- Cosmetic surgeons say mustache implants are proving popular
- The biggest demand for the surgery is from Middle Eastern men
- Many travel from the region to Turkey or France for the procedure
- Mustaches have long been prized in the Middle East as a symbol of virility
Thick, handsome mustaches have long been prized by men throughout the Middle East as symbols of masculine virility, wisdom and maturity.
But not all mustaches are created equal, and in recent years, increasing numbers of Middle Eastern men have been going under the knife to attain the perfect specimen.
Turkish plastic surgeon Selahattin Tulunay says the number of mustache implants he performs has boomed in the last few years. He now performs 50-60 of the procedures a month, on patients who hail mostly from the Middle East and travel to Turkey as medical tourists.
He said his patients generally want thick mustaches as they felt they would make them look mature and dignified.
"For some men who look young and junior, they think (a mustache) is a must to look senior ... more professional and wise," he said. "They think it is prestigious."
Pierre Bouhanna is a Paris-based surgeon who, for the past five years, has been performing increasing numbers of mustache implants. He says the majority of his patients come from the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Lebanon and Turkey, with men traveling to France to have the surgery performed.
"My impression is more and more they want to establish their male aspect," he said. "They want a strong mustache."
Both surgeons use a technique -- follicular unit extraction -- in which groups of hairs are taken from areas of dense hair growth to be implanted in the mustache area.
Bouhanna said the patients were generally aged between 30 and 50, and were able to fly home the day after they had the procedure, which costs about $7,000 (€5,500) and is performed under local anesthetic.
They are able to wash the next day, had to abstain from shaving for 15 days, and could expect to see full results after six months.
Tulunay said some of his patients had specific looks in mind. "They have some celebrities as role models," he said -- Turkish singer and actor Ibrahim Tatlises had a look that many wished to emulate. Politicians in the region had also sought out his services to boost their appeal to voters.
Andrew Hammond, a Saudi Arabia-based journalist and author on Arab popular culture, said the mustache has a long history in the region.
"Having a mustache was always a big thing, ever since the Ottoman time," he said. "Most Arab leaders have mustaches, or some form of facial hair. I think culturally it suggests masculinity, wisdom and experience. "
Saddam Hussein's bushy whiskers were among the world's most recognizable, but all of Iraq's presidents before and since have also sported mustaches, as did Nasser and Sadat of E