People spend a lot of time and money on keeping their hair healthy — and rightly so. But, when it comes to hair care and a healthy hair care routine, many take scalp care for granted.
The truth is healthy hair (and hair growth) starts with a healthy scalp. At the end of the day, scalp health is just an extension of skincare.
Unfortunately, scalp issues are very common. These issues can include oiliness, dryness, itchiness, irritation, and more. The reasons for these scalp conditions are many.
Thankfully, some tell-tale signs can clue you into the health of your scalp. Here, we look at four signs of an unhealthy scalp and offer tips to add to your hair health and scalp care routine.
Table of Contents:
- Why Does Scalp Health Matter?
- 4 Signs of an Unhealthy Scalp
- Some Other Causes of Poor Scalp Health
- How Can I Keep My Scalp Healthy?
- Make Sure to Use Gentle Hair Care Products
- Choosing the Right Shampoo
- Exfoliating the Scalp
Why Does Scalp Health Matter?
Many people simply take the health of their scalp for granted. But scalp health is extremely important when it comes to having healthy hair. Think about it this way; you can’t grow healthy crops without good soil.
The health of your scalp acts as the soil for your hair follicles to grow. We want that soil to be fertile ground, don’t we?
The fertile ground of your scalp takes care of thousands of hair follicles. Most healthy men and women have roughly 80,000 to 120,000 hairs on their scalps.
Around 100 of these hairs are shed by the scalp daily. The condition of your scalp, for better or worse, can impact hair loss. This goes for all hair types.
According to dermatologists, a healthy scalp is free of the following:
The condition of the scalp will affect the health of your hair, and that starts at the hair root. This is where hair is formed. The hair root rests within the hair follicle on the scalp. As your hair shaft grows, it sprouts the hair roots, goes through the follicle on the scalp, and out of the skin.
The building block of hair is a hardening protein called keratin. It is also essential for nail growth and health. The hair we see (hair shaft) is really just layers of keratin.
There are three layers of keratin. These include the medulla, cortex, and cuticle.
- Medulla: The innermost layer of keratin is known as the medulla. However, this layer is typically only present among people with thicker hair types. The medulla houses transparent cells and a soft core of air spaces.
- Cortex: The cortex is the middle layer of keratin. It is this layer that houses the pigment cells that are responsible for your hair color.
- Cuticle: The cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair shaft. This outer layer of keratin is a protective layer. It helps keep the other inner layers strong and healthy. A healthy cuticle will be flat, smooth, and shiny.
Our hair follicles on our scalp are also attached to sebaceous glands. These natural oils, or sebum, help hydrate our scalp and hair. While these natural oils keep our scalp and hair moisturized and give it its shine, excess oil can contribute to an oily scalp and greasy, oily-looking hair. Conversely, too little oil can lead to a dry scalp and dry, brittle hair.
4 Signs of an Unhealthy Scalp
So, for better or worse, your hair's health starts with your scalp's health. Now, let’s look at some of the most common signs of an unhealthy scalp.
1. Your Scalp Is Dry and Flaky
One of the first tell-tale signs of an unhealthy scalp is dryness. This condition can occur for many reasons. But, the real issue comes down to a lack of moisture.
A dry scalp can lead to itchiness and flakiness. As the skin on the scalp becomes irritated, dead skin cells can flake off. A flaky scalp is also caused by a condition known as dandruff.
Whereas dryness is the culprit with a flaky scalp, dandruff is caused by excess oil. As oil builds up on the scalp, skin cells build up and flake off, giving the appearance of dry flakes. One of the reasons for this is a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis.
Sometimes, people turn to dandruff shampoos containing ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, salicylic acid, or zinc pyrithione to help soothe symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis. However, choosing a sulfate-free shampoo like Wow’s Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo can also help your scalp and hair retain moisture.
But, a dry scalp can also result from contact dermatitis caused by irritating hair care products. Contact dermatitis also causes itchiness and redness to the scalp. Weather can also play a role. Cold, dry weather can zap the moisture from your scalp and leave it looking and feeling dry.
Other potential causes for a dry scalp include psoriasis, which is a chronic skin condition that causes skin cells to grow too quickly, causing patches of skin cells to build up. Reach out to your healthcare provider if you are concerned about your scalp health.
2. Excessive Itchiness on the Scalp
Related to scalp dryness is an itchy scalp. As we’ve seen above, an itchy scalp could point to numerous conditions, including scalp dryness, dandruff, contact dermatitis, psoriasis, and more.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AADA), an itchy scalp can also result from the following:
- Reactions to hairstyle and hair care products can be a reason for itchiness. For example, leaving excess shampoo in your hair might cause irritation. Also, reactions to harsh coloring ingredients (like a dye called para-phenylenediamine) can cause excess itchiness on the scalp.
- Head lice are another potential culprit. In cases where you suspect lice, it is best to have someone examine your scalp closely to look for signs of these tiny, irritating bugs.
- Scalp ringworm can also cause severe itchiness. Rather than an actual worm, scalp ringworm (tinea capitis) is caused by a fungus on the scalp. It usually requires prescription medications to treat.
- Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, can also cause intense itchiness on the scalp. This is also accompanied by intense redness on the scalp.
3. Redness on the Scalp
Related to both conditions above, another tell-tale sign of an issue with the scalp is excess redness. In many cases, redness might not warrant any warning bells and only result from overstimulation. But, there are cases in which redness can point to an unhealthy scalp.
The conditions mentioned above can all cause scalp redness (or irritation). Allergic reactions to harsh hair care products can easily cause redness to the scalp.
However, trauma to the scalp can also occur. For example, using excess heat on the scalp can contribute to redness. This includes sunburns.
Styling that puts too much strain and tension on hair follicles can cause redness on the scalp. Significant redness and inflammation can be serious if left untreated. In fact, over time, excess inflammation on the scalp can contribute to thinning hair and even hair loss.
4. Too Much Hair Shedding
As mentioned above, the average person naturally sheds around 50 to 100 hairs daily, give or take. So, shedding hair is a natural part of the hair cycle. But, excess hair shedding (sometimes called telogen effluvium) may be a sign of an unhealthy scalp.
According to dermatology experts, excessive hair shedding is common among those who’ve experienced the following stressors:
- Given birth recently
- Lost more than 20 pounds
- Undergone a recent operation
- Experience high stress
- High fever or recovering from an illness
In these cases, the body will typically adjust and return to normal fullness once the stressor passes. However, hair loss that continues could also be a result of hereditary hair loss (alopecia), issues with the immune system, harsh hair products, scalp infections, and more.
Some Other Causes of Poor Scalp Health
In addition to the items mentioned above, scalp health can also be affected by things like excess buildup of oils and dirt. These can clog pores and create a less-than-ideal condition for hair to flourish.
Numerous chemicals can damage the health of the scalp too. For example, ingredients like sulfates, silicones, and parabens can be detrimental to your scalp health.
How Can I Keep My Scalp Healthy?
There are several ways to support your scalp health every day. Let’s discuss a few.
Make Sure to Use Gentle Hair Care Products
Restoring health to your scalp can start with your hair care routine. Choosing the right products for your hair type is a great place to start. Firstly, try to avoid products such as sulfates, silicones, or parabens. Also, avoiding harsh chemicals on the scalp, such as dyes and bleach, can be helpful. These can cause damage to the scalp and hair.
Choosing the Right Shampoo
Making sure to choose the right shampoo is also key. You want to avoid shampoos that strip natural oils from the scalp. While excess oil on the scalp can lead to dirt and grime buildup, a slightly oily scalp is typically a healthy scalp.
Hair oils can provide natural nourishment and restore moisture and shine for those dealing with excessive dryness. Natural oils like tea tree oil can also provide soothing relief for those struggling with dandruff.
Those with irritated scalps may enjoy the combination of Wow’s Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo And Coconut and Avocado Oil Conditioner. This bioactive formula is designed to help restore and revive your hair and scalp by balancing pH levels and nursing the scalp with ingredients like vitamin b5, almond oil, and more.
Exfoliating the Scalp
Aside from choosing the right hair care products and supplements, scalp exfoliation can provide some surprising benefits. Scalp massagers, or scalp brushes, can be used to exfoliate, massage, and stimulate the scalp. Using a scalp brush can:
- Help with dryness by loosening and removing the natural buildup of dead skin cell flakes.
- Help remove product buildup from styling products and excess dirt and oil buildup.
- Help stimulate the scalp and hair follicles while helping nutrients to penetrate the scalp.
- Help improve and promote healthy blood circulation on the scalp.
- Aid scrubs and scalp treatments, allowing them to be more effective.
We recommend gently massaging the scalp around three to four times a week for the best results. But be gentle. Do not press hard, and always avoid using it on broken skin.
Regarding healthy hair, scalp care cannot be overlooked. Healthy hair starts at the root, and the root lies on your scalp.
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