Scalp Care: How to Treat Dry Itchy Scalp, Dandruff & Hair Loss
Featured Image by Angela Zhong

Hair loss, dandruff, and dry, itchy scalp, ain’t it! You’ve probably tried every anti-hair loss, dandruff shampoo, or treatment, only to ask: “is this even working for my poor scalp?” or “I’m still losing so much hair, and I have dry, flaky scalp.” But fear not, friends! We’ll get to the root of the problem (pun intended) and ask Celebrity Hair Stylist and Trichologist Helen Reavey from Act + Acre about scalp health and scalp care.

Beauty Within’s Felicia Lee and Helen Reavey of Act + Acre

All About Scalp Health

Q: What’s a Trichologist, and what do they do?

A Trichologist bridges the gap between a hairstylist and your dermatologist. We focus holistically on scalp health, conditions, hair loss, and restoration.

Q: Why is scalp health so important?

Everything begins at the roots. It’s like with makeup; if you want it to look good on your face, you need to start with healthy skin first. The same concept applies to hair growth. The hair follicle needs the nutrients to grow, and we get these nutrients fed to the hair follicles by giving it good circulation (usually a gentle massage), by keeping the scalp clean, and by feeding our bodies the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed to nourish from the inside and out. The goal is to get your scalp to homeostasis so that the hair has the best environment to grow.

Q: What are the signs of a healthy scalp?

Assuming that you’ve got a scalp camera on hand, you’ll notice a nice silvery kind of gloss to the hair and around the hair follicle. As for the scalp, you won’t see any residue, flakes, sebum, or buildup – it’ll look pristine. 

Example of how a healthy scalp appears in a scalp camera

But if you don’t have a camera, you’ll first notice a natural glossy shine in your hair. The strands will also sit better, and you’ll get less breakage. As for the scalp, you’ll find that it performs better, and you don’t have to wash it as frequently. Really, you’ll have more good hair days when you have a good scalp.

Q: What are the signs of an unhealthy or imbalanced scalp?

Signs of an unhealthy scalp include seeing redness, and a little bit of yellow, which is the sebum mixed with dead skin. So if you have a scalp camera, you’ll notice a buildup around the hair follicles.

Example of how an unhealthy scalp appears in a scalp camera

You’ll also find that your hair appears dull looking and gets oilier faster; it’s not performing how you want it to. You’ll also find that you have more bad hair days.

Q: Say that my scalp gets really oily easily but it’s dry and itchy. What does that mean?

Those are usually signs that something is really stripping your scalp. It’s very important to understand what product you’re using and what’s in your products. So if any sulfates are present in your shampoo or hair product, it will strip that scalp. 

If there are other kinds of ingredients in it, like astringents, these will remove that natural oil. It’s like when you apply it on certain parts of your body or your lips. Sometimes the ingredients will worsen it because your body goes into overdrive to protect it, and then it starts producing more oil. That’s what could be happening.

Q: Is there a difference between when people say dry itchy scalp versus dandruff? Or are they synonymous?

They can be synonymous, but they can also be different. There are many reasons why you’ll find certain areas of your scalp healthy, but you have an area that shows some concerns – like seborrheic dermatitis, for example. And I say that because this can be a reaction to heavy fragrances, or it can also be a reaction from not rinsing the hair product out properly.

It can also be due to your shower head. Because our shower head beats down on this one area (like the crown), it can cause inflammation and pressure to this area. The same idea can apply when washing our hair. When we shampoo our hair, we focus on the top crown of our head, and the back part gets missed. So that’s why we can see a lot of this irritation around that area.

scalp health

Luckily you can spot-treat and exfoliate this area and then gently cleanse the rest of your hair – sort of like how you’d treat your skin! I like to apply the same rules to your scalp as you do to your skin because it’s truly an extension of your face.

Q: Can you tell me more about Dandruff?

Dandruff is bacteria growing on your scalp. Usually, if you have this condition, you’ll find it can get worse, especially when your scalp produces more sebum because it feeds off the lipids in the oil. So when we sweat, work out, or create natural sebum, dandruff will start getting worse. Couple this with poor scalp circulation, and you’ll see a build-up on your scalp due to it shedding skin much faster.

Tips for Scalp Care

Q: What’s the best thing people can do to take care of their hair and their scalp?

The number one thing you can do to take care of your scalp is to ensure you’re cleansing correctly. So when you wash your hair, [you’re] ensuring that you’re using the product correctly, rinsing out properly, keeping the scalp clean, especially if you have various scalp conditions or hair loss, so that the hair has a proper environment, blood flow to the hair follicles, and a healthy place to grow.

Q: What are some things that you see more people doing wrong for hair care that’s actually causing concern?

Using products like anti-dandruff shampoos whenever they don’t have dandruff. Similar to how we know our skin type, it’s all about figuring out what your scalp type is and finding products tailored to your scalp that make all the difference. As for dandruff, I often find that many people aren’t washing their hair often enough.

Q: What can we do when our scalp is itchy?

The best way would be not to itch, but I understand it’s difficult to do that. We could even see on the scalp camera how irritating itching is to the scalp because it creates redness and inflammation. I would advise you not to use the fingernails [when you have the urge to scratch]. If you need to, press on the scalp with your palms to get rid of the itch!

Q: Why shouldn’t you use your fingernails when you scratch your scalp?

That’s because you’re carrying bacteria underneath your fingernails as well. It’s also with a hair brush, a pillowcase, or any object that touches your scalp regularly. Especially if you’re brushing dandruff, you need to clean the brush every day because not doing so could make it worse. It’s easier to be more mindful and follow a routine when you have something you can visibly see, like your skincare routine. But with your scalp, it’s more difficult since we can’t directly see the condition of our scalp.

Q: How often should we cleanse our hair?

How often you should be cleansing your hair depends on how your scalp is. If you’ve got a healthy scalp, you can absolutely go two or three days without washing. But I’d also say you’ll need to use a scalp treatment as maintenance during the washing days. Similarly, if you left your skin for three days without cleansing it, you’d want to do a full beauty routine, wouldn’t you?

But it’s different when you have dandruff and other scalp issues. That’s because the yeast and bacteria present in these scalp conditions like to feed on the lipids produced by your scalp. So the longer you leave your hair without washing, the more bacteria can grow. So actually, you should be cleansing your hair twice a day if your dandruff is really bad until it goes away, But make sure you’re using a very gentle cleanser so that you’re not stripping your hair or treatments with salicylic acid for its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. 

Product Mentions for Scalp Health

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