel like second-class citizens.’

Bayar explains that Antalya has long been a hub for tourism, but that things have heated up the last few years as the influx of predominantly British and German tourists has transformed the shape of the city on all fronts.

For one, traffic is constant – not helped by the swathes of bruised and bandaged foreigners overwhelming the city. Then there’s the non-stop openings of new dental clinics, hair transplantation centres, spas and nail salons – all of which cater to tourists with deep pockets while being wholly unaffordable to those who actually live locally. (This encapsulates the universal, perpetual downside of living in a location popular with wealthy travelers).

Antalya, Turkey
Photograph: Shutterstock

An additional problem for residents and cosmetic tourists alike is that, seeking better opportunities, many of Türkiyey’s top surgeons and doctors have either left the country – reducing the standards of medical care across the board – or simply turned their backs on public healthcare in favour of opening their own private clinics, which again spells bad news for Turkish nationals.

Bayar is generous. ‘I love the British,’ he says. ‘It’s not a problem for them to come here frequently. The problem is that there are just too many.’ Left unchecked, he predicts that Türkiye’s growing health tourism sector will continue to cause major problems for glow-up globe trotters and residents alike.

With so many uncertainties, both in terms of surgery outcomes and mitigating cosmetic tourism’s wider impact on local cultures and economies, the best way forward remains murky. As long as fresh unattainable beauty and body trends continually emerge and our insecurities adapt and transform with them, the prospect of jetting abroad for an affordable and speedy surgical upgrade will remain a temptation. But if you’re on the precipice of booking that trip, it’s crucial that you do sufficient research, give yourself time to consider whether surgery really is your best option and to think carefully about the impact that you might have on the country you’re travelling to.

Leave a Comment