Monday, August 10, 2009

Mystery hair loss afflicts the UAE

Doctors and specialists are baffled by a phenomenon that appears to be hitting the UAE harder than most countries: hair loss.

More than a third of people living here say they have lost hair to some degree, with the problem hitting almost half of all women (47 per cent) questioned in a survey for The National by the pollster YouGov.

It found that 37 per cent of respondents had lost hair, with Emiratis and Arab and Asian expatriates being most affected.

The problem was most prevalent in the 21 to 29 age bracket, with 42 per cent saying they had lost hair, although the under-21s and the 30 to 39 age bracket were not far behind.

Among those groups, 35 and 39 per cent respectively reported hair loss. However, the differences between these three groups were not statistically significant.

Perhaps surprisingly, the group that claimed least hair loss was the over-40s, of whom only 26 per cent said they had been affected.

Opinions on the cause are almost as wide-ranging as the anecdotes of UAE hair loss themselves.

The quality of the water, dry weather conditions and even genetics have all been cited as possible causes. More likely, doctors say, is that some combination of these factors is at the root of the problem.

Shahn Beq, an Iranian-Canadian financial adviser, moved to Dubai from Toronto last year. Within a few months, he had noticed a problem.

“I realised I was losing more hair than usual,” he said. “I was always losing a lot of hair when I went to the shower, more than I should have been. I became quite concerned and did a little bit of research, talked to a couple of doctors.

“It was something I had to address very quickly. When you go through that stage of your life, and you look at yourself in the mirror, you become quite concerned.”

Mr Beq acknowledged that his age might be a factor, but said the rate of the hair loss was evidence of a greater problem. He has since sought medical help.

He added: “It could be chance, but in Toronto I was not shedding anywhere near as much hair as I have here. But after only three months of being here, it started. And when I first started complaining about this to my friends, I realised that it is a common problem here.”

Dr Safwan Khraisheh, a dermatologist at the Gulf Diagnostic Centre in Abu Dhabi, said hair loss was a “big, big problem” in the UAE compared with other countries. He said he treated up to 10 people a day, mainly women, for the complaint.

“Water might be an issue, because it used to be so salty, and stress may increase the condition.

“But first, you need to rule out diseases like anaemia or thyroid problems, which can lead to hair loss.

“Hair dye, which is very popular, and using a hair dryer all the time can make it worse. It is very, very common here – with men it is usually genetic, though.”

Dr Rolf Soehnchen, a dermatologist at the American Hospital Dubai, said the problem was “quite, quite obvious” and generally affected expatriate women between 25 and 45 years old.

One of the known causes is vitamin D deficiency. Last year, Afrozul Haq, a clinical scientist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi, said that women wearing abayas were not exposed to sunlight, leading to falls in their vitamin D levels. He said 65 per cent of the hospital’s female patients and 60 per cent of all male patients were deficient in the vitamin.

“We need research into this. We really do,” said Dr Khraisheh. “I recommend we screen for anaemia, thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies to see if there are big problems across the country.”

Katie Luckings, the manager of Hairworks, a women’s salon in Khalidiya, said about three quarters of her mainly expatriate clients suffered a degree of hair loss. Of those, around a quarter had lost more than half of their hair.

“Everybody feels the water is harsher and they feel itchy after a shower,” she said. “People think there is something wrong – it is quite a common thing. People are worried.”

Blaming the “excessive amount” of chlorine in the water, Amin Sheybani, the owner of the Vivandi Hair Spa in Dubai, said: “People coming to live here do feel they are losing more and more hair.”

He said the spa had installed filters in its showers to remove chlorine from the water, but Joseph Harrison, technical director with the Water Quality Association, a US body, said there was no evidence to link chlorine to hair loss.

A study in 2000 by Dermatology, a health journal, found that swimmers regularly exposed to chlorine suffered no greater rate of hair loss than non-swimmers.

Elie Hanna, the owner of the La Finesse salon at Le Meridien hotel in Abu Dhabi, said women tended to suffer more than men, and that people of all ages were affected.

“They feel very, very bad about it. But people need to learn to use products to protect their hair properly – they put something on one day and then don’t use it. And that is when it gets worse.”


Dr Sunoj Kalpadrumam Sukunuthan, a plastic surgeon at the Cosmolaser clinic in Sharjah, said he had performed close to 40 hair transplants in his first few months in the UAE – “a very high number”.

“You can expect to lose 100 hairs every day, that is normal,” he said. “But since I moved here, I look down in the morning and see 150 hairs on the pillow.”