In winter, we’re diligent about liberally applying moisturizer to our hydration-starved complexions. But are we paying the same attention to the skin under our hair to maintain a healthy scalp?
A dry, irritated scalp can be a problem at any time of the year, but the winter weather can make it that much worse. Changes in weather can throw off the balance of your scalp’s natural hydration system, says Bosley Professional Strength certified trichologist and product and technical specialist Michelle Blaisure. The cold weather and indoor heating lead to even more scalp “confusion.” On top of that, she points out that wearing hats where the scalp is not allowed to breathe adequately can negatively affect its balance. Thanks, winter.
The problem with dry scalps is that they’re not initially as obvious as exposed areas. “Typically, people don’t realize they have a dry scalp until they see it or really feel it, so flakes and itching are usually the major indicators,” reveals Kristin Ess, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Kristin Ess. And it’s very likely that dry scalp is affecting your hair health. Lars Skjoth, founder/CEO of Harklinikken, points out that up to 50 percent of the world’s population is suffering from a dry scalp, itchy scalp and/or flaky scalp due to dandruff. For some it can be temporary, but others struggle for years with dry scalp.
Dry Scalp vs. Dandruff
A dry scalp doesn’t necessarily equal dandruff, even if there are flakes. True dandruff is due to an overgrowth of a fungus naturally part of the scalp microbiome, says Blaisure. The imbalance causes scalps to overproduce skin cells, which leads to unsightly flakes. Dandruff flakes tend to stick to hair because of excess scalp sebum, whereas dry scalps produce white flakes that fall out, says Kevin Hughes, artistic director at Moroccanoil.
Dry scalps can also be caused by overusing products with a high alcohol content, shampooing too frequently, dehydration and the aforementioned change of seasons, according to colorist Amy Mrkulic of Vu Hair Salon in New York City. Dandruff should most likely be treated by a doctor, whereas dry scalps can be treated at home, she advises.
The Importance of Scalp Health
Maintaining a healthy scalp is essential for a mane that’s #hairgoals. Ebony Bomani, hairstylist and master cosmetologist and educator at The Mane Choice, sums it up: “The scalp is where hair follicles live and a healthy scalp is the prerequisite to healthy hair.” If the scalp isn’t happy, it can be more difficult to attain those shiny, healthy hair goals, says Ess. Hair issues like inflammation, dandruff, psoriasis and hair loss can arise from scalp issues, so maintaining a healthy scalp is key.
So what is a healthy scalp? Hughes reports that a healthy scalp is one that’s free of flakes, dandruff and itchiness. The hair and scalp should feel conditioned and smooth. Blaisure elaborates that a healthy scalp should hold moisture, but not be too oily or dry. If there are silvery or yellow patches, it’s an indication the scalp is out of whack.
Maintaining a Healthy Scalp
Everyone (and every scalp) is different and an internal approach is as important as a topical one, according to Ess. She recommends a diet rich in omegas and vitamin E. (Stock up on nuts, seeds and leafy greens.) Additionally, she suggests trying a topical dry scalp treatment, such as a pre-shampoo oil, scalp scrub or detox mask.
Don’t forget about moisture. Hughes advises performing a deep conditioning treatment once per week to maintain scalp and hair moisture levels. Check your current hair care routine to see if there are drying alcohols and sulfates in shampoos and styling products. And watch out for dry shampoos. Skjoth says that the powders in dry shampoos can clog hair follicles and throw off the scalp’s balance. Plus, they don’t technically clean hair or scalps.
To get your scalp on the right track, here are best dry scalp treatments and products on the market.