Most of us take very good care of the skin we can see. Some of my patients pamper their faces with serums and moisturizers, while others wouldn’t go a day without their favorite body lotion. Despite all of these skincare measures, far too many people neglect the skin on their scalps. The scalp is responsible for growing healthy, shiny hair. If not properly cared for, the scalp may become dry and itchy. Not only are these symptoms irritating, but they may also be accompanied by dull, damaged hair.
What’s Going On Up There?
If you want to have healthy, vibrant hair, you must have a healthy scalp. Just like the skin on your body, the scalp sheds dead skin cells approximately every 28 days, clearing the way for new skin cells to emerge. This is the skin’s natural exfoliating process. If this process is interrupted, dead skin cells can build up and form flakes, which clog the hair follicles. If the follicles are clogged, the body cannot secrete natural oils called sebum which keep the scalp and hair healthy and balanced.
When the scalp cannot perform its natural exfoliation process due to build up, you will experience that tight, itchy feeling known as dry scalp. What causes dead skin cells to accumulate? Often, environmental factors are to blame. In the winter, low humidity and dry indoor air can dissolve the natural oils from your scalp. If you are also using shampoos with harsh detergents or bar soap, the combination of factors may lead to dry scalp. Your shampoo should be pH balanced to protect the scalp’s natural oils. If you tend to have dry skin, a moisturizing shampoo may help keep your scalp healthy.
Another common problem is not cleansing thoroughly enough. If you use a lot of heavy styling products and don’t use an effective shampoo, the products can accumulate and clog hair follicles. Massage the scalp gently every time you cleanse and use a good quality clarifying shampoo once a week to remove excess build up.
Other Scalp Woes
If you’re sure your cleansing routine is not the cause of your dry scalp, you may need to consider other dermatologic conditions. Seborrheic dermatitis is a one such possibility. The cause of seborrheic dermatitis is not completely understood, but it is probably connected to abnormalities in the oil glands.
Often, individuals with seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp produce too much sebum, resulting in clogged follicles. Itching will be caused by yellow or white, patchy scaling; red, greasy skin; or brownish red bumps on the scalp. Hydrocortisone cream can ease itching and over-the-counter medicated shampoos containing ketoconazole, tar, pyrithione zinc, selenium sulfide or salicylic acid should clear up the condition.
Similar to seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis is another likely cause of dry, itchy scalp. Those suffering from psoriasis may notice dry, cracked skin and red patches covered with silvery flakes. Psoriasis should be treated with the same medicated shampoos mentioned above, as well as topical solutions, creams or ointments, such as tar products, corticosteroids or vitamin D.
One indicator of psoriasis is that many people experience symptoms on more than one area of the body. If either psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis does not improve in four weeks of treatment, see your dermatologist. He or she will need to check for fungal infections such as ringworm or dandruff, which is caused by a type of yeast.
It’s true that dry scalp is a more complex condition that many people realize. If you suffer from itching, flaking or other symptoms, take action right away. Examine your cleansing routine and use products made for your hair type. If you suspect psoriasis or other conditions, do not hesitate to consult a dermatologist. Your doctor can diagnose the problem and devise a plan to relieve your symptoms fast. You may not be able to see the skin on your scalp, but taking good care of it will result in strong, healthy hair.