How many tricks, treatments and formulas have you tried to keep your hair in optimum condition? From long-loved conditioners to next-gen serums, there’s an endless line of products out there promising to deliver the kind of swishy, shiny hair you see in adverts. But what if, in the quest for our best hair yet, we’ve been neglecting something that can truly make a difference?
When you consider that the follicle is the only living part of your hair (the fibre is dead, so you can’t make it ‘healthier’), it seems crazy that we don’t pay it a little more TLC. Anabel Kingsley, trichologist at Philip Kingsley, explains: "The scalp is the bedrock for the hair follicle, and if it is not in good condition, the chances of you experiencing problems with hair growth and health increase significantly. In fact, research has proven that a flaky, itchy scalp can cause and/or worsen hair loss in certain individuals."
Just as with your complexion, there are many factors that can cause issues on the scalp. “There are various ways that the scalp can become damaged – these include unbalanced sebum levels, an excess build-up of product, sunburn, and using too-hot water to wash your hair,” adds Michael Lendon, advanced creative director at Aveda Lifestyle Salon and Spa, Covent Garden.
But panic not, because there are plenty of ways to remedy a suffering scalp. According to Lendon, the best way to begin is with deep, effective cleansing – cleansing is for your scalp, while shampooing is for the strands. “Essentially, the scalp is an extension of your face and skin – and should be treated in a similar manner. It is pivotal that the scalp is kept in a good condition and is balanced, as a healthy scalp will in turn lead to healthy-looking, gorgeous hair.” As Anabel adds, we should be cleansing at least every two days in order to remove oils, sweat, dirt, and environmental pollutants: “If you wash your hair infrequently, your scalp is likely to become irritated and you’re also more likely to get blocked pores and pimples. Your hair may also start to smell.” And once you’ve washed, be equally loving with the hairbrush: “Imagine what your forehead would look like if you raked it with bristles. The same applies to your scalp. Choose a brush that is gentle – the best are those with rounded, plastic prongs. Metal-pronged brushes can scratch the scalp and be quite damaging.”
Unsurprisingly, your diet is pivotal, too. “Certain foods can trigger dandruff flare-ups and make them worse,” says Kingsley. “They are not the same for everyone, but the most common are full-fat dairy products (especially cheese), spicy and sugary foods, as well as white wine and champagne. You can work out yours by process of elimination. Stress can also exacerbate flaking and itching. We often suggest yoga, Pilates and mindfulness to manage stress levels. At our clinics in London and New York, we encourage clients to eat a 120g portion of a ‘complete protein’ with breakfast and lunch when nutrient requirements are greatest. Good examples are eggs, fish, lean meat, poultry and low-fat cottage cheese. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you must be mindful of food combination, as well as quantity, to make sure you are intaking all essential amino acids and in great enough amounts.”
So you’ve got the techniques down, but what about the products? Click through for our round-up of the most effective scalp saviours.