This article charts the cultural, religious, social, gendered and medical meanings of hair in scenes of Habsburg-Ottoman cultural exchanges. In particular, it examines the links between medicinal knowledge about hair and the ways in which Habsburg and Ottoman subjects addressed bodily concerns whilst living as captives in the Ottoman or Habsburg Empires. Connecting the early modern body with the trade in early modern captive bodies, this article argues that the performance and description of body practices involving hair helped sixteenth and seventeenth-century Habsburg and Ottoman subjects to unfold a vocabulary that shaped the emotional resonance of Mediterranean slavery. Habsburg subjects lived in a hair-literate society, where estate, gender and affiliation were expressed through hair. Writing at length about hair in Habsburg-Ottoman captivity narratives enabled returning captives to address their spiritual well-being and to define emotional communities of confessional belonging. Returning slaves might thereby negotiate the possibilities of reintegration into a society that was deeply sceptical about possible conversions. This article examines health-related notions of hairdressing and those associated with medicine and sexuality in order to decipher the broader cultural and societal meanings of former captives’ writings about ritual shaving and shearing, as well as about head, facial and pubic hair.