The scalp is susceptible to many of the same problems as other areas of the skin, such as acne, dryness, oiliness or just general irritation. Luckily, many of the products and treatments are also similar. Learn about ways to care for an itchy, irritated scalp, as well as how to address more difficult concerns, like a stubborn case of dandruff.
In your quest for healthy hair, don’t forget about the scalp – especially in the winter months, when dry air can easily lead to itchiness and irritation. In this article, you’ll learn how to pinpoint ingredients in your hair products that can lead to acne, ways to deal with build-up of dead skin cells and oils and how often to wash your hair for a healthier scalp. Finally, find out how to choose the best treatment products for common conditions like dandruff.
Tip #1: Treat acne around the hairline
Lumps, bumps and pimples around the hairline – what could be more frustrating? If your skin is generally acne-prone, breakouts near the scalp are probably not surprising, but for some, hair products may be to blame. Cosmopolitan suggests swapping your heavy-duty styling products for formulas that have little or no oil in them, as “gels with mineral oils can clog pores.” Try Jonathan Create Motion Shaping Creme Gel, a natural formula that’s free of mineral oil.
You can treat hairline breakouts with some of the same products used to treat acne on the rest of the face. NYC dermatologist Dennis Gross tells Cosmopolitan that using a facial wash with salicylic acid can help. Try SkinCeuticals Clarifying Cleanser. You can use a spot treatment on individual blemishes, or for an all-over treatment, try a shampoo that contains salicylic acid, like Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo.
Tip #2: Improve shower habits
If your scalp is dry and flaky, you might mistakenly think that washing less frequently will help to preserve that much-needed moisture. Unfortunately, according to Real Simple, this isn’t the best strategy since extending the time in between shampoos allows for more build-up of dead skin cells and oils. Instead, make some simple adjustments in how you lather up.
“Some people don’t rinse well enough after washing and conditioning,” explains owner and design director Carmine Minardi of the Minardi Salon in New York City to Real Simple. This can result in a build-up of dead skin cells. Try a shampoo designed to break up this build-up, such as Philip B Anti Flake Relief Shampoo, which contains zinc, coaltar and soothing extracts. Take the time to thoroughly rinse out the shampoo each time you shower, and try to avoid putting conditioner on the scalp, Real Simple suggests.
Tip #3: Don’t over-wash
If your scalp is flaky and oily rather than flaky and dry, you might be on the opposite end of the shampooing spectrum – perhaps you’re cleansing your hair too often. The ideal hair cleansing regimen will be frequent enough to remove oils and dead skin cells without stripping away too much of the scalp’s natural moisturizers.
So how often should you wash your hair? Washing more than once a day really isn’t necessary – when you strip away too much of the scalp’s natural oils, the scalp will over-produce sebum, thus increasing the build-up of oils. Most women can get away with washing every other day, sometimes less frequently if they have especially dry hair. If you shower in between shampoos, you might try getting your hair wet and just stimulating the roots with your fingers to release any minor oil build-up, then conditioning the ends.
Between washings, if your roots look a little grimy, use a dry shampoo to cut the grease and give your hair some volume. Try a spray product like Ojon Full Detox Rub Out Dry Cleansing Spray, which instantly refreshes hair – no water required.
Tip #4: To scrub or not to scrub?
You exfoliate your body and face, so wouldn’t a specialized scalp scrub be the next item on your beauty products list? According to O, The Oprah Magazine, not everyone will benefit from heavy-duty exfoliation on the scalp. "Scrubs can irritate the scalp's delicate skin – especially if you have dandruff – and the scrub's particles can break the hair," New York City hair specialist Philip Kingsley tells the magazine. Christopher Mackin, scalp expert with New York City's Gil Ferrer Salon, suggests trying products with eucalyptus and using just your fingers to gently exfoliate and clarify your scalp. This is especially important if your scalp is sensitive or you have a condition like dandruff or scalp acne. Try Rene Furterer Astera Soothing Shampoo.
If you have a pretty tough scalp and you’d like to try an occasional scrub, just be sure to be gentle. Choose a mild exfoliating product that won’t scratch or irritate the skin, and limit use to just a couple times a week. A sugar scrub is a good option.
Tip #5: Choose the right dandruff treatment
When you have dandruff, your first reaction is probably to run to the nearest drugstore and buy the strongest-looking dandruff shampoo you can find. Fast-forward two or three weeks, and your dandruff is just as bad as ever. What are you doing wrong?
Everybody responds differently to the active ingredients in dandruff treatment products, so you probably just need to switch to a different formula. Coaltar, salicylic acid and zinc are just a few ingredients that can help with dandruff. And if your flaky scalp doesn’t respond to any dandruff treatment that you try, it might be a different scalp condition altogether. It’s a good idea to consult a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis and to find out what kind of treatment you should be using.
With any scalp condition, just remember that while an over-the-counter product is often the first (and easiest) solution, some conditions require a doctor’s visit. If your condition worsens or doesn’t respond after you’ve tried these tips, a doctor can help you get to the root of the cause and, if needed, write you a prescription for a stronger treatment.
Dry, Flaky Scalp (Dandruff)
When Acne-Like Spots Strike the Scalp
Scalp Folliculitis: The Basics