5 Common Scalp Issues You Shouldn't Be Embarrassed About

When it comes to taking care of our hair, it’s easy to forget about the scalp — probably because we’re far too focused on the parts people can see: our lengths and ends. But what if we said that your scalp is the #key to optimal hair health? The follicle, after all, is the only part of your hair that’s living.
While the scalp may seem to be more behind the scenes, it can impact everything from how long your hair grows to how soft and shiny it looks. Which means that, yes, those greasy roots are doing way more than emptying your dry shampoo stash (the spray could actually be harming your hair, but more on that later). On the flip side, giving your scalp a little extra TLC can do wonders, which is why we partnered with Head & Shoulders to break down the five most common scalp issues, what the root (pun intended) cause may be, and the steps you can take to solve each one. Read on, take notes, and take your hair-care routine to a whole new, shiny level.
Advertisement
1 of 5
The Issue: Flakes

The Cause: It’s dandruff. But don’t worry: Not only is it very common, but it’s also not your fault. “An oily scalp can lead to overgrowth of a yeast that naturally occurs on the skin,” explains Robyn Gmyrek, MD, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. “That can lead to inflammation and flaking.” Dandruff could also be the result of seborrheic dermatitis, a condition triggered by stress or cold weather. (While we know triggers, the exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is still TBD, says Dr. Gmyrek.)

The Fix: If you’re the type to go two, three, okay maybe even five days sans suds, you might want to reconsider. “More frequent washing decreases oil and removes scales, flakes, and debris,” says Dr. Gmyrek. The key? Be sure to wash with a shampoo that contains keratolytic ingredients (such as pyrithione zinc), which are agents that help break down dead skin cells and remove flakes while you wash. Plus, pyrithione zinc targets the root cause of dandruff rather than just treating the symptoms. “It helps reduce levels of yeast on the skin,” explains Joshua Zeichner, MD, dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
2 of 5
The Issue: Hair Damage

The Cause: We all know that hair damage can be caused by hot tools, bleaching or dying your hair, and even the climate (see ya never, winter), but did you know that poor scalp health can cause damage, too? In addition to those annoying flakes, an overgrowth of the yeast on your scalp (aka dandruff, yet again) can also lead to inflammation. And “inflammation around the hair follicle can interfere with its optimal functioning and hair growth,” says Dr. Zeichner.

The Fix: It’s worth addressing the health of your scalp in order to keep your hair strong and healthy. Start by thinking of your dandruff shampoo as more than just shampoo. “It also needs to be used as a scalp treatment,” explains Dr. Zeichner. “Rub it into your scalp with your fingertips, let it sit on the skin for a couple of minutes, then rinse off.” Seek out one containing active ingredients like pyrithione zinc or one featuring soothing, moisturizing properties, as they can help calm inflammation. Head & Shoulders' Smooth & Silky Shampoo happens to have both, so it's the ultimate win-win in our books.
Advertisement
3 of 5
The Issue: Hair Loss

The Cause: Anything from hormonal changes to stress to genetics could be behind your hair loss (which means anything more than your usual shedding).

The Fix: To figure out what’s causing your hair loss, do what Dr. Gmyrek calls a hair count. First, start with a clean brush and count all the strands you find in it each day. Anything under 100 is normal, and anything above 500 requires a visit to your derm. Then, check out the hair. “If your hair is broken — and there’s no bulb at the end — then the cause is damage from external factors like heat, coloring, and processing,” explains Dr. Gmyrek. If that’s the case, try air drying your hair for a week, do another hair count, and see if it improves. If you do notice bulbs at the ends of your strands, your hair loss may be genetic or the result of hormones. Dr. Gmyrek recommends a topical formula with minoxidil for that.
4 of 5
The Issue: A Tight Sensation

The Cause: Dryness, inflammation from dandruff, and even your dry shampoo (!) can cause that uncomfortable feeling on your scalp. “The scalp has very little room to swell, as the skin is already tight in that area,” explains Dr. Gmyrek. “When additional inflammation or swelling occurs, it’s perceived as tightness.”

The Fix: If you have dandruff, you probably already know it. (The giveaway: flakes.) If that’s not it, consider how often you’re using dry shampoo. “[Dry shampoo] does not remove the dead skin cells from the scalp like regular shampooing and rinsing with water does,” says Dr. Gmyrek. “Plus, the ingredients in them are meant to dry out the scalp by absorbing oil. With overuse, the scalp can get too dry and become tight.” The takeaway? Stick to dry shampoo only when you really, absolutely need it (like after your afternoon cardio sesh) to tide you over before you shower, and use the OG formula the rest of the time. It’s worth the sacrifice of second-day hair.
5 of 5
The Issue: Excessive Oiliness

The Cause: Hormonal changes, genetics, or a combination of both may be the reason your scalp seems greasier than you remember it being. Le sigh.

The Fix: We hate to break it to you, but these causes can be tricky to treat. It may seem obvious, but our experts agree that your best bet is to simply adjust your routine to get pesky oil production under control. Just like you would cleanse your skin to remove oil and excess sebum on your face, the same goes for your scalp. Rid your vanity of any oil-heavy styling products — or, if you must use them, try targeting them to your hair shaft only — and try washing your hair more frequently than you normally would. Also, while shampooing, make sure you’re using your fingertips to massage your scalp to help remove any lingering product residue.
Advertisement

More from Hair

Watch

R29 Original Series

Watch Now
Documentary
Five love stories behind diverse, multicultural marriages.
Watch Now
Lifestyle
Life experiments, 5 days at a time.
Watch Now
Fashion
The style of subculture.
Watch Now
Beauty
Viral trends, tried and tested.
Watch Now
Documentary
From vibrators to lipstick, learn how your favorite products are made.
Watch Now
Documentary
Extraordinary, one-of-a-kind individuals
Watch Now
Documentary
The latest stories to watch.
Watch Now
Lifestyle
Inside the homes of millennial women — & what they paid for them
Watch Now
Comedy
Let's talk about sex, baby.
Watch Now
Documentary
Female artisans around the world
Watch Now
Politics
Made by and for smart, opinionated women.
Watch Now
Film
We helped 12 female directors claim their power.