Scalp Care 101
Hair, be it hair care, hair styling or hair health, is a subject that receives extensive coverage, but we often neglect to give the same consideration to what lies underneath – and by that I’m referring to the scalp. So, it’s high time we gave it the attention it deserves, because looking after your scalp is a vital part of achieving lovely, healthy hair growth.
The first place to start with scalp care is to properly cleanse the scalp and I’d advise doing this either daily or every other day. I know frequent shampooing flies in the face of commonly held notions about hair and scalp care, so I’ll explain why I say this.
Wonderful though our hair is, it is not self-cleaning and neither are our scalps. We think nothing of washing our faces every day yet, for some reason, we don’t think of our scalp as skin in the same way. We tend to forget that it goes everywhere with us and can get just as dirty as the skin on our faces. Our scalps are exposed to environmental dirt, sweat and sebum, and of course, we’re shedding skin cells all over our bodies continuously as part of its natural cell turnover - that includes on the scalp too. Shampooing daily or every other day will cleanse the scalp and help to keep it clear of skin-cell build-up, sebum and dirt.
Shampooing technique is important. When shampooing remember not to rub the hair but massage the shampoo into your scalp with fingertips (not nails) to help remove the shed skin cells that can build up. One wash is sufficient, then be sure to rinse thoroughly.
An occasional gentle scalp mask will give a deeper cleanse, so when you’re setting aside time to use a face mask, think about also treating your scalp to a mask too. While it’s tempting to use abrasive products and scalp massagers – especially when you’re feeling itchy as a result of a scalp condition – I’d caution against these as they can be harsh on the scalp tissue and if used too vigorously can even cause some hair loss.
Common scalp issues and treatment advice:
Most of us will experience some flaking on the scalp at some point and dandruff is a common culprit. It is often thought that this is a dry skin problem but in actual fact, this issue is more often associated with oily skin. Stress, hormonal changes and diet can cause skin flora to multiply, causing accelerated skin cell turnover. And yes, I did say skin flora; we have Malassezia yeasts that live quite harmlessly on our scalps, but they love a lipid-rich, humid environment and can sometimes proliferate to the point where they can trigger dandruff.
People often instinctively try and cure scaling scalp conditions by rubbing oils into the scalp, but this will just make it greasier and the flakes more adherent. Instead, try switching to a shampoo that contains an anti-microbial ingredient such as piroctone olamine to maintain a healthy microbiome on scalp. A scalp toner is a useful addition to your routine too; these can be very helpful in addressing a scaly or itchy scalp. Scalp treatment products will often also contain salicylic acid which works as a mild non-abrasive exfoliant to help to soften and lift the scales. I recommend boosting your intake of vitamin D and of Omega 3 (found in oily fish) because these can be helpful in scaling conditions.
Scalp scaling may also be associated with conditions other than dandruff. Psoriasis and Seborrheic Eczema are inflammatory conditions and would therefore require a more intensive, specialised treatment regimen. If the flaking on your scalp is not clearing up after a month using an anti-dandruff shampoo, or is accompanied by other symptoms such as adherent, tightly packed scales with underlying redness or bleeding, you should consult your GP or a Trichologist for more specialist advice.
Susie Hammond - Consultant Trichologist
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