By Audrey Siva­sothy, author of The Sci­ence of Black Hair: A Com­pre­hen­sive Guide to Tex­tured Hair Care

Your healthy scalp is the birth­place of your healthy hair care jour­ney. It is help­ful to think of your scalp as the “fer­tile ground” from which your hair will sprout and grow. If prop­er­ly tend­ed to, your hair will thrive. Main­tain­ing a healthy scalp is very impor­tant for opti­mal hair growth.

The Functions of a Healthy Scalp

The skin cells on the sur­face of the scalp nat­u­ral­ly shed as new healthy scalp cells are formed. The scalp cells are shed as min­ute par­ti­cles that are invis­i­ble to the naked eye. This process is so high­ly syn­chro­nized that it often goes unde­tect­ed until the process is thrown out of sync. When the scalp skin cell replace­ment process is dis­rupt­ed, dan­druff and oth­er scalp issues arise.

The basic life of a cell, whether it be the hair cells repli­cat­ing with­in the fol­li­cle itself, or the cells present on your scalp, involves sev­er­al basic func­tions. All cells need a sup­ply of water, nutri­ents from the blood stream, a favor­able envi­ron­men­tal tem­per­a­ture, and the abil­i­ty to “respire” and elim­i­nate waste. Fre­quent hydra­tion through the process of sham­poo­ing and con­di­tion­ing will help keep this process in good work­ing order.

What is a healthy scalp?

Healthy scalps are those where the skin is toned, pli­able, and stim­u­lat­ed. A toned and flex­i­ble scalp indi­cates a healthy net­work of con­nec­tive tis­sue and nour­ish­ing blood ves­sels, and a pli­able scalp skin allows for bet­ter cir­cu­la­tion to the hair fol­li­cles. A healthy scalp is also a clean, stim­u­lat­ed scalp. Here are the top 4 ways to main­tain a healthy scalp:

1. Clutter Free is the Way to Be!

The scalp is an exten­sion of the face. Just as pores can become clogged on the face, the fol­li­cles of the hair can expe­ri­ence the same type of obstruc­tion if prod­ucts are placed direct­ly on it. This is espe­cial­ly true of heavy oils and greas­es. How­ev­er, many wom­en of col­or in par­tic­u­lar are known for reli­gious­ly slather­ing heavy oils upon the scalp. When prod­ucts are allowed to build up on the scalp and hair, mois­ture con­di­tions become unfa­vor­able and prob­lems with dry­ness and growth will arise.

The scalp pro­duces its own per­fect oil, sebum, and does not need help from us via top­i­cal prod­ucts. Some notice that their scalp is chron­i­cal­ly dry and flakes, but this con­di­tion is only aggra­vat­ed by the addi­tion of prod­ucts onto the scalp skin. It cre­ates a vicious cycle of dry­ness. The scalp will pro­duce less sebum to com­pen­sate for the prod­ucts you are putting on it. And with­out this con­stant even pro­duc­tion of sebum, the func­tion of the scalp is thrown off bal­ance. Dan­druff and dry­ness return from the lack of sebum pro­duc­tion, and then we tend to want to put more oils on the scalp think­ing this will help. Then again, the scalp cuts back on sebum and dry­ness returns. The scalp, like any oth­er skin needs to be able to respire (per­spire) etc. With heavy con­coc­tions on the scalp clog­ging the pores, an unhealthy envi­ron­ment for growth is cre­at­ed and the func­tion of the scalp is hin­dered form oper­at­ing at its opti­mal lev­els. The prop­er way to hydrate the scalp is sim­ply through fre­quent wash­ing and con­di­tion­ing. This keeps the scalp skin clear of any obstruct­ing clut­ter and keeps it mois­tur­ized and sup­ple.

For mois­tur­iz­ing and styling, apply your prod­ucts from the new­growth all the way to the ends avoid­ing the scalp as much as pos­si­ble. Some pro­duct will inad­ver­tent­ly touch the scalp dur­ing the nor­mal course of mois­tur­iz­ing, but avoid active­ly going through and coat­ing the scalp with heavy oils.

2. Keep Your Hair Products Gentle!

Avoid strip­ping sham­poos with harsh, pri­ma­ry deter­gents like ammo­ni­um and sodi­um lau­ryl sul­fate. Use clar­i­fy­ing sham­poos spar­ing­ly only once or twice per mon­th, and mois­tur­iz­ing sham­poos for week­ly cleans­ing. If you are a swim­mer, make sure that all traces of chlo­rine are removed from the hair with a chelat­ing sham­poo like Paul Mitchell’s Sham­poo Three imme­di­ate­ly, and then fol­low your wash­ing ses­sion with a mois­tur­iz­ing deep con­di­tion­ing. Those who work­out and sweat heav­i­ly should rin­se the scalp with cool water to remove dry­ing salt deposits on the scalp after those activ­i­ties.

In addi­tion to lim­it­ing the use of strip­ping sham­poos, make sure that con­di­tion­ing prod­ucts are thor­ough­ly rinsed from the hair. Lin­ger­ing bits of con­di­tion­er upon the scalp can mas­quer­ade around as dan­druff and appear flaky. Prop­er and thor­ough rins­ing of the scalp is crit­i­cal.

3. Avoid Sources of Extreme Heat

The heat­ed air from blowdry­ers and hood­ed dry­ers are major mois­ture depleters for the scalp. Be sure to direct blowdry­er heat down the hair shaft and not direct­ly toward the scalp. This also pre­vents rough­ing of the cuti­cles from improp­er air direc­tion flow. Avoid expos­ing the scalp to tem­per­a­ture extremes.

4. Balance Your Diet!

Main­tain­ing a healthy diet is imper­a­tive for prop­er scalp care and hair nour­ish­ment as new hairs leave the fol­li­cle. Your hair and nails are the last parts of your body to receive nutri­tion. Once the oth­er vital organs of your body (brain, heart, kid­neys) have received their nutri­tion, then and only then does the body sup­ply the hair. The fol­li­cle sup­plies your hair with all of the nutri­ents avail­able from the left over stor­age in your blood stream at the time. Once your hair leaves the fol­li­cle, it is no longer liv­ing, and no longer con­tin­ues to receive any ben­e­fit from a late change to a healthy diet. With­out the con­tin­ued nour­ish­ment from the fol­li­cle and scalp, the hair is on its own at this point.

Vit­a­mins and min­er­als are essen­tial for hair growth and your over­all health in gen­er­al. Nutri­tion­al imbal­ances may result in inad­e­quate nour­ish­ment to our scalps which may hin­der hair growth and scalp health. Crash and fad diet­ing are major scalp health destroy­ers. This type of diet­ing often leads to nutri­tion­al deficits and trig­gers hair and scalp prob­lems. Vit­a­m­in and min­er­al deficits have a strong impact on the over­all strength and integri­ty of the hair.

Adopt­ing a prop­er diet will not only ben­e­fit your hair, but also ben­e­fit your over­all well­ness. A diet high fresh fruits and veg­eta­bles is best. Foods rich in B vit­a­mins: nuts, peas, beans, whole grains are also musts. Lean on a diet that con­sists of unsat­u­rat­ed fats. Research has shown that peo­ple who fol­low low pro­tein diets have improved scalp func­tion.

For the best scalp care, avoid smok­ing. Smok­ing con­stricts the arter­ies and the small blood cap­il­lar­ies, while slow­ing down blood cir­cu­la­tion. Reg­u­lar exer­cise will help improve the con­di­tion of your hair. Phys­i­cal activ­i­ty reduces stress and increas­es the blood flow to the extrem­i­ties, includ­ing the head and scalp.

Keep­ing your scalp free of obstruct­ing clut­ter, keep­ing your prod­ucts gen­tle, avoid­ing sources of direct heat, and bal­anc­ing your diet will all help ensure that your scalp remains a healthy envi­ron­ment for your hair!

Ladies, do the­se 4 fac­tors con­tribute to your scalp health? How do you main­tain a healthy scalp?

Audrey Siva­sothy is a Hous­ton-based free­lance writer, health sci­en­tist and author of The Sci­ence of Black Hair: A Com­pre­hen­sive Guide to Tex­tured Hair Care (avail­able on & Barnes&

For more insight from The Sci­ence of Black Hair— relaxed, nat­u­ral or in between, vis­it us on the web and on face­book & twit­ter.

Halal, John. (2002). Hair Struc­ture and Chem­istry Sim­pli­fied. Del­mar Pub­lish­ers.
Bul­lock, Jane (2000). How Mas­sage Affects Your Hair and Scalp. Retrieved from

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Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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43 Comments on "4 Keys to a Healthy Scalp"

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Nice read! I know now how to take care of my scalp even more.. Healthy scalp = Healthy hair! Thanks for the help!

This is what I did:1. Don’t use any heat on your hair for the whole sum­mer- I guess this one doesn’t rlleay apply any­more since sum­mers over, but you can still just do this dur­ing a ran­dom 3 months. No straight­en­ers, blow­dri­ers, curling irons, etc. My hair had basi­cal­ly stopped grow­ing for a lit­tle bit but once I did this, it start­ed to grow. And it was healthy. I don’t have any split ends or hair dam­age. 2. Eat right, drink lots of water, and exer­cise3. Mas­sage your scalp- I’ve heard this helps your hair but I per­son­al­ly don’t know.… Read more »
I used to wash my hair every two weeks and I hat­ed it. After a week I had a flaky, itchy scalp and oils didn’t help me at all (coconut and jojoba). Just think­ing about how uncom­fort­able my scalp felt both­ers me. Co-wash­ing helped my hair but not my scalp issues. Now I sham­poo week­ly, some­times twice a week. I use a small amount and some­times dilute my sham­poo (sul­fate or sul­fate-free) with water and use that solu­tion to wash. Pri­or to wash­ing I mas­sage my scalp and hair with oil and con­di­tion­er. After sham­poo­ing, I con­di­tion my roots to… Read more »
I enjoyed the arti­cle, guess what I’ve learned here it to take what will work for me and imple­ment it in my reg­i­ment. I’m thank­ful that my scalp does not require oils, when I wore my hair relaxed, I nev­er added oils to my scalp, just to my hair. When I start­ed wear­ing my hair in it’s nat­u­ral state and read­ing all of the blogs, I imple­ment­ed the oil­ing of my scalp, my hair, clothes, pil­low­cas­es were an oily mess. Frankly I haven’t seen the ben­e­fit. One day I decid­ed to just add oils to my hair but­ters and lit­tle… Read more »

I can­not agree with this arti­cle. “Wash­ing hair fre­quent­ly,” for me results in dry hair. My scalp is more healthy when I wash once every two weeks and co-wash once a week.
I also have a high pro­tein diet and my scalp is just fine. I also use jojoba oil and cas­tor oil on my scalp once a week. I think peo­ple need to find what’s best for their hair/scalp you can’t gen­er­al­ize hair health. Our bod­ies oper­ate dif­fer­ent­ly, what works for me may not work for the oth­er.


I decid­ed to by Liq­uid gold prod­ucts and give that a try.


So if we use fol­low all the­se tips or more specif­i­cal­ly do co-wash­es every week and use light oils on our scalps, how can we help it not feel itchy in the mean­time of chang­ing our reg­i­men?

I’m try­ing a new tech­nique this week.its in line with this arti­cle. I was see­ing 2 much build up dur­ing week­ly wash­es. I use styling pro­duct dai­ly. With­out it I get ter­ri­bly frizzy curls. But I decid­ed to lim­it my styling pro­duct 2 my hair and not my scalp. Ion wash day when I apply styling prod­ucts 2 my hair,that’s the last time ill apply pro­duct direct­ly to my scalp. I kin­da felt I was smoother­ing my pores since I feel my scalp is much like my face so I got­ta try 2 keep it clean with­out wash­ing it every­day.… Read more »

I agree that heavy prod­ucts like petro­le­um or min­er­al oil aren’t good but my hair just loves my shea but­ter coconut oild com­bo. Its the only com­bon­a­tion of oils that keeps my scalp and hair soft and moister­ized. I defin­te­ly don’t agree that avoid­ing the scalp is a good idea.

Jo Somebody

I’m query­ing if skin real­ly needs to ‘respire’. We don’t breathe through our skin do we?? The amount of O2 that gets to cells on the skin is neg­li­gi­ble com­pared to what it gets from the blood­stream.


1. No but skin/scalp pores can get clogged.
2. When said this was it makes one appre­ci­ate drink­ing water more :)

Jo Somebody

1. Agreed!
2. No idea what that sen­tence means.


lol what i meant was we hear about the ben­e­fits of drink­ing more water to help with mois­tur­iz­ing hair from inside out. I have nev­er heard it phrased the way you did and i love it. It was just a quick com­pli­ment


My gosh..just realised that i was read­ing your post wrong. *Shame* I was see­ing O2 but my mind was say­ing H2O..hence my respons­es. Lol any­way both will work thank God. *smh time to sleep*

I realise this arti­cle was sent out before but I think it is the first time I am pay­ing it any mind because for me it is VERY TIMELY. Sev­er­al authors talk about the ben­e­fits of herbs (infused with oils as well) on the scalp with their anti-fun­gal, cir­cu­la­to­ry etc prop­er­ties. I have my own con­cuc­tion and start­ed using it but my scalp itched when I nev­er had that prob­lem, then I am now see­ing dry scalp flakes. I thought may­be the herbs are too strong (see­ing as how I basi­cal­ly made some­thing akin to an essen­tial oil which is… Read more »
I had the same prob­lem too. I was using a mix­ture of JBCO and pep­per­mint oil for my scalp mas­sage and i used it every day fol­low­ing this authors instruc­tion on a prop­er scalp mas­sage and well i was more scratch­ing than mas­sag­ing. I think it depends on the oil you use because since cas­tor oil is so thick that could be my prob­lem. I read a arti­cle on here which said that jojoba oil is the clos­est to our own nat­u­ral scalp oil sebum so may­be if you used that it would help. I per­son­al­ly havent done it yet… Read more »
Sherri Alexander

You can find jojoba oil at any trader joes. Hope­ful­ly you have one not too far from you.

I’m glad that some of the nutri­tion­ists made men­tion of the sug­ges­tion to have a low-pro­tein diet. As pro­tein is vital for the body, may­be talk­ing about the qual­i­ty of the pro­tein and por­tions would have been clear­er? Like already men­tioned above, I, too, was veg­e­tar­i­an in the past and I was sick all the time. I was eat­ing legumes, soy, etc. but my body wasn’t for the low­er amount of pro­tein at all. Over a peri­od of a year, my hair thinned con­sid­er­ably and was dull. My skin also suf­fered as well as my immune sys­tem. I work in… Read more »
Well in my expe­ri­ence I wash with a gen­tle mois­tur­iz­ing sham­poo once a week and I work out 5–6 days a week as well. I haven’t had a prob­lem with the sweat from my head mak­ing my hair smell. I just show­er with my hair free (not in a show­er cap but not try­ing to get it wet). If I feel that I’ve been real­ly sweaty dur­ing a work­out i’ll co-wash but i’ve only had to do that when I was was train­ing for marathons and only for my 10+ mile runs. When I swim I wash with a sul­fate… Read more »

I think some of yall are miss­ing the point abt greas­ing the scalp. It clear­ly says not 2 becuz your scalp gets depen­dant on it (the oil/grease) and decreas­es its on pro­duc­tion of sebum. Becuz of this that is why sum of y0u long time greasers/oilers get dry itchy scalps. Ur scalp does­nt know h0w 2 lubri­cate its self anym0re becuz u keep doing it

Shekita Robinson
So how do you get your scalp to nat­u­ral­ly form serum? I read that because of how our hair nat­u­ral­ly curls from the roots, the serum is unable to move down the shaft like wom­en whose hair grows straight from the roots. Hon­est­ly a lot of us are still try­ing to get out of that old men­tal­i­ty of greas­ing our scalp. Which no mat­ter how wrong it is NOW, it was how the old­er gen­er­a­tion dealt with dry scalp that it seems we will always deal with. And dis­ap­point­ing­ly enough no one per­son seems to have the answer, because even… Read more »

You made a very good point.


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What clear­ly researched and won­der­ful­ly artic­u­lat­ed ideas, I LOVE this arti­cle!

sev­er­al years ago a black der­ma­tol­o­gist told me not to oil my scalp, which i nev­er did. i was hav­ing a dan­druff prob­lem at the time. he told me he gets black wom­en who oil their hair so much that it pro­vokes it in a way. in par­tic­u­lar they are oil­ing it with petro­le­um-based prod­ucts which are not so great. the sham­poo he pre­scribed was exfoliating/anti-fungal, etc.  i’ve per­son­al­ly always been per­plexed as to why black wom­en oil their scalps so much. nobody else does this the way we do. it’s weird. i think that if you are cleansing/conditioning your scalp well,… Read more »

Indi­ans and oth­er asians oil their scalps with coconut oil or olive oil


Then they wash the oil out…


Not from what I’ve seen. I just watched about 10 hair oil­ing videos by Indi­ans with butt length and floor length hair and they oil their hair and put it up in buns. They don’t wash it out until wash day. They believe in the pow­er of oil­ing very seri­ous­ly.

based on my read of the article…i think that the non oil­ing of the scalp thing takes a sec­ond to work…because your scalp is still respond­ing to the con­di­tions that caused the dry­ness even though you’ve stopped for say a week or so… i’m think­ing in terms of how the rest of MY skin responds to things…the body can take a while to heal itself when it’s reg­is­ter­ing things as being out of bal­ance. i’ve had locs for 9 years… cur­rent­ly i used sun­flow­er oil on my scalp and body and it has been the best thing that i’ve used so far.… Read more »
Jo Somebody

I used to go MONTHS with­out oil­ing my scalp and it would still be dry, itchy and some­times dan­druffy. So it either takes very long to recov­er or the light oil­ing of the scalp was not the issue*.

*(I now know the issue was my sul­fate sham­poos. I can oil or not oil now and my scalp is fine, but a sul­fate sham­poo and my scalp protests)


The scalp should be oiled with oils that pen­e­trate into the scalp, such as Olive and Coconut Oils. Prod­ucts with petro­le­um and min­er­al oil dont belong on the scalp, they are not mois­tur­iz­ers, block pores, and cause build up.


I’ve been nat­u­ral for almost 9 years and count­ing, and wash­ing my hair one a week is not an opi­ton. My hair takes about a week to func­tioin prop­er­ly after a wash. If I had to wash my hair every week, I might as well relax it cause.…


nev­er thought of it that way… thanks


I agree. My hair is the same way.


‘Avoid coat­ing the scalp with oil?? I dont get it, my scalp itch­es like crazy when I dont oil it.
I guess its dif­fer­ent strokes for dif­fer­ent folks.


Me too! If i don’t grease my scalp with actu­al grease, my scalp feels sore and it hurts and itch­es and I go insane. I HAVE to grease my scalp. So, I sup­pose it’s like you said, dif­fer­ent strokes. Ah, well. Not every­thing is for every­one. And this will def­i­nite­ly not be some­thing that I can do. Besides, when I keep my scalp oiled, my hair grows much faster.


I have the same expe­ri­ence with my scalp! I’ve tried to go with­out any grease or oil but the itch­ing and sore­ness was unbear­able!


May­be it’s the sham­poo and con­di­tion­er that you are using. Maine
con­di­tion­ers mois­tur­ize for you, but every­one is dif­fer­ent.

I agree with every­thing except for keep­ing the scalp “clean.” I have been nat­u­ral for almost three years now, and I have always oiled my scalp (melt­ed Shea but­ter, olive oil, car­rot oil, grape seed oil or what­ev­er oil I have on hand) and it has served me well. Not too long ago there was an arti­cle that mir­rored this one stat­ing that oil can cause dandruff/dry scalp, so I decid­ed to test that notion and try it for myself for five days. It was a dis­as­ter. When I don’t oil is when I have a dry, itchy, flaky scalp.…when… Read more »

Is this right? “Research has shown that peo­ple who fol­low low pro­tein diets have improved scalp func­tion.”

Low pro­tein? Did you/the author mean low fats? I can­not see how a low pro­tein diet is more ben­e­fi­cial for hair when skin and hair (mat­ter of fact) all cells of the body) are made up pri­mar­i­ly of and by pro­teins. Is this a typo error???

I work as a nutri­tion­ist part time, and I think that fact is slight­ly miss inter­pret­ed. Peo­ple with low-pro­tein diets tend to eat health­ier in gen­er­al, but it is not specif­i­cal­ly due to low-pro­tein. The elim­i­na­tion of pro­tein in the diet is extreme­ly detri­men­tal to the body and if you go with­out pro­tein for too long, your body will use your mus­cles as its pro­tein source.  Speak­ing for myself, I went veg­e­tar­i­an for 3 months and my body suf­fered hor­ri­bly. Because I don’t real­ly like non-meat pro­tein sources (i.e. beans, nuts, soy), I almost nev­er ate meat besides the occa­sion­al… Read more »

@Mai it alarmed me because I am a nutri­tion major also and nev­er heard of rec­om­mend­ing low-pro­tein diets for health­ier scalp and I think its over­all a risky state­ment to sug­gest a low-pro­tein diet because you are right, too lit­tle pro­tein will have very bad effects on the body. I think author should have spec­i­fied to try and tem­per pro­tein con­sump­tion only if you tend to eat too much pro­tein body may con­vert to fat when tak­en in excess.