Since moving to the UAE six months ago, I am forced to sweep my apartment floor every morning to collect the many, many loose strands of hair I seem to scatter in my wake. A quick Google search reveals hair loss is a common concern, with plenty of frenzied pleas seeking reassurance and solutions from other moulting residents, alongside advice on how to unblock clogged plugholes.
There are many people who experience hair loss while living here, it seems, so it is likely more than just another myth. Some blame it on the tap water, others blame it on the heat, both of which may be partly responsible for this problem, but there are many other factors, according to the experts The National spoke to.
Hair loss versus hair breakage
The first thing to note is that there is a big difference between hair loss and hair breakage. The former sees hair falling out from the root, leaving patches of scalp with little to no hair. Breakage sees strands snap from lower points, which can leave your hair feeling thin and lank.
Hair loss is a more serious condition that can have a number of underlying causes; hair breakage is normal to some extent, and usually means your tresses needs a little TLC. Heat and harsh swimming pool chemicals are notorious for causing dry, brittle hair – two elements many residents are exposed to on a regular basis.
Does UAE water cause hair loss?
Mike Ryan, the “Dubai Hair Doctor”, has been studying the issue extensively since he arrived here seven years ago, and he has carried out clinical trials with the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority on the subject.
“There is no scientiﬁc evidence to support that it is the water that causes hair loss,” says Ryan, adding that the more likely causes of hair loss are low ferritin, low vitamin D, or thyroid and other hormonal imbalances. Stress, poor diet, and spending a lot of time in air-conditioned environments can also add to the problem, he says.
Still, despite a lack of evidence, many believe the desalinated water in Abu Dhabi and Dubai does cause problems with their hair. It's why the market for "anti-hair loss" filters and showerheads is booming, with the apparatus a common sight in residents' bathrooms. Most of these filters come with the promise of removing chlorine and other impurities from the water supply, thus preventing hair loss and restoring natural health. "We have a shower filter at home, but during the summer my husband prefers ice-cold water, so he uses the tap to fill a bucket every morning for his before-bed shower. Every three days, the bucket has an inch of sand crusted along its bottom," says Abu Dhabi resident Pallavi Merchant. "It's obviously coming from the non-filtered water."
Dubai hairstylist Lucinda Gill, too, is a believer, and she says it’s good practice to keep an eye on the quality of our shower water. “There are contributing factors that may lead to hair loss, non-filtered water being a major factor alongside using chemically enhanced products that cause long-term damage to the hair and scalp,” she says. “It is important to check our household water systems for discolouration. If it is orange in colour, it may be a result of high iron elements in the water that can lead to hair loss and unhealthy hair. We can combat this by using a filter and using more natural hair products to regain the lustre of the hair.”
Former magazine editor Fay Afghahi spent a decade writing about suffering with hair loss while living in Dubai. She found the condition to be so rampant that she decided to leave her job at Elle Arab World and create KeraHealth, a hair supplement brand for men and women. "Being a sufferer myself, hair loss is a subject I have always been interested in. I tried many different types of treatments, topical and others, and either my hair fell straight out again upon stopping the treatment, or the treatments simply didn't work," she says. Afghahi believes that treating hair loss should start from within, which is why she developed an FDA-approved natural supplement, which was created alongside scientists in France.
“There are many different causes of hair loss, and these vary between men and women. In women, the most common causes are a lack of correct nutrients, hormonal issues, illness and stress,” she explains. “Even though the causes for male hair loss are similar, the main culprit for men is DHT [Dihydrotestosterone], an androgen and byproduct of testosterone.”
While Afghahi first became aware of the commonality of hair loss while living in the UAE, she acknowledges that it is a global problem, with about 30 million men and 20 million woman suffering from the issue worldwide.
"People tend to talk about hair loss in the UAE a lot – the quality of the water, the aggressions of the heat and so on," she tells me. "Perhaps it is accentuated here due to extreme climatic conditions, but with the correct nutrients, your hair follicles should be able to sustain."
Like all aspects of our health, living in extreme heat means we need to take extra care. As we do with our skin and bodies, it’s important to keep your hair hydrated and nourished as well.
Tips to prevent hair damage
Avoid hairstyles that put stress on the hairline
Tight up-dos and heavy extensions can weigh your hair down, tugging on the hairline. If you notice you are losing hair, try wearing your hair down or in low, loose styles to limit any damage and give your scalp a rest.
Have a scalp massage
Not only is a scalp massage extremely relaxing, it’s also great for restoring skin health and naturally stimulating growth buy improving circulation. You can either pop to your local spa or salon to have a professional massage, complete with enhancing vitamins and oils or, if that sounds like too much effort, you can try it yourself in the shower – just make sure you use circular motions spread evenly across your whole head.
Limit use of hair tools
Adding extra heat to your hair when it’s 40ºC outside is going to squeeze every last drop of moisture from your locks. Try letting your hair dry naturally as often as you can, and experiment with alternative styling methods that don’t involve straighteners or curlers. For example, leaving your hair in plaits overnight can result in a nice, loose wave, while using soft foam rollers can achieve a more bouncy curl.