‘Scalp health’ is the beauty buzzword du jour for good reason; the length, lustre and health of your hair depends on the skin that covers your head.
With stress and pollution levels consistently creeping up and up, it’s hardly surprising we’ve all got scalp issues on our mind. Research by Philip Kingsley indicates that 42 per cent of the UK population are conscious about a scalp issue, while Space NK reported a 196 per cent growth in its ‘scalp care’ category in 2020.
As both a celebrated hairdresser and a certified trichologist, Guy Parsons is an industry authority on the subject. Recognising that many of his clients’ scalp problems were often at the root of their hair concerns, he likens your scalp to “the flower bed and soil from which your hair grows”. Speaking to Bazaar, Parsons explains everything you need to know about your scalp to encourage long, thick and healthy hair.
Why does a healthy scalp = healthy hair?
“Each hair grows from, and through, an individual follicle which surfaces on your scalp. Sebum (a.k.a. oil) is also produced by each individual follicle via the sebaceous gland, the amount of which will vary from person to person. It is essential that the follicle and the scalp, at point of exit, are clean, clear, healthy and maintained; follicles that are full of sebum or blocked by dead skin, dandruff or infection will have an impact on the quality of hair growth. In fact, permanently blocked or obstructed follicles may eventually cease to produce hair at all. The scalp is made up of cells which divide and continually work their way to the surface and then shed – as such, it is essential that dead skin is removed by brushing or washing, but also by weekly exfoliation.”
How do I know if I have dandruff?
“Dandruff usually describes the flaking of the scalp and there are a number of variants, ranging from very mild to very severe. Common scalp flaking – that image of a little bit of white dust on a black top – should still be treated as a very mild dandruff. Specific shampoos, scalp toners and scalp exfoliants should maintain a healthy scalp. Your skin is constantly shedding and producing oil and sweat which combines to form a protective layer over your scalp, but it also traps bacteria within. If and when those bacteria levels raise or change, the scalp can become infected. Issues such as hormonal changes, stress, illness or diet allow bacteria to multiply and this can lead to excessive shedding or infection. Other causes of dandruff can be poor hygiene, infrequent shampooing, and the consumption of too many dairy products, fatty, salty or sugary foods. People think that dandruff is a dry scalp, but dandruff can also be oily. See your GP if you’re concerned.”
What does an itchy scalp signify?
“An itchy scalp basically signifies an imbalance of the scalp. Normally, itchiness will be due to bacteria caused by sweat, sebum and pollution remaining on the scalp which then, in effect, attacks the scalp and causes itchiness. However, it could also be caused by a reaction to a particular ingredient used in a product, shampoo or conditioner. Another common cause can be shampoo products not being rinsed from the hair thoroughly, which can dry out and irritate the scalp. It could also signify head lice, with each louse egg looking like a lump of dandruff, and the lice’s desire for your blood causing the itching.”
The route to soothing the itch could lie in a specialised product, or simply in tweaking the way use your existing products. “A typical dry, itchy scalp can normally be eased with a thorough shampoo, or a toner and exfoliant specifically chosen for scalp health. Slightly increased washing may also improve the situation, as dryness or irritation can be caused by build ups of skin cells or bacteria. The scalp is like a balanced eco-system, a sensitive one at that, and therefore responds to small changes.”
In general, how often should we wash our hair?
“This is the million-dollar question that divides opinion. For the optimum health of your scalp and hair, I recommend that hair is washed every other day as a minimum. City dwellers may prefer to wash daily because of the general levels of surface dirt attracted to skin and hair; wipe your face with cotton wool at the end of a day in London and that level of dirt is all over your hair and scalp. Many people opt for daily washing and, provided that correct moisture is applied, the hair and scalp should be fine. Some people prefer not to wash their hair at all, but the basic facts above allude to the fact that regular washing is better.”
Should we avoid any ingredients for optimal scalp health?
“The majority of people’s scalps can cope with just about any product, however, product will work its way down the hair shaft to the scalp – as such I wouldn’t recommend ingredients that ‘block’ or suffocate the scalp from breathing. Look for ingredients ending in ‘cones’ (the silicones, dimethicones, trimethicones), which are added to make hair feel softer, suppler and more moisturised, but they are molecularly heavy and will block the scalp. Known irritants would be another thing to avoid – things like heavy hold sticky gels, mousses or hairsprays with a high alcohol content could cause extreme dryness to the scalp.”
Should we exfoliate our scalps?
“The scalp is protected, in most cases, by a head of hair. If you do not brush, wash or blow-dry your hair regularly then the dead skin cells build up – coupled with sweat and natural oil production, this will lead to an overloaded scalp area. We maintain the skin on our face with lotions and potions yet tend to ignore the scalp. My recommendation is an exfoliant once or twice weekly in cases where you are trying to clear built-up scalp debris. Look for something consisting of finely ground textures such as crushed shell or salt, and apply to a wet scalp as a film of water will act as a carrier for the product. Use small, circular motions with your fingers to gently massage the exfoliant into your scalp – just as you would with a facial exfoliant. Be gentle but thorough, and leave for a couple of minutes before rinsing thoroughly.”
Should we also moisturise our scalp?
“The simple answer is no. When working properly, which it does for many people, the scalp has its own moisture content which is generally superlative to most products. Most conditioners will have ingredients that will leave a residue on the scalp, resulting in heaviness or oiliness to the hair soon after washing.”
From Harper’s Bazaar UK