How Damascus and Mosul Became the Arab World's Plastic Surgery Hotspots

Conditions in Syria and Iraq pale in comparison to Turkey or the Gulf states, but appealing prices and locals looking to recover from the war against ISIS have given birth to new aesthetics hotspots

File photo: A silicone gel breast implant is seen in a clinic in Nice, France, December 21, 2011.
Eric Gaillard/Reuters

Dr. Jamil Abdallah, an ear, nose and throat specialist and a plastic surgeon, has a scientific explanation for the stream of Arab men and women to plastic surgery clinics in the region. “In the Middle East we have big noses because of our race,” he explained in an interview with Sputnik in Arabic. Finally the secret’s out that Jews are not the only ones with long noses, a genetic issue shared by all inhabitants of the region regardless of religion, at least according to Dr. Abdallah.

The Syrian plastic surgeon was asked to explain the many reports that Syria, despite its ongoing civil war, is fast becoming a desirable destination for plastic surgery. The main reason, he said, was the low prices compared to Lebanon or Turkey. For example, a nose job in Damascus costs about $500, as opposed to $4,000 in Lebanon, and another $100 for every post-op visit to the surgeon, and $6,000-$8,000 in Turkey.

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The conditions are different – the clinics in Syria can’t hold a candle to those in Lebanon or Turkey, and the level of Syrian plastic surgeons is not overseen by the Syrian Health Ministry. Their equipment is not the last word either. According to directors of Syrian aesthetics clinics, they import doctors from Lebanon and purchase advanced equipment. But they admit that under the country’s current state, they can’t offer perfect treatment.

Iraq, which was also rocked over the past two years by the war against the Islamic State, offers a cheaper and better quality experience than Syria. For example, in the city of Mosul, which was occupied by ISIS, billboards are already popping up advertising new aesthetics clinics offering devoted and high-quality treatment that includes liposuction, gastric bypass, hair implants and breast enlargement or reduction at convenient prices – between $800 to $1,200 for hair implants, including transportation and accommodations.

Five esthetics clinics have opened so far in Mosul just this year. The owners explain that the main reason the field has flourished is the great number of people wounded in war looking to undergo reconstructive surgery on their face or body. But there’s a psychological reason as well: “People went through severe traumas during the war and now they want to renew themselves, turn over a new leaf in their lives. It seems that surgery and implants give them this feeling of renewal,” one doctor said.

Supervision of the clinics in Iraq is also not at accepted Western standards, and in fact, no special license is needed to open a plastic surgery clinic. The clinics in Iraq and Syria are trying to get snap of share of the huge beauty industry for which the Gulf states are also competing.

According to statistics published ahead of a Dubai plastic surgery and dermatology convention in March, citizens of the Gulf states spend about $5 billion per year on aesthetics treatments, including plastic surgery, gastric bypass and liposuction, hair implants and Botox. 

According to Dr. Ibrahim Galadari, one of the conference organizers, “People here have begun to be more aware of the connection between the food they eat and health problems, in addition to the issue of aesthetics, which is becoming more and more popular among men, as well.” The latter, Galadari says, attests to the “social revolution that the Middle East is undergoing.” 

Out of all aesthetics treatments, plastic surgery clinics in the Gulf states take in about $1 billion a year, a quarter of which in the United Arab Emirates alone. Over half of procedures are to treat obesity. Over the past 10 years, the number of plastic surgeons in the UAE has gone from 60 to more than 180, and the demand is increasing.

Egypt is another contender in the field of aesthetics treatments. “Patients prefer to come to Egypt because it has something to offer in the field of tourism as well as aesthetic treatments,” said Dr. Mohammed Ammar in an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabaa. “We have archaeological sites and recreation spots so patients can have a good time while they wait for test results or recover from surgery at one of the clinics.” The prices are also low, competitive with those in the UAE and Turkey. 

Alongside aesthestics procedures, the UAE also holds a record in use of fragrances, selling products wortho a whopping $2.7 billion a year, about 2 percent of the world’s consumption, and the field is expected to grow by 3 percent a year. Saudi Arabia alone consumes about 60 percent of all the perfumes in the Gulf.

Men and women have almost equal shares in the market and almost all of them prefer imported name brands over local products. At least in this area, the Arab countries, particularly the Gulf states, can claim an impact on the international perfume industry, which must suit its products to the tastes of its Arab clients.