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

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    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. :-(

    wpDiscuz