Be it curly, straight, fine, coarse or any of a rainbow of shades, hair is important to women across the globe. While we may be willing to spend a considerable amount of time and money to achieve the style or color of our dreams, it’s all too easy to forget about an area that remains mostly hidden: our scalp.
However, your scalp’s health can have a wider effect on your hair than you might think, and should not be overlooked. Let’s take a closer look at why it’s important to take proper care of your scalp, and some healthy habits you can start today to gain and maintain a healthier scalp.
Why Scalp Health Matters
Just like the skin anywhere else on your body, your scalp contains smooth surface cells, connective tissue, and a fatty layer. Think about how we constantly care for the rest of our skin on our bodies. We exfoliate, use lotion to hydrate, and are often concerned because it is the skin we can see. It is important to remember that unseen skin also, on your head.
Your scalp is thicker and tougher than skin in most other areas of your body, and it also contains a higher concentration of blood vessels and oil-producing, or sebaceous, glands. Your scalp’s vasculature transports the nutrients necessary for hair production, and the sebaceous glands produce the oil that protects your hair and gives it shine.
Both in terms of hair production and protecting your head, your scalp has an important job to do, and its health can affect your everyday life in several ways.
We all want hair with beautiful volume. Volume allows us to enjoy more styles and draws attention to our hair in a good way. As with most hair health, we need to start at our scalp to create volume. And first, we need to understand how our scalp is working along with our hair, to produce volume.
Hair production takes place in tiny, hollow structures in the skin called hair follicles. Your follicles produce keratin plates that fuse to form strands. At any one time, some of your follicles are actively producing hair while others are in a resting phase. The follicles take turns.
Blood circulation has a direct effect on the efficiency of each active follicle. You may start to notice thinning hair or even bald spots if your scalp isn’t receiving enough nutrients for the follicles to function properly.
Head massages are a wonderful, relaxing way to get the blood circulation in your scalp going. If you get a massage regularly, be sure to allow the therapist to also massage your scalp. If not, you may want to consider this natural, scalp stimulating method.
Proper brushing of the scalp also stimulates the hair follicles. You don’t want to over brush as this can lead to the damage of your hair. But daily, gentle brushing when necessary is great for the scalp. Depending on your hair type, your hairstylist can help you choose the best brush for you.
Hair health and scalp health begin from the inside. Proper nutrition and helpful supplements are essential for scalp health. Consider KeraViatin as a part of your daily health routine. Talk with your doctor before beginning any new health regiment.
Sebaceous glands produce a protective oil that gives hair luster and helps keep the keratin plates lying smoothly and tightly against each other. We often have the mindset to get rid of the oil in our hair, but your hair truly needs it, and you can be thankful if your scalp is generous in producing oil.
If your scalp isn’t able to produce enough oil, your hair can take on a dull appearance. The keratin plates may also start to peel away, giving your hair a rough feel and increasing the likelihood of breakage.
On the other hand, oil overproduction can leave your hair feeling greasy, heavy and lackluster. Thankfully, there are ways to control the excess oil, while not completely stripping your hair of its essential oils.
Give your hair daily shampooing breaks even if it is oily. People with oily hair usually wake up with greasy feeling hair, and can’t imagine not washing it. If that sounds familiar, make dry shampoo your new best friend.
Using dry shampoo even with extra oily hair, gives you the opportunity to let your hair have a break from the excess stripping of oils, but at the same time looking clean and full of volume.
The dry shampoo will absorb any unnecessary oils at the roots where needed, and give your hair amazing volume. Doing this won’t strip the oils like your regular shampoo will. So you can be thankful for your oily scalp as it protects your hair, making it stronger and shinier!
Prevention of Certain Skin Conditions
An uncared for or forgotten scalp can lead to some uncomfortable skin conditions. These conditions can then lead to trouble with your hair.
If you don’t take proper care of your scalp, dead skin cells can accumulate and be an ideal environment for fungal growth to take hold. An example of this is seborrheic dermatitis, which cause dry, flaky skin, and can be annoyingly itchy.
Additionally, if your scalp itches so severely that you find yourself scratching to the point of drawing blood, you may run the risk of developing a skin infection.
See your dermatologist about an itchy or flaky scalp. Often a medicated shampoo can take care of it. But rather than getting to that point, make scalp health a priority before that is necessary.
Reasons Behind Poor Scalp Health
While your scalp’s extra thickness provides a measure of protection, your daily routine could lead to damage or suboptimal function. Daily hygiene, medications, the environment, styling habits, and underlying conditions can all be a possible factor in poor scalp health.
Certain medications can impact your scalp’s blood flow, oil production or hormonal balance. While most often you cannot stop taking some medications simply because they are affecting your scalp, there may be some measures you can take to help make the effects not as severe. These types of drugs are a few common culprits behind a change in your scalp’s function.
- Hormone replacement therapy during menopause
- Hormonal birth control
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
- Certain antibiotics
A condition known as Telogen Effluvium can often occur during the use of blood thinners (anticoagulants). Telogen Effluvium causes hair loss of the entire scalp, not just in patches, due to the fact that the drug being used may be toxic to the hair follicles. If you are using a blood thinner it is very important in keeping you healthy, so please do not stop just to please your hair! Always follow your doctor’s advice. There may be ways to help decrease the loss while on a blood thinner.
Nutrition is the best place to start. Work on getting plenty of protein into your diet, as protein is needed to trigger the production of keratin in your system. Iron, B vitamins, vitamin D, and zinc are all also great for scalp and hair health.
Beef up your nutrition, and also remember most hair loss with medication will remedy itself once the medication is no longer needed.
Hormone Replacement Therapy
While some hormone replacement therapies may lead to hair loss, most used during menopause may actually help with the thinning of your hair. During menopause, as our hormones change, some thinning and hair loss is unfortunately normal.
Speak with your doctor about possible hormone therapy if you are experiencing hair thinning during this time. Certain hormones in our bodies trigger hair production, and also keep the oils producing on our scalps. As we age and our hormones change, hair loss can begin.
Thankfully, with a healthy diet and the possible aid of hormone therapy, you may be able to keep your scalp healthy during this life change, and therefore still grow healthy hair.
Hormonal Birth Control
Some women are negatively affected by certain hormones in their birth control, leading to hair loss or thinning. If you notice this happening, the easiest fix is to talk with your doctor about other options.
We have to be thankful to live in a time when medication has come a very long way, and many people’s lives have been saved because of drugs such as cholesterol-lowering drugs (statins). Just as with most good things, these drugs do come with side effects. One side effect can be hair loss.
Most medications disrupt your system in one way or another. These disruptions cause our hair follicles to react differently than they were before. It is sometimes a trade-off for good health in other areas.
Just as with other medications, if you are in need of a statin for cholesterol health, talk with your doctor about boosting your nutrition for the sake of your hair health while taking the statin.
While you may not be able to stop hair loss completely, you may be able to slow it down.
Antidepressants, like many medications, can also send you into Telogen Effluvium. This means your follicles go into a “resting” phase due to the changes or stress of the body.
Speaking with your doctor about proper nutrition, or trying another medicine alternative, can help you cope with this hair loss side effect.
Commonly referred to as NSAIDs, these medications can lead to hair loss, but is thankfully a rare side effect from these medications.
Thankfully also rare, but some antibiotics can cause hair loss by throwing your hair follicles into a resting mode. With many antibiotic options, speak with your doctor about which ones come with this side effect, before choosing an antibiotic.
The way you treat your scalp is likely to have the greatest impact on its overall health. As you read through the following list, ask yourself how you are truly treating your scalp.
We love our long hair because of the many options it gives us. One of those options is the convenient ponytail. Just be careful of the frequency, because wearing the same tight hairstyle too often puts repeated stress on certain hair follicles, and you may end up with localized hair loss if the strain becomes too much for your follicles to handle.
Give your hair a break with a braid or looser ponytails, and make sure you have days where you just don’t pull it back at all.
Frequent exposure to heat styling can dry out your scalp and strip natural oils, leaving you with uncomfortable skin and lackluster hair. Blow-dryers can be particularly harmful since the hot air comes into contact with your scalp and hair for the longest time. Air-dry whenever possible, and use a heat-protecting spray if you have to style with heat.
Finally, color and chemical treatments often contain harsh ingredients that can leave your scalp irritated, deplete natural oils and even cause chemical burns. If you really want to color your hair, always allow a professional stylist to do this for you. They know the secrets to keeping your scalp healthy while receiving chemical treatments.
Your sebaceous glands usually produce oil based on a supply and demand principle, so how often you remove the oil by washing has a direct correlation to how much oil your scalp produces. Washing your hair either too little or too much can disrupt your natural oil production or lead to irritated skin.
Additionally, just like the skin anywhere else on your body, your scalp is susceptible to sustaining a sunburn or premature sun-related aging if you spend a lot of time outdoors without taking appropriate precautions. People with gray or blond hair need to be especially vigilant since they have less protective pigmentation to block the sun’s rays.
Keep your hair clean, but skip the washing once in a while and use a dry shampoo instead. And when you are out in the sun, opt for a sunscreen scalp spray to protect your scalp from burning.
The only nutrients your scalp has access to are the ones you give it, and a diet that is habitually lacking in certain vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and protein can eventually lead to decreased scalp function and dull hair.
Make a goal to improve your eating habits, and that will lead to a healthier scalp. If you need a little boost in your nutrition, consider a supplement such as Keraviatin.
Certainly, we could write an entire article on why you should not smoke! But we are focusing on hair… so we will stay focused. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can make it harder for cells anywhere in your body to absorb adequate amounts of necessary nutrients like oxygen.
Since each one of your hairs grows through a follicle in your scalp, a long-term lack of adequate oxygen can lead to hair loss and cause your remaining hair to grow dull, brittle, and more prone to breakage.
You know the answer here. Time to quit smoking.
What You Can Do to Keep Your Scalp Healthy
Since your daily routine heavily influences your scalp’s health, you have plenty of opportunities to make positive changes.
Look into Changing Medications
If you’re taking any of the medications listed above and notice significant changes in your hair, ask your health care provider if there are any alternative drugs available.
However, never make changes to your prescribed medication routine without your healthcare provider’s approval.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a blanket answer for how often every person should wash their hair. Your scalp’s oil-production pattern is unique to you, so you may have to experiment a bit to find your ideal washing routine.
Try going an extra day between washings and see how your hair responds. Even if your hair tends to be on the oily side, frequent washing may remove too much oil and stimulate your scalp to over-compensate.
It may take some patience, but you should be able to figure out your ideal washing schedule in time. Using a dry shampoo can be a lifesaver when it comes to this. You can absorb excess oil without completely stripping your hair’s oils.
Look at your calendar and see if there are certain days of the week when you don’t have to see anyone if you aren’t comfortable going out with hair that hasn’t been shampooed. Use those days to let your hair rest.
Use Chemical Treatments Sparingly
You don’t have to completely give up all hair treatments, but take your scalp’s health into consideration when you’re making your next salon appointment. Here are a couple of ways to protect your scalp while still maintaining your preferred style.
Go to a Reputable Stylist
While it may be tempting to go to the salon that offers the best prices, hair professionals that have years of experience and the proper training to perform services safely are worth the extra charge.
Don’t be afraid to share the fact that you’re trying to safeguard your scalp when you call the salon to make an appointment. The receptionist may be able to suggest a stylist that has expertise or extra training in this area.
And do not consider doing chemical treatments at home to save money. The damage that could possibly occur may take months or longer to reverse.
Consider getting highlights
Highlights are usually a good method for adding some color to your hair while still protecting your scalp. Since most highlight techniques involve your stylist painting color onto small sections of your hair, most of the dye doesn’t touch your scalp.
On the other hand, getting your roots touched up or getting a full head of color carries a higher risk of irritation since more of the dye comes into direct contact with your scalp.
Avoid Hair Extensions
While natural long hair is unlikely to place undue strain on your hair follicles, hair extensions are another story. With the combination of weight from the artificial hair itself and the adhesive to hold it in place, extensions can cause excessive stress on your follicles that may result in permanent damage.
Another option if you love your extensions, is to enjoy them for a small period of time, giving yourself a break after a while. Keep your hair healthy, then go back and enjoy them for a bit… just not too long.
Also, keep your scheduled extension appointments. Your stylist will tell you how often they should be adjusted, and you need to trust their suggestions.
Allow Your Hair to Air-Dry
As often as possible, gently towel-dry your hair after a wash, comb through, and let it finish drying naturally. If you need to blow your dry, use the coolest setting possible.
The hot air from your blow dryer is blowing right on your scalp. A hot blow dryer is most definitely your scalp’s enemy.
Switch Between Hairstyles
If a tight ponytail or bun is your go-to hairstyle, changing it up every couple of days can help you take good care of your scalp. Periodically moving your part can also help avoid repeated stress on one area.
Some work environments may require certain hairstyles for safety or other reasons, so try to let your hair down when you get home and on your days off to give your follicles a chance to recover.
If you must pull your hair back, do it as gently as possible. Hair ties are not all created equal either. Opt for a ribbon or a soft scrunchie, rather than tight elastics that can rip your hair, and make a tighter ponytail.
Massage Your Scalp Regularly
Not only does a scalp massage feel great, but it may also result in new hair growth. A 2016 study concluded that several months of daily scalp massage resulted in an increase in overall hair thickness.
The researchers aren’t completely sure why massage is effective, but they theorize that gentle stretching stimulates the skin cells to work at a greater capacity.
If you enjoy a full body massage regularly, ask them to include your scalp. Your massage therapist is trained in knowing how to do this correctly.
Use Sun Protection
Applying sunscreen to your part or any areas of thin hair can help prevent sun damage. However, it can be hard to make sure you use the appropriate amount of product, and the greasy look can be a definite drawback to some women.
A hat is typically the best form of effective sun protection, and you can also shade your face and neck if you choose a wide-brimmed style.
There are also some powder forms of sunscreen that can be used on your scalp, and won’t leave a greasy residue.
Try a Nourishing Oil
Natural oils can help soothe a dry scalp, reduce itching and provide some additional nutrients in a topical form.
Here are a few oils that seem to be especially helpful when applied to your scalp.
For best results, look for oils that are cold-pressed, minimally processed, and come from a reputable manufacturer. Be careful with thinner hair, as oils can really weigh it down and make it look greasy.
Eat a Healthy Diet
We know we should eat better for more reasons than can be counted. Your scalp is one of those reasons. It needs proper nutrition to avoid unhealthy scalp conditions, and to produce strong hair that shines. Here are a few nutrients that are the foundation for a healthy scalp, and can be found in many foods at your grocery store.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin A
Make sure to include lean meats in your diet for protein, iron and zinc, or make sure to eat plenty of beans, tofu, quinoa and peanut butter if you are a vegetarian or vegan.
Cold-water fish like wild-caught salmon and cod are excellent sources of both protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines are another highly nutritious choice that is also lower in mercury.
Spinach and cauliflower are rich in biotin, and carrots are a great source of Vitamin A.
Consider Taking a Supplement
A healthy, balanced diet is the best way to include scalp-friendly nutrients into your daily life. However, if you find it difficult to get enough of certain nutrients from food or you have a deficiency in specific elements, consider adding a supplement to your daily routine.
While taking a supplement can be very helpful for people in some situations, getting too much of certain elements can be dangerous or cause your scalp problems to get worse. Schedule an appointment with your health care provider to discuss your questions and develop a plan tailored to your needs.
Even though it remains mostly hidden, your scalp’s health can make a big difference in the look of your hair and even in your everyday comfort. Don’t forget about it as it hides up there under your beautiful hair. If it wasn’t for your scalp, you wouldn’t have any hair in the first place!
By taking the time to learn about various steps you can take to keep your scalp in good condition and working properly, you can look forward to less skin irritation and the potential for more good hair days. Eat well, stay healthy, and love your scalp. Your hair will thank you.
If your hair is thinning or you are losing your hair, it could be due to an underlying health issue. As always, you should see your doctor to get to the root cause of your health and hair problems.