We cut, color and style our hair but we often overlook the health of our scalps. Things like product build up, sweat and oil production can lead to scalp itch and other conditions including thinning and balding. To get to the root of understanding why it’s so important to have a healthy scalp and what you can do to nourish yours, we connected with Dr. Kaleroy Papantoniou a Board Certified Dermatologist from New York City, for a little Q & A.
Most women these days use multiple hair products and don’t wash their hair every day. Is this causing more problems to scalp health?
A lot of women use styling mouse, anti-frizz polish, root lifting sprays, and other hair products and skip shampooing in lieu of “dry shampoo.” Dry shampoo, is a spray that absorbs excess oils on hair and is used when you don’t have time or want to wash your hair. While dry shampoos may not be a problem for most, for those who suffer from dandruff, scalp psoriasis, or have a greasy scalp; not washing their hair and scalp every day can definitely cause problems. If someone has sensitive skin or an allergy to ingredients in hair products they can develop a reaction.
Is there a connection between scalp health and other health issues? What can we do to treat our scalps from the inside out?
We definitely see a very close relation to the health of hair and the scalp with overall health and nutrition. The appearance of scalp and hair can be one of the first indicators of overall wellbeing and stress. When we are vitamin deficient, have hormonal imbalances, or are emotionally stressed it can manifest in the appearance of our scalp and hair. For example, hypothyroidism can present as dry brittle hair or thinning hair with a flaking scalp. Iron deficiency can also present with thinning hair. Hair may fall out rapidly after pregnancy for several months, this is known as telogen effluvium, and can also occur from other medications, weight loss, surgery etc. Treatments will vary, but it is important to supplement your nutrition to provide the support for your hair and scalp to improve. Vitamins such as Viviscal and Biotin are very important supplements that work very well.
What if you had a healthy scalp and all of a sudden start to get scalp breakouts? What causes this and what are things you can do to help with breakouts?
Product build up can definitely cause blockage of follicles on the scalp and lead to scalp folliculitis or even seborrheic dermatitis, which appear to be red bumps that can be tender and filled with pus and light pink flaking patches respectively. Washing your scalp daily can help, and alternating shampoos is another good tip to help prevent product build up. Alternating several times per week with an anti-dandruff shampoo can also help control scalp flares. If this does not help, a dermatologist can provide prescription shampoo or topical medicines for better control.
What about itchy scalp? What can you do to help with this problem?
Scalp itch can signify several points. It could just be a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff). It could be an allergy to hair dye, shampoo or other hair product. It could even be a sign of a metabolic condition or deficiency. I once had a patient that had a very itchy scalp, and did not respond to any medicated shampoos or cortisone solutions to help stop the itching after weeks of trying, but once she restarted her iron supplementation for iron deficiency her scalp itch resolved within 1 day. If a simple over the counter shampoo is not helping your itchy scalp, seek out a dermatology consultation for the best recommendations.
Does the scalp need to be exfoliated to maintain health?
Some women may never have any need to exfoliate their scalp, and do not develop buildup or dull appearance to their hair. For those that tend to have more oily hair, and have product residue using a clarifying shampoo can be very helpful 1-2 times per week. Seek shampoos containing the active ingredient salicylic acid, a mild exfoliator that works well on oily pores and follicles to break up residue and dead compact skin cells to help reduce build up. For women looking to exfoliate their scalp, I would recommend lathering with a shampoo containing salicylic acid, letting this sit for 5 minutes and then rinsing thoroughly, repeat 2-3 times per week as needed. For women being treated for seborrheic dermatitis or scalp psoriasis this can help the medications topically penetrate better into the scalp.
Any advice for people with itchy scalp and for those with thinning hair?
For itchy scalp try an anti-dandruff shampoo, such as clear scalp, and try a menthol shampoo to help cool the itch, such as Head & Shoulders Refresh Menthol. For dandruff shampoo a tea tree oil shampoo may be also used on alternate days. For thinning hair consider a supplement like Viviscal or Biotin, and be patient because it can take 6 months to a year to see significant improvement. The earlier you intervene the better, if you notice a new change or thinning do not hesitate to seek professional help.
Dr. Kaleroy Papantoniou is a Cosmetic Dermatologist, Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology. She specializes in Injectables, Lasers, Body Contouring, Surgical and Medical Dermatology. Dr. Papantoniou is also a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Health Center in New York City. She applies expert techniques and the newest technologies to treat her patients. Dr. Papantoniou focuses on providing her patients with the highest level of care, with special interests in natural and healthy alternatives to treatments and disease prevention. Connect with Dr. Papantoniou via twitter @DrPapantoniou or her website www.DrPapantoniou.com
Photo, Ariana Prestes