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 than you might think. 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.
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.
However, 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.
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.
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.
Sebaceous glands produce a protective oil that gives hair luster and helps keep the keratin plates lying smoothly and tightly against each other.
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.
Prevention of Certain Skin Conditions
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.
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.
Reasons Behind Poor Scalp Health
While your scalp’s extra thickness provides a measure of protection, your daily routine could lead to damage or sub-optimal function.
Certain medications can impact your scalp’s blood flow, oil production or hormonal balance. These types of drugs are a few common culprits behind a change in your scalp’s function.
- Hormone-replacement medications for menopause
- Hormonal birth control
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs)
- Certain antibiotics
The way you treat your scalp is likely to have the greatest impact on its overall health.
Styling techniques. Wearing the same tight hairstyle frequently 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.
Frequent exposure 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.
Finally, color and chemical treatments often contain harsh ingredients that can leave your scalp irritated, deplete natural oils and even cause chemical burns.
Hygiene habits. Your sebaceous glands usually produce oil based on a supply and demand principle, so how often you remove 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.
Diet. 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.
Smoking. 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.
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 health care 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.
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.
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.
Allow Your Hair to Air-Dry
As often as possible, gently towel-dry your hair after a wash and let it finish drying naturally. If you need to blow your dry, use the coolest setting possible.
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.
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.
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.
Try a Nourishing Oil
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.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Your scalp needs proper nutrition to produce strong hair that shines. Here are a few nutrients that are the foundation for a healthy scalp.
- 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 such as KeraViatin.
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.
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.
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.