Dryness, itchiness, embarrassing flakes, and excessively oily scalps – the plights of dandruff reach far and wide. It’s no wonder that scalp health is the beauty buzz word of late, because having a glossy mane starts with the skin that covers your head.
This handy guide looks at common signs of an unhealthy scalp and gives you the tools you need to treat your scalp easily and effectively.
The most common form of dandruff is pityriasis capitis, but the word ‘dandruff’ is, in fact, a generic term that covers flaky scalps – whether that is seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, or psoriasis, all of which I see a lot of in my clinic.
Whilst most associate dandruff with a dry scalp, this could not be further from the truth. Dandruff is usually oily – the scalp, just like the skin, constantly sheds and produces oil and sweat, all of which forms a protective layer over the scalp. The excess sebum is absorbed into the flakes, making them sticky and oily.
WHAT IS DANDRUFF? THE BIOLOGY
Dandruff is formed by the reaction of the skin’s natural acid mantle and an ever-present organism referred to as Pityrosporon Ovale. Normally, sweat and sebum secrete from the scalp to maintain the healthy mantle. However, when something upsets the homeostasis, the secretions change, causing the skin to lose its resistance. This, in turn, causes the bacteria to flourish. When these bacteria multiply, the skin of the scalp is shed more rapidly leading, to dandruff flake.
Illness, hormonal changes, and stress may also be behind the reason your scalp suffers from excessive flaking or infection. Chemical hair care products can also disrupt the natural acidity and pH balance of the scalp, because when it is too alkaline it starts to flake.
ITCHING OR BURNING
An itchy scalp also signifies an imbalance of the scalp, which is usually caused by one of three reasons:
- Bacteria, caused by a build-up of sebum (as discussed above)
- A reaction to a particular ingredient used in a product
- It may signify head lice as the eggs can appear to look like surface dandruff. If you are concerned by this, I recommend that you seek medical advice.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU WASH YOUR HAIR?
This is the holy grail question that divides opinion and really is a matter of preference. A common myth among those with excessive oily hair is that you have to wash it every day to keep it healthy, but this couldn’t be further from the truth: overuse of shampoo can actually lead to the scalp producing more oil. It is a vicious circle; harsh ingredients strip the scalp of protective oils and its delicate micro-flora. If you do wash your hair daily, then ensure you use natural shampoo formulas, serums, and conditioning treatments that nourish and moisturise your scalp. Consider giving your scalp a treatment with these botanical oils for a dry skin.
HOW TO BREAK THE CYCLE OF ITCH AND FLAKE
Treat dandruff: Persistent flaking may be due to an over-production of yeast or a fungal infection. Consider using an anti-dandruff shampoo containing both anti-microbial and anti-fungal ingredients such as coal tar, zinc pyrithione, piroctone olamine, or ketoconazole. Just be sure not to permanently rely on these, and once flaking subsides, rotate with a more gentle, natural shampoo.
Avoid stripping surfactants: Detergents such as sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl sulfate can be drying on the scalp, causing redness and irritation – especially when they have not been correctly formulated alongside ingredients that neutralise the irritation. Opt for an SLS-free clarifying shampoo instead, which will help to calm irritation and inflammation. Follow the link to find out more about sulphate-free shampoo.
Avoid silicone ingredients: Look out for any words in the ingredient list ending with –methicone. The role of silicones in hair care products is to form a barrier on the scalp. Not only do they block follicles, making a wonderful breeding ground for bacteria, but they also prevent the penetration of ingredients.
Consider essential fatty acids: That tight, dry feeling may be due to a lack of moisture in your scalp, both in your diet and topically. Linoleic acid is a great beauty nutrient that will help to give that dryness some relief.
Beware of styling products: Reduce the amount of styling products you use on your hair. Hairsprays, gels, and curl-boosting products contain glue and resin-type ingredients that can suffocate the scalp if they’re not washed out regularly.
CBD tincture: When applied topically, this is a calming agent that assists in relaxing the scalp without any psychoactive effect. CBD oil, however, differs from CBD tincture and can be applied directly to the scalp for desired results, including the provision of good blood circulation and preventing the scalp from losing moisture.
THE NAKED TRUTH
Your skin and scalp are composed of similar ingredients such as fats, ceramides, and proteins. If your scalp is suffering from any of the above, you could do a lot worse than take the same approach to your scalp as you would for your skin. The acid mantle on your scalp is a balanced eco-system; if something upsets it then it can easily be thrown off balance.
Consider using gentle, non-stripping products that will protect the scalp and keep it healthy. Clay, Hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and salicylic acid are common ingredients found in your favourite skin care products. Lately, many hair care companies are including them in hair care products because they work wonders – not only for your skin, but also your scalp.