The Root of Great HairIt’s easy to forget that under all your hair is skin that needs care and attention — just like the rest of your skin. Taking care of your scalp pays off in the form of healthy, beautiful hair. “The hair follicles are influenced by the health and blood supply of the surrounding tissue,” explains Elizabeth Cunnane Phillips, a trichologist (someone who specializes in hair and scalp care) with Philip Kingsley. Find out how to keep your scalp healthy and happy with this expert advice.
Avoid Irritating Ingredients“Any ingredient that dries out your skin will make an itchy scalp worse,” says Noelle Sherber, MD, a dermatologist in Baltimore. ”Fatty alcohols are moisturizing, and can be identified by terms like 'stearyl,’ ‘cetyl,’ and ‘myristyl,’” says Ni’Kita Wilson, a cosmetics chemist and vice president of research and innovation at Englewood Lab, in New Jersey. “The other alcohols are drying — for example, alcohol denat (denatured), ethanol, propanol, and isopropyl alcohol.” You should check ingredients lists and avoid hair products that contain the drying alcohols.
Also, be mindful of menthol, an alcohol that has the cooling properties of peppermint — while it may invigorate normal scalps, it can provoke itching in sensitive scalps, Dr. Sherber says.
Salicylic acid is often included in products to treat flaking scalps, but it should not be used more than once a week, says Cunnane Phillips, because it can cause irritation instead of gentle exfoliation.
Don't Skip Shampooing
As for the claim that regular washing strips the scalp of essential oils, Cunnane Phillips explains that proper cleansing removes dirt, grime, and pollutants from hair — not moisture. Shampoos that are sulfate-free offer a gentler cleansing than harsh, detergent-containing ones. Also, look for silk and wheat proteins in ingredients lists — they're among the best additives to help your hair retain moisture and stay manageable.
Make Massage a HabitScalp massage promotes blood circulation, which stimulates hair follicles to produce thicker, more lustrous hair growth. Make it part of your shampoo routine. After applying shampoo, gently massage your fingertips over your scalp in a gentle kneading motion for about 30 seconds, advises Cunnane Phillips.
If your scalp is dry, consider a prewash massage with nurturing oils, suggests Sherber. Choose antioxidant-rich argan oil, grapeseed oil, or naturally antibacterial and soothing lavender oil. Before shampooing, work a few drops of oil into your scalp by slowly massaging with the pads of your fingers for a few minutes.
Like any other part of the body, your hair and scalp thrive when fed rich nutrients. Olive oil, which is rich in fatty acids, beta-carotene, and antioxidants, is one of the most hydrating ingredients to look for in hair care products. “Olive oil softens scaling and moisturizes the scalp, creating conditions for optimum hair growth,” says Cunnane Phillips.
Vitamin E, which has been shown to improve scalp circulation, resulting in the stimulation of hair growth, is another effective ingredient.
Find the Best Brush
Vented brushes allow for smoother brushing and more even heat dispersion during blow-drying, allowing hair to dry faster and without “hot spots” that can burn the scalp and hair. Brush your hair lightly, and if possible, use a wide-toothed comb — the gentlest option of all. You can also look for the new generation of plastic combs at the drugstore; infused with hydrators like macadamia nut oil, they're particularly useful if your hair and scalp are dry and you’re prone to static and flyaways, says Sherber.
Use Sun ShieldsThe sun's dangerous UV rays are no friend to your skin — and that includes your scalp. Prolonged sun exposure can burn your scalp and cause itching from dehydration, says Cunnane Phillips. Repeated exposure can dry out your hair and making it feel and look brittle, aging it the way sun exposure ages skin — giving it a coarser, dryer texture. Most importantly, you also need to guard against skin cancer — dangerous scalp moles often escape notice until it’s too late, warns Sherber. “If you part your hair while in the sun,” she says, “apply a waxy sunscreen stick or SPF lip balm to your part for protection.”
Ask your dermatologist to check your scalp during your annual skin examinations, and always ask your hairstylist to alert you to any unusual-looking spots on your scalp when you visit salon.