Scalp Care Simplified: What To Do and When

Man looks at scalp in mirror

Everyone has a different hair care journey. Hair changes over time and can be impacted by internal factors like hormones and external factors like your shampoo. The literal root of your hair journey is the scalp. Having a great hair day is terrific, but if you are dealing with scalp discomfort or only experience good hair after an extensive routine at the end of the week- the solution may be regular scalp care.

The health of your scalp is reflected in your hair; the hair is an appendage of the scalp. Scalp health is essential to growing healthy hair as it is the base of the hair. If the scalp is not in balance, scalp conditions can arise. We tend to neglect our scalps and are more aware of the length and ends of our hair. Scalp care is critical, and hair is an extension of your scalp. The healthier the scalp, the better condition your hair will appear and be.

There are a variety of reasons why you may want to reach out to a professional. Scalp care is at the intersection of cosmetology and esthetics. Having a professional assess what assistance you may require for your hair is a great start, and there are also some at-home tips to provide shine or relief. Let’s unpack some common tips and issues that can form on the scalp.

Psoriasis

A common and frustrating problem of the scalp is Psoriasis. It is tricky to treat because it can be hereditary, stress, or even food-related. It can often come to light in your teens when hormones shift and flare up throughout adult life. A great place to start is with a scalp analysis from a professional. Then, if there is “rare skin” or open wounds on the scalp, forehead, or ears, you can create a strategy with your physician. 45-56% of people have a form of Psoriasis, and not all commercial products are the answer. Discussing any possible allergens and lifestyle changes with a professional can often clear up the scaling or excess dead skin.

Another irritant to consider is histamine triggers around fragrance-and before you decide to throw out all of your products! As always, you can ask a professional about hair care products.

EPA Irritant Guide

There are irritant checks that you can do at home as well. Here is an easy guide from the EPA on how to address labels around fragrance:

Fragrance-Free vs. Unscented

Some products may have the terms fragrance-free or unscented on their packaging. Understanding the differences between these two terms is vital for consumers and purchasers looking for products without fragrances.

Fragrance-Free

This means that fragrance materials or masking scents are not used in the product.

Unscented

Generally means that the product may contain chemicals that neutralize or mask the odors of other ingredients.

When it comes to the upkeep of your scalp, there is a happy medium for exfoliation. You’re ideally looking for cell turnover, which can create a healthy environment on the scalp. This can be done with chemical or manual exfoliation.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid has been seen as a trend as a popular ordinary brand exfoliant. It is directed for daily skincare in the evening and is derived from sugar cane, and is alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). Found in shampoos and conditioners, these ingredients, without the ability to adjust the percentage across these methods, can turn into an irritant over time. For context, 30% concentration in alpha hydroxy acid in professional spas. It is a smaller molecule than something like lactic acid and can penetrate even deeper into the skin. With those in mind, it’s great to get an expert opinion to make sure the acid you choose is the correct form of chemical exfoliant for your needs.

Exfoliation

Manual exfoliation can be seen in brushes or scrubbers. Boar bristle brushes are excellent but proceed cautiously with pressure and scrubbing over the scalp. Short light passes to ruffle up the scalp itself are best, and avoid abrasive movement that could damage hair and open that follicle. Another device is the popular silicon shower scrubber. This will stimulate blood flow and is an excellent tool for a circulating massage. You can use it wet or dry in the shower. Just make sure to cleanse and store correctly. Best use can be in the shower before cleansing, during, or massage an oil/hydrating into the scalp.

Use personal discretion of hair type, scalp patterns, and routine to find the right fit for your lifestyle. Unfortunately, there is no cure-all for scalp health, so get to know if you have oily or dry scalp combined with oily and dry hair. That can make all the difference when it comes to scalp relief.

Shower Products

Shower products are another area to ask a professional or switch up the routine. Clarifying shampoos can remove color molecules and can be drying to the hair/scalp. Choose the right shampoo for your needs, and always start with a gentle shampoo. The purpose is to assist with debris and product buildup. Be mindful that it is a detox for the hair; for some people, it may be okay to use it once a week if they have shorter hair and heavier product use. Some may only use it one to four times a month to avoid shampoo-stripping.

A healthy scalp is smooth, free of debris, and slightly pink. The scalp should not look tight, irritated, or have any dry patches or flakes. Excessive flaking or oiliness can leave the scalp very irritated and inflamed. When brushing or shampooing, there should be no pain associated with manipulating the scalp. Irregular or less thorough cleansing can be the perfect breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to scalp disorders. Failure to remove oil, sweat, product buildup, and skin debris from the scalp produces a buildup on your scalp and, therefore, your hair. Therefore, shampooing regularly is a must. Cleansing the scalp two to three times a week is recommended.

Some basic shower practices and good habits to beware of are bar soaps, as they may not cleanse the scalp correctly. It is excellent to think of the environment and cut down on plastics in your life. However, hard soap is concentrated, and we tend to go for a substantial lather when shampooing. Make sure to learn portioning of these heavy products and build up when using those items.

While cleansing and massaging the scalp, beware of your nails! Lightly manipulate the scalp and do not scratch the scalp if possible. We tend to go big or go home and practice finding a happy medium for long-term results.

Scalp Oils

There have been scalp oil trends lately, and it is hard to tell what works to help hair growth? Many products on the market have proven results for hair growth. Finding the right one for you can sometimes be trial and error. I recommend seeing a hair care professional who can do a proper scalp analysis to begin to prescribe the right product and ingredients for your needs. Massage and exfoliation are great ways to stimulate blood flow and oil production and remove excess skin cells. Scalp massage increases blood circulation, which can stimulate and promote hair growth. The scalp contains oil glands which massage movements can stimulate the production. Oil production is not a bad thing. Oil production keeps the scalp hydrated and prevents the scalp from becoming dehydrated. Essential oils can help address many scalp concerns and are used in scalp remedies. For example, for oily hair and scalp, Patchouli is recommended, and for dry hair and scalp, Lavender.

Scratching the scalp aggressively with nails, brushes, or combs. This can lead to abrasions on the scalp. 

Professional Scalp Treatments

Getting a professional scalp treatment by a professional is recommended to guarantee the appropriate treatment and product is chosen. What is a scalp treatment? A scalp treatment will all depend on your scalp’s needs. A scalp treatment is a service designated to help with dry, oily, dandruff, or clogged follicles to help exfoliate and hydrate the scalp revealing healthy skin underneath. Scalp treatments can be an unappreciated service provided by salons. Traditionally scalp treatments will include exfoliation to remove excess skin cells, followed by a product specific to your needs applied to the scalp and massaged into the scalp. Scalp massage increases blood flow and promotes healthy hair growth.