Did you know healthy hair begins with a healthy scalp? It’s true. Implementing a scalp care routine is about more than just rinsing out the day’s gunk and re-styling your ’do. “Scalp care is important because it’s where the hair follicles are and where hair grows from,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. “The healthier the scalp, the healthier the hair will be. Having your hair trimmed every three months is great for the hair but the foundation of our hair stems from the scalp,” she adds.
What does a healthy scalp look like?
When it comes to scalp care, the first thing to consider is the state of your scalp. According to Dr. Jaliman, “a healthy scalp is normally flake-free.” That said, flakes don’t necessarily mean dandruff. “It could be an indication that the scalp is very dry or irritated,” Dr. Jaliman explains. In addition, Dr. Jaliman recommends taking a closer look at your scalp’s sebum—aka, oil—production, too. A scalp that “does not look oily” is what you’re looking for.
What does an unhealthy scalp look like?
In addition to knowing what a healthy scalp looks like, knowing what an unhealthy scalp looks like can also help you get a better grasp on your scalp care. “A scalp that is itchy or burning is normally an indication that it’s not at its healthiest,” says Dr. Jaliman. “An itchy scalp is a symptom of a chemical irritation and can even be a sign of an allergic reaction,” she adds. In addition to itching and burning sensations, Dr. Jaliman says to be mindful of excess oil—just like you would with your regular skin care regimen. “An excessively oily scalp usually means the scalp is trying to compensate for oil which was stripped after using products which remove the natural oils of the scalp,” she explains.
How to treat an unhealthy scalp
If your scalp leans toward the unhealthy side of the spectrum, don’t panic. A healthy scalp and hair is on the horizon. According to Dr. Jaliman, treating an unhealthy scalp begins with shampoo care. “Use shampoos that are chemical-free—free of sulfates (sodium laureth and sodium lauryl) and synthetic fragrances,” she suggests. In addition, “if you have a dry flaky scalp, you can use an anti-dandruff shampoo,” says Dr. Jaliman. When shopping for an anti-dandruff shampoo, Dr. Jaliman recommends reaching for formulas that “contain tar, zinc, pyrithione or selenium sulfide.”
While a new shampoo might help, scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist should also be considered. “You should see a dermatologist if your scalp continues to be dry, itchy and flaky after trying your own methods of treatment and see no improvement,” says Dr. Jaliman. “Your physician can prescribe you a topical steroid,” she adds.
What to avoid for a healthy-looking scalp
Knowing how to get a healthy scalp is one thing, but knowing what to avoid for a healthy scalp is another. For a healthy-looking scalp, Dr. Jaliman says to “avoid sulfates in hair products as they can dry the skin.” In addition, Dr. Jaliman warns against dying your hair frequently, “especially if the dye has bleach,” as dye and bleach “can irritate your scalp.”
Similar to that of skin care, synthetic fragrances in products and treatments can also impact scalp health. “Avoid synthetic fragrances, as they can irritate and cause an itchy scalp,” Dr. Jaliman suggests.
Dermatologist tips for a healthy scalp
Being mindful of what’s inside your hair care bottles is important, but the way you care for your scalp can also make a huge difference. “Someone who washes their hair every day should try and wash a little less often,” says Dr. Jaliman. “Washing every other day or less frequent would be more beneficial to the health of the scalp,” she adds. As far as technique is concerned, Dr. Jaliman says to avoid “using your nails to wash the scalp.” Scrubbing with your nails “irritates the scalp,” so “use the tips of your fingers instead,” she notes.
Curious to know more about scalp care? Check out our favorite scalp care treatments, below.