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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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… 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… 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……lol


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.