The Weird Way Your Scalp Is Affecting Your Hair

Photographed by Erin Yamagata.
You've been scratching at your scalp since December, haven't you? Whether it's a subtle annoyance that only comes after you've skipped a day or two of shampooing, or a persistent itch that leaves white flecks all over your shoulders when you finally give in — it’s there. Though the dry winter air and indoor heat can initially cause the flakiness, it may stick around through spring if you don’t treat it, and it may be affecting your hair growth.

Steve Pullan, a trichologist at the Philip Kingsley hair clinic, explains: “The hair has a cycle," he says. "On a mild level, an unhealthy scalp can disrupt that cycle, so the hair doesn't stay in the ‘growing’ phase long enough and falls out more frequently. On a more serious level, scalp inflammation can disrupt the cycle so severely that it contributes to hair-loss factors. If you're prone to hair loss, it can exacerbate it." 

Before you start obsessively counting the hairs in your brush, don’t worry: An unhealthy scalp is one of the most common hair problems — and there are ways to get rid of the itch. Pullan suggests frequent washing (like, every day), but recognizes that isn't exactly attainable for everyone. So, he advises to shampoo your hair as often as you can, to routinely get rid of the sebum buildup on your scalp. This won’t necessarily get rid of the flakes on its own, but it will increase the efficacy of any dry-scalp or dandruff treatments you are using. "If there is a layer of sebum on your scalp, your topical treatments won't be able to penetrate," he explains.

Speaking of topicals, Sacha Mitic, cofounder of Sachajuan, says to look for treatments that contain some seriously complicated-sounding ingredients like climbazole to combat fungus and piroctone olamine to stop dandruff. But, he also says to look for some more familiar items like ginger and rosemary oils to soothe irritation, salicylic acid for light exfoliation, and menthol to cool. "Don't be afraid to massage the scalp if you have scalp problems," he suggests. "A good massage with the right products is the correct way to apply the actives and get better microcirculation." Sachajuan's new Hair Control Treatment is chock-full of these ingredients, and helps heal the hair at the roots. 

If you want to hand your head over to a pro, give a trichologist a visit. "It's like getting a facial for your scalp," Pullan says. "If you keep the scalp healthy, your hair will reflect that. Scalp health and hair health go hand-in-hand."


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