In this article I’m gonna be talking all about how to take care of the skin on your scalp.
You can think of your scalp as the topsoil when it comes to healthy hair growth.
We know that inflammatory diseases of the scalp, like seborrhoeic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis can actually end up affecting the hair density and hair growth through chronic inflammation. They can lead to both hair breakage as well as hair thinning.
If you talk to a hair transplant surgeon, they will tell you that when it comes to transplanting hairs into the scalp, the outcome of the procedure is highly dependent on the health of the scalp. If a surgeon tries to transplant follicles to an area of the scalp where there is a lot of sun damage, where there’s a lot of inflammation, the follicles of the grafted hairs don’t take as well and they don’t grow as thick or as healthy.
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to protect the skin of your scalp from the sun. Your hair definitely affords you some sun protection.
The easiest and probably best thing is to wear a hat while you’re outdoors.
Depending on how much hair loss you have, you can get away with using ordinary regular everyday face and body sunscreens to your scalp. You may find that these sunscreens get stuck on the hair.
There are a variety of products sold on the market that are intended for sunscreen for the scalp.
Cleansing the scalp is very important to scalp health. The reason for this is that oils on the scalp contribute to a buildup. There’s a little yeast that lives on our scalp that thrives in that oily surface and that yeast can drive inflammation in the skin.
That inflammation causes the chronic skin condition dandruff and it also can contribute to hair loss.
Another way to reduce that inflammation is consistent cleansing of the scalp through shampooing. How often should we be shampooing? That’s going to be dependent on how oily your scalp is, how active you are and your hair type.
When you shampoo, regardless of how frequent you do it, you want to direct the lather to your scalp, don’t focus it on the hair shaft. This is a common mistake that a lot of people make and it’s really not necessary. Some of that shampoo lather is inevitably going to get on the hair. You don’t need to lather up the hair.
Direct it to your scalp. That’s really where the cleansing needs to go. Massaging it in, in a gentle circular fashion, really will help lift up some built-up skin cells that can contribute to inflammation.
You probably already have a good sense of how frequently your hair can tolerate shampooing. I encourage you to use a conditioner to latter third of your hair strands. The reason for this is that just shampooing can be very hard on the hair itself and the conditioner helps and reduces static and frizz and will help your hair be more manageable.
Also you could choose to lather a little bit of the conditioner to the scalp if you have a particularly dry scalp.
Consider choosing a shampoo and conditioner that are free of fragrance. The reason for this is that fragrance, especially if you have a sensitive scalp, can be irritating and it also can be associated with the later development of allergic contact dermatitis.
Choose shampoos and conditioners that are free of dyes. These two can be irritating on the scalp.
When it comes to sulfates in shampoos, sodium lauryl sulfate and to a certain extent sodium laureth sulfate can be very drying on the scalp for people with sensitive scalps or dry scalp or eczema on the scalp. This can cause more itching and discomfort. In those cases it’s definitely a good idea to consider a sulfate free shampoo.
The other reason it’s important to stick to some sort of consistent routine with shampooing is that if you don’t, if you neglect shampooing the scalp, that can and does contribute to dandruff. A lot of people think that dandruff is a dry skin condition. It’s actually an oily skin condition, in which the skin responds by making those flakes. But at its root, it’s literally an oily skin condition.
What about exfoliating the scalp?
Is this good? Is it something that we should be doing?
It’s not gonna be right for everybody, but I will tell you that some people definitely benefit from using a scalp scrub.
People who don’t shampoo more than once or twice a week and that’s all their hair can handle, and also use a lot of products, like dry shampoos and mousses, gels, they certainly can benefit from using a scalp scrub to remove product buildup as well as buildup of dead skin cells and some of that oil.
The combination of the dead skin cells, the excess oil and the products can be really irritating on the scalp, lead to itch, discomfort.
But scrubs are not going to be good for everybody. People who should avoid scalp scrubs are people with a condition called psoriasis. Any kind of frictional force on the skin can actually elicit more psoriasis. It’s called the isomorphic response that psoriasis exhibits.
You should avoid scrubbing the scalp if you have a diagnosis of psoriasis. It’s tricky because psoriasis can look like seborrhoeic dermatitis aka dandruff, but they’re not the same thing. Psoriasis is much different and you’ll actually get more psoriasis if you pick out or attempt to remove that scaly stuff.
If you have eczema, it’s not a good idea either. Eczema is due to an impaired skin barrier, so scrubbing away the barrier is not going to help eczema and the scalp.
What options do you have’
You can choose a physical exfoliant. These tend to have small particles that will help to abrade and remove built-up skin cells. They can be more irritating. Instead I would encourage you to select a chemical exfoliant, specifically with the active ingredient.
Salicylic acid is a phenomenal ingredient for caring for the health of your scalp. It helps you remove those built-up skin cells and it will help remove product build-up and it also is anti-inflammatory and it cuts down on oil.
If you’ve got a greasy scalp that you’re not able to shampoo frequently, maybe because your hair itself doesn’t tolerate it, you’ve got thin hair and a greasy scalp, using a salicylic acid exfoliating product to the scalp can definitely help.
If you have an oily scalp and thin hair, another set of ingredients that you might want to look out for the scalp scrub are clays, specifically bentonite clay. The reason for these clays is that they can help absorb some of that excess oil.
What about for people who have really dry scalps? What are good ingredients for those conditions?
If you don’t have dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, you just have a dry scalp and maybe dry hair, consider using an oil to either the scalp and/or the hair. Specifically coconut oil can help keep the hair shafts hydrated and for people with eczema, it has actually been shown to have some anti-inflammatory properties that help the eczema.
If you have scalp eczema and or maybe some dry hair, another oil that’s great for the scalp and the hair is argan oil as well as jojoba oil.
While oils can be useful to these people with dry scalps, eczema or dry hair, brittle hair, be aware that if you do have dandruff, oils are something that you want to avoid on the scalp. They can worsen the dandruff. But if you don’t have that, if you have a dry scalp, that is definitely worth trying and very inexpensive. You can just massage into the scalp.
I actually recommend massaging these into the scalp and/or hair before you get into the shower, kind of as a precondition. Being in the hot steamy shower can dry out your scalp more and having that oil on there before you step in, helps buffer against some of that irritation from the hot water.
Those are my tips for scalp care.
If you’re really mindful of what both your hair and scalp need and you build a simple set of steps into your bathing routine to address your scalp, it’s going to pay off quite a bit. Not only for your overall comfort level in terms of scalp dryness, irritation, dandruff, but it’s also gonna help in the long run with the health of your hair and hair growth by reducing build-up and inflammation in the scalp.