One of the saddest conversations I've had in Egypt was on the bus coming back from a school field trip. There was a charming mom who had been so kind throughout the year. As we bounced along together, I marveled at her dazzling smile. She really had many beautiful features; not just teeth, but flawless skin, and sparkling eyes. But her eyes looked downward as she explained that it had been hard for her start wearing hijab because,
"My hair is my best feature."
I did feel sad for this lady. She had this huge heart and the Noor of Islam shining from her face. She had this effervescent quality as she spoke. She had a beautiful face. Yet, she erroneously thought she had covered up her best feature.
Hair is dead! Let's not have our dead hair be our best feature. In many ways, it isn't as important as the mainstream would have us believe. However, I'll agree that hair is one part of our overall beauty so let's deal with the major complaint Muslim women have about their hair: hair loss.
Many Muslim women decided not to wear the hijab because they are deathly afraid of hair loss. They've heard that wearing hijab thins out your hair or makes you bald. Actually, every day you are losing hair whether or not you wear a scarf. You lose on average 100 hairs a day. That's a lot!
Hijabis worry and whisper about hair loss but seldom deal with rationally. There are lots of reasons why hair loss could be occuring such as a change in hormone levels, diet deficiency, stress or aging.
Dr. Mike Ryan was interviewed on Dubai One about a recent article discussing hair loss in UAE. I contacted him and he agreed to this interview:
Yosra: Asalamu Alaykom Doctor!
Please feel free to answer that which you can. I'm doing more interviews on my blog in order to have a wider scope of information and also more of a community feel. The world is big but we can reach out to others and gain from the interactions. I am really pleased that you made yourself available.
You are living in Dubai now but I'll assume that you weren't born and raised there. Where are you from originally? What made you travel to Dubai?
Dr. Ryan: I was born in Ireland and raised in the UK. I came to Dubai by chance.
Yosra: Of course, we Muslims believe that nothing is "by chance." What do you find is a major difference between treating women's hair in the Middle East and in America?
Dr. Ryan: There is considerably more female hair loss in the Middle East than UK.
Yosra: That's interesting. I wonder which country has the most hair loss and which the least.
The hijab is seen by observant Muslims as obligatory. Have you had to study Islam in order to serve your patients better?
Dr. Ryan: No, I am learning as I work, as it is fundamental for me to try and understand culture and embrace it.
Yosra: That's a good approach. Do your patients often blame hijab for hair loss? Are there different types of hijab (materials, looseness of wrap) which are better for maintaining good hair than others?
Dr. Ryan: The material itself is not a problem, the fact that females are covered will impact on the amounts of Vitamin D being absorbed by the skin.
Yosra: Is it true that low levels of Vitamin D might be a cause of hair loss? Or is it really that anemia is a cause of hair loss and Vitamin D deficiency can cause anemia?
Dr. Ryan: Usually if the Vitamin D is low the ferritn will be low. You do not need to be anemic to suffer hair loss.
Yosra: On your interview with Dubai One, you endorsed eating protein (with all its B12 and iron) to encourage hair growth. It sounds like red meat is the best way to acheive all that. If a woman doesn't eat a lot (or any) red meat, what's the next best bet?
Dr. Ryan: Vegetarians and vegans have a problem with hair loss, so they must supplement their diet.
Yosra: Why is it that breakfast is important to your hair?
Dr. Ryan: The follicles need a surge of energy first thing in the morning, so a good protein start is essential.
Yosra: Does air circulation (or lack of it) play a part in air growth (or loss)?
Dr. Ryan: Yes, but to what degree we are not sure. Air conditioning appears to be a problem along with climate and humidity.
Yosra: Many Muslimahs wash their hair, then tuck it up wet under their scarf. Is this damaging?
Dr. Ryan: So long as the hair is not under pressure or strain when tied when wet as the hair will shrink slightly when dry. Wet hair is not good for health reasons however.
Yosra: What is the optimum amount of time between shampoos?
Dr. Ryan: Hair should be shampooed each day.
Yosra: Then I think a lot of us are falling short with that recommendation. What about the clips and hair elastics we're constantly putting in our hair? What do we have to be careful about?
Dr. Ryan: These can damage the hair shaft and cause breakage. No tight clips or elastic bands.
Yosra: You also said on Dubai One that there are as many as 50 reasons for hair loss. What would be the top 10?
Dr. Ryan: Genetic, low ferritn, thyroid, diabetes, hormonal imbalance, poor scalp regime, poor diet, child birth, auto immune disorder, systemic illness.
Yosra: Thank you, Dr. Ryan, for your quick and thorough reply. There is so much misinformation out there that I'm really pleased we could get guidance from the only Board Certified Trichologist in the Middle East.
For additional information this article by the BBC, though a bit muddled at times, does a good job describing the cycle of hair growth and loss. It's good to understand that shedding is natural occurence, and since everything natural is from Allah, we need not fear it. If we have severe hair loss then it is good to explore possible reasons for what's happening. Too often the hijab is thrown off immediately.
For me, when I noticed thinning hair, it was very upsetting. The first thing I did was make du'a to Allah to remain steadfast to my modesty. Alhumdulillah, it made everything afterwards go easier.
I made a lot of changes. I bought some hair oil and once a week I would massage my scalp with it. I switched shampoos to something milder. I also stopped coloring so often. Alhumdulillah, my hair is actually better now than before.
There are many hadiths concerning our hair. I find it interesting to read about the use of fake hair. What do you think? Is it allowable in Islam or not? Read more to learn more.
Coloring is something allowable in Islam. The most important advice I can reiterate is to NOT dye your hair while you're menstruating. You will not be in a state of purity. You need to have made ghusl first before dying. Also, the Prophet (pbuh) did not advocate black as a color to use in dying hair.
One website told hijabis that their husbands "deserve the best performance of your hair." Yuck! I'd say that we hijabis need to feel good about ourselves first before anyone else. If we know that we take care of ourselves and that it's paying off, then we can take pride in our appearance (even if it's undercover).
We need not love our hair above all other physical attributes nor do we need to hate and fear it. Let's find an Islamic way to embrace this small aspect to who we are. We can realize what a powerful statement it is to decide that our hair is an enticement which we need not use on the general public. We can have beautiful hair but use our beautiful minds to limit who views it.
Others in the Series:
Islamic Beauty: Face
Islamic Beauty: Hands