Do head coverings damage the hair and scalp?

Follow these steps to avoid hair today, gone tomorrow.

A suggestion: Wear a head covering that is lightweight and has holes. (photo credit: PXHERE)
A suggestion: Wear a head covering that is lightweight and has holes.
(photo credit: PXHERE)
One of the more noticeable things about Jerusalem is the number of women walking around with head coverings. These head coverings are most frequently worn by religious Jewish women, but they are also used by observant Muslim females and those wanting to make a general fashion statement.
Today, religious Jewish women choose from a variety of coverings, including wigs, hats, scarves, turbans and head bands. But here’s the important question: What do the head coverings do to one’s hair and scalp?
Dr. Michael Goldenhersh, a well-known Jerusalem dermatologist, states, “Wearing hats in general does not cause hair loss. The biggest preventable cause of hair loss I see in women, especially young ones, is traction alopecia. This is hair loss in the frontal area of the scalp just above the forehead due to constant pulling on the hair roots due to pulling back a long tight ponytail. Traction alopecia can result in permanent hair loss in the frontal hairline.
“If a head covering would be pulled tightly, simulating tension created by a tightly pulled ponytail, it could also cause traction alopecia, but this is a very uncommon cause of traction alopecia. I occasionally see temporary hair thinning just from rubbing or pressure of a tight hair covering at the point where it rubs the scalp, especially above the ears, but this is uncommon and hair will usually recover in such a case when the pressure is eliminated.
“I occasionally see skin changes, little hard red bumps on the top of the ears – lichen simplex chronicus – from a tight-fitting scarf or hat which rubs and puts pressure constantly on the skin at the same site on the ears.”
Thus, Tal Moshkovits, owner of Taltalim Hairstyle, contends that a hat that just sits on the head without pulling at the hair does less damage than other types of head coverings.
Dr. Alex Ginzburg, a Ra’anana-based dermatologist, has likewise treated religious women who cover their heads. He explained, “Covering the head does not cause hair loss but, joining the hair with an elastic or with clips produces weakness in the hair and consequently the fall[-out] due to tension...
“Whole wigs do not cause hair loss, however, either extensions or wig pieces do cause hair loss because to hold them you have to tie them to the existing hair by means of interweaving, or heating the wig to the hair existing or by means of glues. We call this traction alopecia, which is irreversible.”
Ginzburg has likewise stated that women who always cover their heads, or who most of the time wear head coverings have a tendency toward damp and humid scalps. This is caused by excessive scalp sweating. The hair basically gets “trapped” under the head covering and is not aired out. Consequently, the moisture created by the sweating does not evaporate and remains on the scalp. In addition, the sweat mixes with the natural oils in the hair.
Ginzburg further notes that after shampooing, wet hair is elastic. Immediately combing the wet hair with the intention of immediately replacing the head covering may cause the hair to break and tear.
TO FIND OUT if a woman has hair loss, Ginzburg suggests “cleaning the pillow before going to sleep, sleeping with her hair down, and in the morning counting how many hairs are left [there]. If there are more than six hairs it means that there is a significant hair loss and that it is necessary to consult a dermatologist. When there is hair loss, it is necessary to go to a skin doctor who specializes in hair and not go to hair centers where there are no doctors and... [they] offer miraculous treatments. The dermatologist will review the hair, make the appropriate analyses and give an adequate treatment.”
Why do women cover their heads? This is a complicated and continuously evolving subject. Long ago, the Talmud (Ketubot 72a, Yoma 47a, etc.) concluded that head coverings had been biblically sanctioned. Supposedly, Jewish women veiled their heads for reasons of sexual modesty. Reportedly, scarves were predominantly used until the 17th century, when wigs appeared in non-Jewish culture. Ironic as it might sound today when wig-wearing is so common (and even on the increase), back then, some rabbis were appalled to see Jewish women taking up the custom.
Jumping ahead to modern times: What may be safely said today is that in the Orthodox Jewish world, most rabbis consider hair covering an obligation incumbent upon all married women. But the form this takes varies.
Many contemporary women who cover their hair do not do so for the traditional reason of modesty. For some, head covering is simply a sign of their marital status. Inside their own home, these women go without a covering. Others wear only a small symbolic head covering that leaves much of their hair showing. Moreover, in many communities, women cover their hair only in synagogue.
How can one prevent hair problems while still using a head covering? Tal Moshkovits suggests wearing a head covering that is lightweight and has holes.
Further, to prevent sweating, choose a natural fiber head covering. Natural material will allow the hair to breathe and will absorb moisture. This guideline applies even for those who wear wigs. Use a natural wig, rather than a synthetic one.
For those who wrap their heads in layers, limit the layers to no more than four, as additional layers prevent ventilation. After shampooing, air-dry the hair and if using a blow dryer, and avoid blowing it near the scalp. Don’t pull the hair too tightly or use rubber bands, which may break the hair. Use a coated rubber band and loosely gather the hair.
Ms. Moshkovits advises that as much as possible, women should remove the head covering to air out the hair and scalp.
Likewise, avoid other harsh hair treatments such as perming or coloring the hair. At night, leave the hair uncovered and loose.
Follow these steps to avoid hair today, gone tomorrow.
Note: There may be underlying medical reasons for hair loss. It may be related to an overactive or under-active thyroid gland. It may be brought on by tension or stress. It may be brought on by pregnancy or birth. Surgery or the discontinuing of certain medications may likewise cause hair loss. An iron deficiency might also lead to hair loss, as can extreme diets. Hence, as the physicians above suggested, there might be a need to rule out these problems by doing laboratory tests. 