The scalp is under-appreciated when it comes to skin care regimens. However, top hair care brands and skincare enthusiasts are starting to call attention to the scalp, incorporating its care into routines. Scalp care is more than just the latest trend — working toward a healthy scalp can help your hair look better too.
What does a healthy scalp look like?
A healthy scalp is clean, not itchy or dry, and has a smooth texture and good moisture retention. Hair product build-up may contribute to an overall appearance of dryness and also cause itching. An “unhealthy” scalp can have dry patches, redness, flakes, broken skin, and can even affect hair growth.
What medical conditions can affect your scalp?
Occasional dryness, itchiness, and flaking may indicate a larger health issue or scalp condition. These conditions require more than just mindful washing, and can sometimes be an early indication of broader health concerns.
Get a personalized treatment plan with prescription and/or OTC medications for your hair and scalp concerns.
Dandruff: One of the most common scalp conditions, dandruff (also called seborrheic dermatitis) is associated with flaking and itching. However, dandruff is treatable.
Over-the-counter or prescription shampoos can reduce dandruff when used according to the directions. Some formulas require time on the scalp to be effective and used at the right frequency. Ingredients such as salicylic acid, zinc, selenium sulfide, antifungal medications, and even coal tar can help with this condition.
Scalp psoriasis: This condition impacts about 45-56% of those also experiencing psoriasis on their body. Sometimes it is the only sign of psoriasis. Scalp psoriasis can appear on the lower neck, hairline, and near the ears, in addition to the scalp. The condition can look flaky, like dandruff, or it can look like plaques with a silvery, powdery appearance. Psoriasis can affect the rest of your skin, your joints, and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, so it’s important to talk to a medical professional early.
Treatment includes over-the-counter topicals with active ingredients like salicylic acid to soften plaques. Ingredients like coal tar can also treat skin cell build up and reduce inflammation. Other treatments include prescription anti-inflammatory solutions and oils, UV light therapy or laser therapy, as well as oral and injectable medications, especially for patients with severe or more extensive disease.
Scalp Eczema: Often itchy, scalp eczema can also appear as a rash on the eyebrows, eyelids, and sides of the nose. It can either be an intrinsic process, occurring in people who have atopic dermatitis, or an extrinsic process, caused by an allergy to fragrances or preservatives. A dermatologist can diagnose this condition, and over-the-counter treatment is available.
To treat, keep the scalp moisturized and use any medications prescribed by your physician. Some prescribed treatments can be left overnight for maximum effectiveness.
Uncomfortable flare-ups can result in redness and broken skin. If so, take extra care to reduce bacteria through cleansing regularly. If caused by an allergy, flare-ups can be reduced by skipping fragrance-laden products, looking for “hypoallergenic” shampoos, keeping conditioner off the scalp, and air drying hair or using cool dryer settings.
Hair loss: People will often start to notice hair loss after increased shedding or thinning at the temples or crown. The appearance of a wider-than-usual part or changes in the hairline can also be signs of thinning hair. There are a variety of reasons for hair loss and thinning. Genetics can be the source of hair loss, but so can habits, life events, hormone changes, and medications. Scalp conditions can also contribute to hair loss.
Depending on the kind of hair loss, treatments can include prescription topical medication, prescription oral medication, and sometimes vitamin supplementation. Healthy scalp protocols like scalp oil, cleansing, and treating underlying conditions can support overall scalp health, decrease inflammation, and contribute to a supportive environment for follicular growth. Hair transplantation, while invasive, can provide long-term hair loss resolution.
Changes in behavior can also support a healthy scalp and reduce the risk of hair loss. Smoking has shown to be a cause of hair loss, so avoiding it can result in better hair and overall health. Limiting sun exposure can also ensure your scalp stays in top shape, as burns can lead to skin cancer and also contribute to certain forms of hair loss.
How should you care for your scalp?
Scalp care is an easy addition to any routine with the right products, tools, and consistency. Done before and after hair washing, scalp care is similar to that of skincare routines. Before you dive into a routine, consider your unique needs, medical conditions, and ability to commit to added steps. Then, implement your care strategy depending on your scalp’s initial presentation of oiliness or dryness.
How to care for a dry scalp – Dry scalps can feel itchy, appear red, and display flaking even if your hair is clean. This dryness may be caused by over-washing or a mismatch of your current hair care products. Scalp dryness, scale and flaking can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition — if it’s persistent or extensive, consider seeing a physician.
To care for your dry scalp, pre-treat it with a pre-shampoo oil, using a narrow-tipped applicator for more control. Then, massage it using your fingers or scalp brush.
Cleanse using shampoo, following the bottle’s instructions before rinsing and conditioning. Using a humidifier in your home to increase the overall moisture level can also be beneficial if your scalp is dry.
How to care for an oily scalp – An oily scalp needs different treatment, but an oily scalp doesn’t eliminate the need for moisture. Those with oily scalps will need to ensure that shampoo formulas work with their oil production levels.
Every scalp is different, but consider increasing the frequency of washing until you find a level that works for you. Oily hair might need to be washed every other day or even every day to maintain a proper balance. When washing, make sure you rinse thoroughly to remove any soap residue that could cause irritation and attract dirt and oil.
Lastly, identify and treat any underlying medical conditions. Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis can also contribute to scalp oiliness.
Healthy Hair Starts at the Scalp
Just like the foundation of a home is essential for its structural integrity, so too is your scalp’s health. Your hair’s health begins at the follicular level, and scalp conditions can affect hair growth. Scalp care is especially important for those experiencing hair loss — a healthy scalp can promote healthy hair growth.
Get support for your healthy hair and scalp, and reach out to a trusted provider for a customized treatment plan. When you do, you can identify treatments, behavior changes, and nutritional adjustments that can result in your best hair yet.