Scalp care is becoming as important as the skincare we indulge in, and not before its time! The scalp has been long neglected in our self-care routines and often treated as an afterthought. Here are some tips of how to recognise an unhealthy scalp and some measures you can take to protect and care for it.
How do you know if your scalp is unhealthy?
The scalp acts as a host to not only hair, but also oil, dead skin, dirt, irritants, sweat and microbes. Problems that can occur include build-up and overgrowth of scalp yeasts to cause dandruff, dryness and itching. Clogging of hair follicles from dead skin and other build-up on hairs from the surrounding environment can further diminish hair quality. Effective scalp cleansing means that the surface from which hair grows, and the hair surface itself, is kept free from such factors. A healthy scalp really means healthy hair. Signs of an unhealthy or unbalanced scalp include:
Ongoing itch, dryness, redness or flaking
Excessively greasy scalp
Persistent yellow scales
Pain, feeling of tightness, irritation, or burning
Pustules or oozing skin
Some types of hair loss can be related to having an unhealthy scalp
A healthy scalp should not have persistent symptoms (such as those listed above). Many people will have transient problems, but these are usually nothing to worry about. Healthy scalps are those that look clear of surface debris, are similar to your skin colour, and free of flaking or dryness.
Can I use a scalp exfoliant?
Scalp exfoliants are popular at the moment, and can be useful to remove scalp debris, however they do not replace the need for regular washing. Using a physical exfoliant (like a scalp scrub) can be useful to remove scalp debris (like product build-up) but should be used gently and with caution. The scalp is stress responsive and creating excessive physical stress may cause problems.
How do I look after my scalp?
- Wash your scalp when you feel that there is build-up, this can vary between people, some needing to wash more frequently than others. I usually suggest washing your scalp and hair again as soon as issues reappear, for some people this can be daily, for others less often. Remember that the scalp is becoming covered by dead skin cells, oil, sweat and other irritants daily, so performing a deep clean using products regularly will optimise the scalp environment to support hair growth. People tend to worry that washing the scalp often will prove too ‘harsh’, choose products that are PH balanced to support the scalp microbiome.
- Choose targeted shampoos with ingredients to solve issues like dryness, itching and flaking (e.g. piroctone olamine, selenium sulphide)
- Apply your shampoo and work into the scalp gently for a few minutes if you can, then rinse it off completely. This is a good way to massage your scalp, stimulate blood flow and can relax and calm the mind.
- Consider the water quality where you wash your hair most often (i.e. is it hard or soft water). If hard water consider a shower filter, also look for ingredients to remove build-up and scale on the scalp as well as nourishing the hair (which can become dry and brittle)
- Use tepid water to wash your scalp so as not to irritate it
Does stress affect scalp health?
Most people don’t realize that the scalp is stress-activated. If the scalp experiences a lot of stress, there are a number of problems that can ensue (e.g. itching, flaking, dryness). Stress management is very important and can be addressed in several ways. Everyone is different and not all therapies will be suitable for all. The key is to find a stress management strategy that suits you and practice that regularly (e.g. meditation, mindfulness, exercise, talking to someone close to you).
Physical touch conveys positive messages, it can be reassuring, comforting and pleasurable, to the point of being able to repress pain and negative emotions. Contact with the skin, like stroking or touching pressure points, can be stress-relieving/soothing. Other benefits of touch include mood enhancement, improved self-esteem, strengthening relationships, improving cognitive function and immunity. The application of skin or scalp care can therefore become a positive and mood-enhancing activity. Washing/cleansing the scalp is a good opportunity to perform a gentle scalp massage to help relieve stress and calm your mind.
If you have ongoing scalp symptoms please consider seeing a healthcare professional to discuss further. See my Press and Media page for more articles on the scalp and hair.