The Rules for Total Scalp Health

It’s almost funny when you think about it. We pour a lot of self-worth into our skin, but completely neglect our scalp, even though the health and growth of our hair – many people’s pride and joy – relies on it being well cared for.

I’d say that most people just choose any cheap shampoo or maybe one their hairdresser “recommended” (*cough* shilled) and call it a day. They’ll use it every day or every other day in a hurry on their way to work and not think much more about it.

But – now bear with me here – think of a bald man.

That’s right. A shiny-headed bald man.

What’s that on top of his head, hidden by hair on most of us? It’s skin! Just like any other part of the body. Everybody has a huge amount of scalp skin that they take around every day, not looking after it properly.

Without due care, infections and diseases can set in and have a long lasting impact on your wellbeing and the quality of your hair growth.

Luckily, scalp care isn’t rocket science – just keep it clean, moisturised, and protected.

Scalp cleansing – shampoo and alternatives

You should clean your scalp regularly – but gently. Wash too often and you’ll irritate and dry it out, but wash too infrequently and you (ironically) risk irritation and infection. You need to remove built up skin and oils to allow for healthy airflow and unencumbered hair growth.

A good shampoo or cleanser will not contain skin irritants like sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate or xyz. Coco betaine and other surfactants are a great compromise if you like lather, but otherwise ‘low-poo’ or ‘no-poo’ options are even better – just be sure to get your technique right!

The key to cleansing is in the friction. You should be firmly massaging your scalp with the pads of your fingers for quite some time – at least a full minute – to loosen skin cells and old hairs. This will also have the benefit of stimulating circulation – and it feels soo good!

Now repeat after me: Shampoo is a wash for your scalp, not your hair. There’s no need to go lathering the ends of your hair which are dead, when the point is to clean the scalp skin!

Always rinse thoroughly and with the same scrubbing motion at the roots.

After your shower – drying methods

While not dried out, a dry scalp is a happy scalp. Never leave your wet hair tied up where it can trap moisture by the scalp. This can lead to fungal infections and rashes.

The healthiest and lowest-effort drying method is air drying. Start by gently patting your scalp with a towel (preferably microfibre as they’re the most absorbent) then squeeze the lengths of your hair dry. Try flipping your hair side to side as it dries to encourage airflow to the roots.

If you have thick or curly hair and struggle getting your roots dry, I recommend hitting your scalp with a warm stream from the hair dryer to help it along.

Incorporate moisturisation

While it sounds like it goes against the last point, we want our scalp to be dry but not dehydrated! Just like our faces, scalps need moisturiser sometimes too.

Often the natural oils are enough to keep the scalp hydrated if you’re allowing them to rebuild between washes. That’s why it’s so important to avoid overwashing!

If you have a particularly dry scalp, you can use oils to massage and rehydrate the skin. Fan-favourites include the super-light jojoba oil, or thick and moisturising castor oil.

A great time to use oil is as a pre-shampoo treatment when you’re sweaty and your hair needs washing or it feels built up with product, but it hasn’t been long since your last shower and your scalp is feeling a little rough and dry. Just apply and massage small amounts gently all over with the pads of your fingers 5 minutes before getting in the shower! The oil will help buffer the harshness of the shampoo and keep your scalp calm and happy.

Anti-dandruff care

Dandruff is regularly caused by or causes a fungal infection of the scalp. It needs to be treated with medicated shampoos. Some of the most highly recommended on the market include Head & Shoulders (Pyrithione Zinc), Selsun (Selenium Sulfide), Nizoral (Ketoconazole) and Coal Tar. Some people are predisposed to dandruff and may need to use these shampoos forever. However, it’s best to try incorporate anti-dandruff shampoo in a rotation (say, every other wash) where possible. This limits the exposure to the often drying formulas.

Scalp-focused sun protection

That’s right – not even your scalp is safe from the sun! The easiest (and trendiest) way to avoid the sun on your scalp is to wear a hat. Alternatively, apply sunscreen to your hairline and along your part whenever you’re anticipating spending time outdoors. There’s nothing more painful than a sunburnt scalp. If you don’t like the idea of cream, a spray sunscreen or another lightweight option won’t gunk up your hair as badly.

Most importantly keep these new washing and drying techniques in mind when it’s time to wash the sunscreen out!

If you had to choose between having an overly oily scalp or overly dry scalp, which would you choose and why?