Beneath your hair lies the sensitive skin of your scalp, which, though rarely thought of, requires regular care to remain healthy. Like the skin on the rest of your body, your scalp consists of layers of tissue. The lower layers are the healthiest, newest skin produced by your body, while the outermost layer consists of cells that are mostly dead tissue and ready to be shed to reveal the newer layers of skin beneath. Along with hair follicles, the skin on your scalp contains sebaceous glands, which produce the oil necessary to keep the skin on your scalp lubricated.
A healthy scalp care routine involves regular cleansing to remove bacteria, sweat and excess oil from the skin. Taking steps to prevent over-drying and to boost the skin cell turnover process may also be necessary, depending upon your skin type and the environment in which you live.
To help keep your scalp healthy year-round, follow these helpful tips:
- Don't forget to exfoliate. To help boost the skin cell turnover process, exfoliate your scalp on a regular basis. If you suffer from dry skin or psoriasis, you may need to exfoliate two or three times per week; otherwise, exfoliating once weekly is generally adequate to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your scalp. A small number of exfoliating shampoos that contain ingredients like white willow extract and salicylic acid are available on the market. You can also purchase a gentle facial scrub with apricot or walnut kernels or oil beads that promote mechanical exfoliation and use it as a pre-treatment before you shampoo.
- Preserve moisture. Many common scalp problems arise from dry skin or are exacerbated by dehydrated tissue. When you shower and bathe, avoid exposing your scalp to hot water whenever possible. Instead, use lukewarm water for rinsing, which allows more of the natural sebum necessary for moisturizing the tissue to remain on your scalp. Once or twice per week, skip blow-drying and allow your hair to naturally air dry to give the skin on your scalp a break from the drying heat of your hair dryer.
- Massage. Beneath the skin on your scalp is an intricate network of blood vessels that carry oxygen and vital nutrients to the tissue. Keep the circulation going in your scalp by massaging the skin when you lather in the bath or shower. Then, once per week, spend 5 to 10 minutes massaging your scalp, using gentle circular motions. For the ultimate indulgence, consider getting a professional scalp massage.
- Limit chemical treatments. A great perm, straightening or hair coloring treatment can improve the look of your hair and boost your confidence, but the chemicals used in these treatments can dry out and irritate your scalp. Have chemical treatments performed by a professional to limit damage, and follow their recommendations for how often to touch up treatments. Also, during any chemical treatment, be on the lookout for signs of irritation like burning or itching. Should they occur, notify your stylist immediately.
- Protect your scalp from the sun. Skin cancer is the most diagnosed form of cancer in the United States and often develops on the scalp, which is nearly always exposed to the sun during your day-to-day activities. When you plan to be in the sun for long periods of time, wear a hat to protect your scalp. In addition, consider applying a spray-on broad-spectrum sunscreen to your part or using a shampoo that contains a sunscreen, which will help protect your scalp from ultraviolet rays.
- Eat right. A well-balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables will help supply the skin of the scalp with the raw materials necessary to produce new, healthy cells. Strive for two to four servings of fruits and three to five servings of vegetables per day. In addition, include two to three servings of meat, poultry, fish, eggs and nuts to ensure that your body has an adequate supply of protein, which is necessary both for scalp care and a healthy head of hair.
- Shampoo regularly. For many people, washing your hair once per day is ideal, though if you suffer from some scalp problems or damaged hair, you may need to wash less frequently. Cleansing is one of the most important parts of scalp care, but what you shampoo with is just as important as how often you do it. Rather than shopping for a shampoo at random, look for brands that have their basis in natural ingredients or those geared toward your specific scalp problems.
Common Scalp Problems
The scalp is prone to a variety of scalp conditions, each of which has its own causes, symptoms and treatments. By understanding the various problems that can plague the scalp, you'll be prepared to recognize their signs and seek treatment through home, clinical or over-the-counter remedies.
Some common scalp problems include:
- Dandruff is a condition marked by white and yellow flakes that form on the scalp. Often, these flakes fall off when you touch your hair and can leave specks that are visible along the shoulders and collars of dark clothing. Skin that is too dry or too oily is more likely to develop dandruff, and in some cases, the condition is caused by an overproduction of yeast. If you have dandruff, try using a shampoo that contains zinc pyrithione, coal tar, ketoconazole, salicylic acid or selenium sulfide.
- Scalp eczema is an itchy, red to brown rash that looks like small raised bumps when viewed up close. The condition develops due to a hypersensitivity reaction where your immune system mistakes a harmless substance as a threat and produces inflammation to protect your body. Shampoos that contain coal tar, evening primrose oil and borage seed oil are often effective at helping alleviate scalp eczema symptoms.
- Scalp psoriasis occurs when your body fails to shed skin cells at a normal rate, causing a buildup of cells that forms red patches that are topped with silver flakes. The condition occurs due to a malfunction in the immune system and can be helped by shampoos that contain coal tar, salicylic acid and aloe vera extract.
- Impetigo is a skin infection marked by red sores that burst and then form an orange or yellow crust. The condition is typically very itchy and often highly contagious. If you suspect that you have an impetigo infection, see your doctor, as antibiotics are often necessary to combat the bacteria causing the rash.
- Folliculitis is an infection that occurs in the hair follicles and causes bumps that can range in appearance from resembling a whitehead to a large, red blister. An antibacterial shampoo that contains tea tree oil, burdock or echinacea can help ease the infection, though in some cases you may need to see a doctor for an antibiotic.