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 Amazon.com & Barnes&Noble.com).
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Bullock, Jane (2000). How Massage Affects Your Hair and Scalp. Retrieved from www.hairboutique.com.