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Most of us are familiar with the basics of face care, from cleansing regularly to treatments for acne, fine lines and other common skin issues. But it’s likely you don’t know nearly as much about scalp care.
The skin that makes up your scalp may be hidden from direct view thanks to your hair, but it is very similar to that of your face. Just like the right skin care habits can keep acne at bay, a good scalp care routine can support proper scalp health and prevent many common scalp conditions.
The good news is that scalp care is surprisingly simple, especially once you’re familiar with what your scalp does and how a healthy scalp functions.
Below, we’ve explained everything you need to know about scalp care, from what it is to why it’s such an important part of caring for your skin and hair.
We’ve also covered how you can take great care of your scalp with the right mix of products and healthy skin and hair care habits.
Scalp care is exactly what it sounds like — caring for your scalp. While the right shampoo and conditioner can help to support healthy hair, the right scalp care routine can help you to maintain healthier, better-looking skin under that hair.
And like all skin care, good scalp care is all about combining good habits with effective, evidence-based products.
When it comes to healthy habits, this means keeping your scalp clean, treating scalp conditions as soon as they develop and using proven treatments for common scalp and hair issues, such as female pattern hair loss.
When it comes to products, healthy scalp care means choosing shampoo, conditioner and other products that are formulated for both your scalp and your hair.
So, why is scalp care important? Since your scalp is largely hidden by your hair, it’s surprisingly easy to ignore. However, while it may not be highly visible, your scalp plays a vital role in your appearance by supporting the growth of strong, dense and healthy hair.
Your scalp contains between 80,000 and 120,000 hair follicles — small, tunnel-like structures in your skin from which hair grows. Each hair follicle plays a critical role in supporting hair growth and giving your hair its fullness and volume.
Many conditions that we think of as affecting our hair actually originate in the scalp, particularly in the hair follicles.
For example, many forms of hair loss — including androgenetic alopecia in women and traction alopecia — are caused by physical damage to the thousands of hair follicles located throughout your scalp.
In addition, common skin issues, including some that affect your face, often start in your scalp.
For example, forehead acne and acne around your hairline can often develop when sebum — a type of natural oil produced by sebaceous glands on your face and scalp — builds up over time, causing an oily scalp and skin.
Certain products and items of clothing, such as oily hair styling products and sports equipment that covers your scalp and hair, may make these breakouts worse.
Put simply, although you may not see your scalp everyday, an unhealthy scalp can have obvious effects on your hair and face — effects that aren’t always easy to hide.
However, the flipside of this is also true. While an unhealthy scalp can have a negative effect on how you look, taking good care of your scalp can make it far easier to solve some common face and hair problems, from dry hair to certain types of facial acne.
Your scalp consists entirely of skin, so the same general “rules” that apply to caring for your skin also apply to your scalp.
Good scalp care can be broken down into two main parts. The first is maintaining the right scalp care habits, from washing regularly to avoiding behaviors that can negatively affect your skin or harm your hair follicles.
The second is incorporating the right shampoo, conditioner, medications and other products into your skin, hair and scalp care routine.
For the most part, good scalp care habits closely match good hair care habits. Try the following simple habits to control oil buildup, protect your hair follicles from damage and promote optimal scalp health:
Wash your hair as it starts to feel oily. Your scalp will become oilier as the sebaceous glands in your hair follicles produce sebum. This excess oil buildup may cause your hair to feel oily and heavy, and can affect its odor over time.
Try to wash your hair once it starts to feel oily. If you have a naturally oily scalp, you may need to wash your hair on a daily basis.
If you have a flaky, itchy scalp, shampoo more frequently. Seeing flaky skin on your scalp and in your hair is typically a sign that you’re not washing frequently enough. This may result in the buildup of dandruff and increase your risk of other scalp conditions.
Use a shampoo that matches your hair and skin type. Try to choose a shampoo that matches your hair and scalp. For example, if you have a naturally dry scalp, try using a moisturizing shampoo to improve your skin hydration.
Make sure to wash out all your shampoo and conditioner. Leaving shampoo on your scalp after washing may cause your skin to become red, irritated and itchy. Try to wash out all hair care products, including shampoo and conditioner, as thoroughly as possible.
Protect your scalp when you swim. Swimming in a pool exposes your skin and hair to chlorine, which can damage your hair and cause an itchy scalp. Try to protect your scalp and hair by wearing a swim cap and using shampoo and conditioner after you swim.
Pay attention to contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a condition in which your skin may become irritated when it comes into contact with a certain substance. It’s a common problem for people who use hair dye, as many dyes contain para-phenylenediamine.
If you notice your scalp itching or feeling irritated after using a certain hair care or styling product, make a note of the product and try to avoid it in the future.
Notice a scalp problem? Talk to your healthcare provider. Almost all scalp problems, from fungal infections to abrupt hair loss, can be treated easily if you act quickly and use the right scalp treatment.
If you start to develop an itchy, burning or flaky scalp, talk to your healthcare provider or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. They’ll be able to diagnose the issue and prescribe medication or other treatments to control your symptoms and improve your scalp health.
Our list of hair care tips for different hair types includes other simple tips for caring for your scalp and promoting thick, healthy hair.
One of the best things about scalp care is that it rarely requires any costly products. Instead, it’s usually possible to care for your scalp by picking skin-friendly versions of hair care products you already use, such as shampoo and conditioner.
If you’re prone to dandruff, one simple thing that you can do to deal with it is to switch to an anti-dandruff shampoo. These shampoos tend to contain active ingredients such as ketoconazole, selenium sulfide and zinc pyrithione.
When you use an anti-dandruff shampoo, make sure to follow the instructions on the bottle, as active ingredients and instructions can vary between different shampoo formulas.
Contrary to popular belief, dandruff isn’t directly caused by poor hygiene. While washing more often with a regular shampoo may make it less visible, this won’t necessarily get rid of dandruff for good.
If you’re not prone to dandruff, pick a shampoo that moisturizes your scalp and cleans away excess sebum, such as our shampoo, to keep both your hair and scalp healthy.
Poor scalp health is often caused by health conditions that can affect your skin, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis and fungal infections.
If you have a scalp condition, your healthcare provider may suggest using one of the following types of medication:
Eczema medications. If you have atopic dermatitis, or eczema, you might develop red, dry patches of skin on your scalp. Scalp eczema is usually treated with moisturizer and medications like topical corticosteroids, which reduce inflammation.
Scalp psoriasis medications. Psoriasis is a skin condition that’s caused by excessive skin cell growth. It’s common for people with psoriasis to develop red, itchy skin patches on the scalp, which may extend towards the hairline.
If you have scalp psoriasis, your healthcare provider may suggest using a corticosteroid or a medication to suppress your immune system. They may also prescribe a shampoo or topical medication for you to apply to affected areas of your scalp.
Antifungal medications. If you have tinea capitis (a type of fungal infection that affects your scalp), your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral antifungal medication such as griseofulvin, fluconazole or itraconazole.
If your healthcare provider gives you medication to treat a scalp condition, make sure to take it exactly as prescribed. Follow their instructions and let them know if you have any questions or develop any side effects during treatment.
Taking care of your scalp can help to reduce your risk of developing overly itchy, dry or irritated skin. It can also help you to grow thicker, fuller, healthier-looking hair, since your scalp plays a key role in promoting consistent hair growth.
One of the great things about scalp care is that it’s easy to do. With the right mix of good habits and hair-friendly products, you can support a healthy scalp and reduce your risk of dealing with chronic skin conditions or hair shedding.
To get started, try using the tips and techniques provided above. Make gradual changes to your hair and scalp care routine, and over the long term, you’ll start to notice both your hair and scalp looking and feeling better.
Worried about hair loss? Our range of hair loss products for women includes proven options for treating hair loss and supporting scalp blood flow, including FDA-approved medications such as minoxidil and topical finasteride and minoxidil spray.
Dr. Angela Sheddan has been a Family Nurse Practitioner since 2005, practicing in community, urgent and retail health capacities. She has also worked in an operational capacity as an educator for clinical operations for retail clinics.
She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, her master’s from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, and her Doctor of Nursing Practice from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. You can find Angela on LinkedIn for more information.
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