One of the most popular topics on mommy blogs and expat Facebook groups in the UAE is hair loss. Dry hair. Frizzy hair. Hair breaking. Hair falling out. And all the posts seem to ask similar questions: Is the UAE causing hair damage? And if so, how can it be fixed?
What’s causing UAE hair loss?
The intense heat, continuous air conditioning, omnipresent sun and endless salt water can cause cause hair damage, experts acknowledge.
“Think of Dubai — hot summers outside but freezing air con inside. It can take a toll on your hair,” says Catherine Hawkes, artistic director for Tips and Toes.
Then there’s the intense stress of the busy UAE lifestyle. This can impact hair health — something Ivana Bruic, a Motion Cycling instructor and Adidas ambassador, found out earlier this year.
“I went through this high-stress period,” she says. Add to that a tendency to be low on all the B vitamins and iron, which are important for healthy hair, plus pretty much constant showering due to steady workouts, and her hair health went down the drain.
The stress, heat and dryness can even create their own unhealthy cycle, says Miriam Quevedo, general manager for Miriam Quevedo.
“It causes your scalp to get greasier much more often, which creates a temptation to wash your hair more often.” The danger here is over-washing, which leads to dryness, which starts the whole process again.
Is the hair loss due to tap water?
Even the UAE water has some expats concerned, with worries floating around about the desalination process making it hard and bad for hair. This rumor has persisted to the extent that some people admit to buying bottled water for their final hair rinse.
Yet the water worry is something that Lars Skjøth, hair expert and founder of global hair clinic Hårklinikken, doesn’t give much credit to.
“There are so many combined factors here in the Middle East that cause higher-than-average rates of hair loss,” he said in a newspaper interview. But water isn’t one of them. “I’ve visited parts of the world where the [tap] water is absolutely horrible, and the people there haven’t had the same problems with hair loss as we have here, where there’s three to four times the rate of hair loss as Europe.”
“I laugh when some of my clients insist on washing their hair with mineral water,” agrees Dr Sajjad Khan, a celebrity hair transplant surgeon in Dubai. “It’s not required at all. If you have so much money, give it to charity.”
How to have healthy hair
Solutions these days range from the high tech to the do-at-home, from hair products to supplements. Here’s what the pros recommend — and the UAE folks have tried.
The hair vitamin industry is a huge one, and it’s only getting bigger. In 2016, a piece by Medical Daily noted that consumers were spending at least US$176 million on ‘miracle in a bottle’ supplements for healthy hair. By 2025, experts predict the broader US gummy vitamins market to reach $4.17 billion. Brands that are good at marketing, like SugarBearHair, have roped in the Insta-famous (or just famous) for endorsement deals on social media. To date, celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Vanessa Hudgens and Khloe Kardashian have all featured the brand’s tiny blue bear-shaped hair vitamin, which lists as ingredients vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin B-6, folic acid, vitamin B-12, biotin, pantothenic acid, iodine, zinc, choline and inositol. Biotin is another commonly recommended supplement to boost hair and nail growth.
When Bruic wanted to restore her hair luster, she turned to vitamins such as Florisene and Pantogar, as well as better nutrition. “It’s what worked for me,” she says.
But vitamins and supplements can be costly, and quality can differ from brand to brand. And do they actually help fix hair, or is it all a bit of a placebo?
“They’re not made-up pills. Our bodies are already taking them in and they should be part of our diet,” says celebrity hair stylist Devin Toth. “Taking them as supplements consistently ensures that those nutrients and vitamins travel through our bloodstream to essential organs, then to our hair follicles and cortex.”
Hawkes suggests exercising an element of caution with vitamins.
“It really depends on the individual if they need them,” she says. It’s why going to a hairdresser matters. “They can assess your hair and create the right at-home hair-care routine for you.” Vitamins might play a big role in this, but shampoo might, or something else entirely might, she says.
“If you love your hair, it will love you back,” explains Maria Dowling, founder and creative director of Maria Dowling salon in Dubai. It might seem like an obvious statement, she acknowledges.
“But how often do we buy hair treatments and they sit there in the bathroom gathering dust?” she asks. “I’ve seen clients with some poorly hair, but with some loving care it has been completely transformed.”
Find a good at-home treatment, she advises, use it once a week, and be consistent.
“It’s the way to keep your hair in great, healthy condition,” says Dowling, who recommends her brand – Maria Dowling Hair and Scalp Detox, which contains a blend of peppermint, jojoba and lemongrass oils and soothing clay.
Aisling Gavin, managing director of BS Pro Brands, suggests Kerastase Fusio Dose treatments for people who don’t have a lot of time.
“I’m not one for sitting at the back having a head massage for 20 minutes,” she says. “These are quick.”
She also uses Beauty Works’ Argan Oil Mask once a week at home.
“My partner, who has extremely dry and coarse hair, loves it,” says Gavin.
Even a traditional remedy like vinegar is making a comeback as an at-home treatment.
“I’m currently obsessed with the Redken Vinegar Rinse,” says Hawkes. “I used to do a vinegar rinse to close the cuticles, but as you can imagine the smell wasn’t very nice.”
Redken’s new product is good for colored hair, balances pH levels and doesn’t leave behind a sour stink.
PRP for hair
In an effort to make hair healthier than ever before, people are turning to science.
“I’ve tried PRP,” says Bruic. Known as a “vampire facial” and made popular by celebrities including Kim Kardashian, PRP involves a doctor drawing your blood, spinning it to remove the plasma, mixing the remainder with a serum, then using micro-needles to inject it back into your skin — or in this case, scalp.
The whole process is intended to stimulate healthy hair and growth, and costs upward of Dh700 per session.
“I’ve only done one session so far, and you need three to five, but it’s meant to be really effective,” says Bruic. “But it’s not a cheap option.”
A consultation at Dubai’s Harklinikken Hair Clinic involves a medical history before staff create a customized shampoo and conditioner, which must be used every day, to tackle the client’s specific issues. Like PRP, there’s nothing cheap about this process. After a free initial evaluation, shampoos start at Dh155, conditioners at Dh220, and hair growth extracts (for those considered suitable candidates for the regrowth treatment) at Dh448.
Brands like Miriam Quevedo have even taken to adding caviar and gold into masks and scrubs. Quevedo suggests a multi-step process to combat local weather, one that involves an exfoliating scalp scrub, a gold shampoo and a once-a-week gold mask, which contains 24k gold, caviar, keratin peptide and Argan oil.
The business of treating hair is progressing rapidly and women are paying attention, she says.
“What really excites me is that I see women educating themselves more on how to care for their hair and scalp the same way they do their skin,” says Quevedo. “Today the customer is more knowledgeable and demanding in the quality of products.”
This goes back to understanding environmental, physical and emotional risk factors damaging hair, she continues.
Then it’s about fixing it — one shampoo, condition and scalp treatment at a time.
Feature photo: Tips N Toes
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer