By Christina of The Mane Objective

Scalp challenges go far beyond dandruff and excess oil. There are some scalp conditions that require medical attention and regular treatments and if left uncared for, can result in hair loss and damage. Not to mention, they can be unsightly, embarrassing, and carry self-esteem crushing social stigmas. Three of the most common scalp conditions are psoriasis, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis. I suffer from psoriasis.

Psoriasis is a non-contagious, auto-immune condition characterized by skin redness and irritation .With psoriasis, the skin growth/regeneration process is accelerated, causing scaly plaques of skin to surface rapidly. Psoriasis can be aggravated by stress, fragrant lotions/sprays/body washes, alcohol consumption, dry skin, and injuries to the skin. There is no cure for psoriasis, only various medications and treatments to help those with it cope.

During my 10th grade year in high school, my dermatologist diagnosed me with psoriasis. I remember being frustrated, confused, sad, and ashamed, among other things. Being in high school was hard enough —  but now I’ve got to walk around with red flaky scales all over my body, and in my hair, like some kind of contagious freak. Even as an adult, dealing with flaky scalp (Black shirt? No thank you!) and skin scales has been difficult and at times, embarrassing. But as time ticked along, I began to accept my psoriasis and learned how to effectively cope with it on my skin. Wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants was inconvenient, but simple. The challenge? Trying to camouflage scalp scales, or even better — get them to go away.

Over the past twelve years that I’ve dealt with psoriasis, I have tried a number of remedies that didn’t work at all, worked but wrecked my hair, or worked well but required regular upkeep. Having psoriasis presents a particular set of challenges to sufferers:

  • Frequent flaking makes wearing scalp-showing styles embarrassing (no cornrows or braids).
  • Scales surface quickly (every 3-4 days), requiring frequent washing/lifting from scalp, which leads to high manipulation, and drying of hair.
  • Scales are itchy, and frequent scratching lends itself to damaging skin, making sufferers more prone to infections (and hair loss at site of infection).
  • Frequent scale removal increases hair loss (because strands of hair become caught in the flaking skin).
  • Straightened styles (i.e. flat iron or blowout) last no more than a week, because of flaking.
  • Psoriasis adapts to treatments quickly, which requires a rotation of products to maintain effectiveness.
  •  
    There are a lot of products out there that claim to provide relief from psoriasis. Let’s explore them — breaking down the good, the bad, and the overall effectiveness.

    Solution 1: Coal Tar & Salicylic Acid Shampoos

    Needless to say, Head & Shoulders isn’t going to do the trick. Coal tar and salicylic acid are two additives to shampoos like Neutrogena T-Gel and T-Sal that are believed to help psoriasis sufferers. Coal tar extract is dark brown in color, and is a byproduct of the coal carbonization process. Coal tar works topically, slowing the growth of skin cells and helping to reduce inflammation. Salicylic acid (yes, the same product in acne/blackhead face washes) also works topically, helping to remove the thick layers of dead skin from psoriatic plaques, which allows other medications and treatments to penetrate the skin more effectively. Both coal tar and salicylic acid are effective, but have long-term implications. Frequent use renders them less effective. In fact, it is recommended that psoriasis sufferers alternate between the two shampoos. Unfortunately, all coal tar and salicylic acid shampoos contain sulfates, which are drying to the hair and can lead to breakage. Also, frequent washing (which is necessary for sufferers) leads to increased (and sometimes premature) hair loss.

    Solution 2: Clobetasol Propionate Foam (Clobex, Rx Only)

    Clobetasol Propionate is a corticosteroid available in an array of forms (ointment, gel, etc.) but for the scalp, most doctors prescribe it in foam form. It is a very strong steroid, and is not recommended for use beyond two weeks. It is effective in reducing plaques and inflammation, but has a laundry list of potential side effects. Not only is the foam solution in alcohol (yes, the drying kind that we run away from), but it can cause allergic contact dermatitis, burning, cracking, dryness, folliculitis, hair loss, hyperpigmentation, itching, finger numbness, skin atrophy, and more. I would stay away from this, unless you are desperate for relief and are all out of options. My dermatologist prescribed this to me at the beginning of the year, and I have yet to touch the stuff.

    Solution 3: Tea Tree Oil

    Tea Tree Oil is an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal natural oil believed to help psoriasis sufferers. In truth, it is excellent for keeping the scalp clear and preventing infection (from frequent scratching/itching), but does nothing to relieve the psoriasis itself. Shampoos containing tea tree oil are often ineffective, have nominal amounts of tea tree oil (they mislead you by adding peppermint oil or menthol for scent/that tingly feeling), and can contain sulfates. Tea tree oil is most effective purchased in pure 100% concentration, and a few drops can go a long way. It is best used in a mixture with coconut oil, and applied directly to the scalp.

    Solution 4: Shea Moisture African Black Soap Shampoo

    This shampoo has been a godsend. It is all natural and sulfate free. The black soap and plantain enzymes definitely provide relief in terms of reducing itching and inflammation, much like coal tar. The willow bark extract has the same exfoliating effect as salicylic acid, and the tea tree oil provides that necessary anti-bacterial/anti-fungal layer of protection. It is an excellent all-natural alternative to the sulfated shampoos. It does not dry out or irritate the scalp, but does have a clarifying effect on the hair. It performs best in conjunction with the accompanying African Black Soap Purifying Masque. However, much like any psoriasis treatment, it requires regular use and rotation. It will not make psoriasis disappear, but will provide noticeable relief.

    Solution 5: Henna

    Oh lawsonia inermis, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… Back in January, I began a quest to strengthen and thicken my hair and discovered henna. My hair was thinner than normal, and weak/brittle from frequent manipulation due to psoriasis. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about relief from psoriasis – but rather a solution to make my hair more resilient. I sauntered down to Whole Foods and purchased my first of many boxes of Light Mountain Red Henna (I know it’s not the fancy online herbal mystic brand, but it IS 100% lawsonia inermis and that is good enough for me).  I did a four hour treatment of henna, water, and coconut oil, and was in for the surprise of my life. After washing out the henna with the Shea Moisture African Black Soap Shampoo, I discovered my scalp was completely clear. Like, I could part my hair clear. I figured it was an anomaly, and that the shampoo was just working really well that day. Weeks later, my scalp was still clear. After about a month, I experienced some slight itching towards the nape, and felt a few small flakes. So I henna’d again, and it went away. Twice is nice, but the 3rd time is the charm. After my March henna treatment, I realized that this plant was providing something I hadn’t had in YEARS – a clean scalp. There isn’t a lot of research on henna, nor a solid explanation for why (beyond it carrying anti-bacterial/anti-fungal properties, and that is irrelevant for psoriasis) – but for me, the proof is in the pudding. Henna smells awful (although creating a henna mix with a yummy smelling conditioner does help), and is incredibly messy, but I am committed to monthly treatments at the beginning of every month. I am on month 7 of henna treatments, and I will continue them until it becomes ineffective.

    Hopefully, this helps provide some relief and sheds some light on alternative treatments for psoriasis. It is difficult to deal with, and a definite hurdle in the race for healthy hair. Over 6 million people in the US suffer with it, and every little bit of information helps. Pass this on to someone you know.

    Christina Patrice

    Born, raised, and living in Los Angeles, Christina is BGLH's resident transitioning expert and product junkie. In addition to loving all things hair, she is a fitness novice and advocate of wearing sandals year-round. For more information on transitioning, natural hair, and her own hair journey, visit maneobjective.com. Or, if you like pictures follow Christina on Instagram @maneobjective.

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    200 Comments on "Scalp Psoriasis and Natural Hair: What Worked For Me and What Didn’t"

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    Igbomaiden

    a little sensitivity ladies! anyways back to the topic; I think you should try palm kernel oil hot oil treatment for your scalp. Plam kernel has strong anti bacterial/ anti fungal properties and is a popular trad treatment for skin disorders among the igbos of Nigeria.

    Natural cleansers like shikakai, ritha nuts, tulsi, african balck soap, fullers earth… may also provide relief.Commercial shampoos can be drying and irritating for the scalp.

    You should also up your intake of good fat like fish, eggs, sea food, nuts, coconut and palm oil.

    That’s all i’ve got. I really hope this helps.:)

    Coily Africana

    I will give it a try, though it being hot is not advisable, as that will surely cause a flareup

    sarah

    I’m so glad this was posted at lunchtime (-_-)

    Landry

    I just winced looking at that photo! My little sister suffered with eczema as a child and it has gotten better with age. She would often scratch her skin raw because of the itchiness.

    Uh

    That picture is so gross.

    Vonnie

    It may not be appealing but for some people its an everyday reality.

    KH

    It would be nice if some people would really think before they comment. Yes it might not be a pic of the healthy scalps and hair you are accustomed to seeing but do you not think the lady knows this? She lives with it like many others. It affects a person emotionally and impairs physically until they can reach a treatment plan that actually works. Be sensitive or bypass a post that is similar next time.

    Lanie

    I understand what you’re saying and do believe that articles like this are important, but I just ate some icecream and that picture literally made me throw up. A little warning would have been nice or maybe placing the picture under the cut. Something that gave me the option of not seeing it.

    There are many ailments that people suffer from, my reacting to a photo doesn’t mean that I don’t sympathize with them. It means I have a weak stomach and I do.

    PMS

    This is the Internet. People can post what they want. You can’t tell a person how to feel about a picture just like I can’t tell you how to feel about this post. The scalp does look gross, unhealthy in fact.

    goyta

    and it could be yours. think about that next time, will you?

    Mimi

    You sound so childish. We KNOW it’s the internet ffs. It’s counter productive to tell people with a different opinion than yours not to have an opinion because You don’t agree with it.

    Jo

    Where is the compassion?THis article is to help people not to make people feel good.I understand your are entitled to your oPinion but a bit of tact would go a long way.

    T.

    Well, it looks unhealthy because it’s a picture of a skin ailment; it’s a photo of skin that is, by definition, not healthy. That’s kind of the point of the photo, to illustrate what psoriasis can look like.

    Nisha

    I have scalp psoriasis too and it’s horrible. I am using the Shea Moisture Black Soap Shampoo. And you’re so right, it definitely works better with the black soap mask. I decided to switch around and use the gold label mask instead and it’s not the same. And don’t get me started on cornrows. After a couple of days, I had to take those suckers down. My scalp was loaded with those crusty ass scales. I have to check out these other treatments. Great post!

    Cee Mac
    Awesome! I deal with eczema and it aint pretty either. I’ve used the T-gel (dried out hair and left it matted), the clobetasol and my it definitely cleared out my really flaky scalp but I started getting headaches. I’ve also used tea tree oil concentrated form mixed with 100% eucalyptus oil, jojoba oil, and grapeseed oil but I don’t know if that worked. My scalp was really itchy and I had small flakes. So I found out about Dandruff Eeze scalp treatment through a friend and it definitely does the job! No more itch and flakes and I’ve been using… Read more »
    Akilah

    What was the consistency of henna to coconut oil/water?

    Alisha

    This was super informative! I have dealt with seborric dermatitis since high school, and while it comes and goes, it is annoying. I just discovered Shea Moisture African Black Soap Shampoo, and I love it. I had been using the T-Gel, but it’s sooo drying. Now my hair is soft and easier to detangle with the Shea. Plus, I HATE the smell of the T-Gel… So medicinal.

    Shanese

    I have that too and I have been shampooing with medicated head and shoulders. I just might try Shea Moistures African Black Soap Shampoo. I currently have another bottle of their shampoo too to wash after I use head and shoulders (its so drying!) thanks!

    AJ

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this post. I suffer with a combination of scalp psoriasis and seborreheic dermatitis. Believe me, it’s not as fun as it sounds. 🙂 lol I really appreciate this post because I am always looking for new things to try and help me rotate my products so thank you for this! I also have tried coconut oil on my scalp as a pre poo and that seems to REALLY help a lot so that may help as well. 🙂

    Kels

    I have seborreheic dermatitis for about a year. I tried anti dandruff shampoos but they didn’t work. My scalp remained red and weepy. What worked for me was using all natural products.I used various organic shampoos and I kept may scalp lubricated with coconut oil. After about 3 months, the dematitis patches began to get smaller and smaller and my scalp began to stop weeping. And then after about ten months, they completely disappeared.

    John Davidson

    Can I recommend you find an SLS free shampoo, you can read about the type of cleanser you should be looking for at http://www.skinsalveation.com, then might find something equivalent in the US.

    Coily Africana

    For now coconut oil works for me, but one thing that is in constant rotation is Black soap. next i want to try neem oil.

    Alisha

    I find coconut oil helps me, too.

    Janae

    Yes coconut oil works wonders!

    Dee

    That image made me itch.

    Princesssookeh

    Me too. I just suffered the WebMD effect and rushed to my mom to make sure that this wasn’t what I had. I didn’t(thank god!)

    sandra

    gagged a lil but kept scrolling back up to look at it. damn thats tough and thats coming from a person who had folliculitis that is just barely under control.

    Cassandra

    Sandra,

    I have a very close family member that suffers from folliculitis, and has been for nearly a decade. I think he has tried every medicine and natural remedy, what have you used that youve found successful? Any help is appreciated.

    thanks,
    Cassandra

    Eman

    Hi….Iam suffering out of this skin ailment..At very beginning when I started getting, I immediately undergone with the Ayurvedi treatment and just kept me cooool always (no stress)…It has been cured in 7 months and doctor suggested me to have the medicine continously for 3 years atleast to not get that problem in future..Tat works..happily sharing this information to you…

    Amma Mama

    same

    Janae

    Yea that was pretty nasty. I have never seen anything like that.

    Princesssookeh

    Neither have I; this is downright scary. I feel for anyone that has this.

    Laila

    put a trigger warning on that or something. I have skin problems and images of skin problems without warning set me off.

    the info is great though

    K1908

    Me too. My scalp and face are itchy!!! Oh lawd…

    anastasia

    +1000…All I could do ,after the itchy feeling of course, is shake my head and say, “Awww, poor thing”.

    au napptural

    Me as well. They should’ve done a stock photo of a girl scratching her head and left it at that.

    Tuesday

    Ugh… same here =/

    Alisha

    Me, too. 🙁

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