Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/24/2021
Your hair is your crown and you put a lot of time and effort into making sure it looks its best. You may spend so much time worrying about the health and condition of your hair that you forget what sits directly below it: your scalp.
The truth is, healthy hair and healthy scalp go hand-in-hand. When your scalp is healthy, your hair gets more of the oxygenated blood and essential nutrients it needs to grow healthy and strong. But what’s the formula for a healthy scalp?
Below, we’ve delved into the details about the two-way relationship between scalp health and hair health and outlined the characteristics of a healthy scalp. We’ve also provided a list of 7 simple things you can do to start improving your scalp health today.
A healthy scalp is free from itching, redness, irritation, pain, and flakiness. It should exhibit healthy hair growth as well with no obvious signs of acne or sun damage.
If you’re starting to realize that you take your scalp for granted, you’re not alone. After all, when you look in the mirror you don’t see your scalp, you see the head of hair that covers it — unless, of course, you’ve started to lose your hair.
It all comes down to the cycle of hair growth.
Each hair on your head grows from an individual hair follicle embedded in your scalp. Sebaceous glands in each follicle hydrate and protect the hair with natural oil called sebum while capillaries in the skin feed the follicle with oxygenated blood and nutrients.
In order for the hair to grow properly, the scalp needs to be clean and healthy.
When hair follicles become blocked by the buildup of dead skin cells or sebum, conditions like seborrheic dermatitis (characterized by chronic dandruff and red skin patches that go beyond the scalp) and other scalp diseases may develop. These conditions can affect the hair’s texture, strength, and shine. Poor scalp condition can also lead to premature hair loss. Shifts in the scalp’s natural balance of microorganisms may also trigger hair loss.
Improving scalp health doesn’t have to be a long, complicated process. Making simple changes to your hair care regimen could yield significant results. It may be as easy as changing your shampoo, adding an extra step to your weekly regimen, or taking supplements.
One of the best things you can do to protect your scalp health is to treat it gently — this means choosing your hair products wisely. Using products that contain artificial fragrances and other chemical irritants may trigger or worsen scalp conditions like pruritis or itchy scalp. Look for products that are free from sulfates as well — these can strip the natural oil from your hair and skin, leaving it prone to dryness and irritation.
If you’re struggling with scalp buildup that isn’t related to dandruff, you might want to try a clarifying shampoo, also known as deep cleaning shampoos. Certain hair products used for styling such as gels, hair spray, and mousse can leave behind product residue on your hair and scalp. Clarifying shampoo can break down the polymers left behind by these products, leaving your hair and scalp cleaner and free from buildup.
In addition to changing what products you use to wash your hair, you may want to consider changing your hair washing habits as well.
You may also want to adjust your technique when applying shampoo and conditioner. When shampooing your hair, try to massage it into your hair and scalp with the tips of your fingers rather than scrubbing it in. This may help prevent scalp irritation and abrasions, plus it may increase circulation to the scalp which could benefit your hair as well.
Exfoliation is the cornerstone of healthy skin, but not just the skin on your face — you can exfoliate your scalp as well. In fact, scalp exfoliation is essential for removing scalp buildup and keeping sebum production in balance for healthy, nourished skin. Exfoliate once or twice weekly for the best results.
A scalp scrub is a simple way to exfoliate the skin on your head. These generally contain chemical or physical exfoliants that help remove excess oil, dead skin cells, and other debris from the scalp. They may also boost circulation to the scalp, increasing the flow of oxygenated and nutrient-rich blood to your hair follicles.
Scalp massages feel great but, performed regularly, they could do more than help you relax they could boost hair and scalp health as well. According to the results of a Japanese research study, regular scalp massage increases circulation to the hair follicles. In addition to supporting scalp health, regular scalp massage may boost hair growth and increase hair thickness.
Diet is one of the most significant factors affecting overall health and wellness, so it should come as no surprise that nutrition plays a role in scalp and hair health. Your hair and the skin on your scalp are composed of keratin protein (your hair consists of 97 percent protein), so including lean proteins in your diet could benefit your scalp health.
Antioxidants also play an important role in scalp health by countering the oxidative stress caused by free radicals in the body. Foods rich in antioxidants include fruits and vegetables like berries, leafy greens, artichokes, apples, and beans.
Other skin-supporting nutrients that may benefit hair and scalp health include vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, and biotin.
In addition to improving your diet, adding certain supplements like omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics to your daily routine could benefit your scalp health.
In a small 2006 study, 6 weeks of dietary supplement with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (two types of Omega-3 fatty acids) was correlated with an increase in blood flow. Though scientific evidence is limited, anecdotal evidence suggests that omega-3 fish oil supplements may improve blood flow which could promote scalp health.
Though commonly known for supporting digestion and immune health, probiotics may also play a supportive role for healthy skin. Disruptions to the skin’s natural balance of microorganisms have been linked to various scalp conditions including dandruff, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis. Taking probiotics could help keep your body’s microbiome in balance and your scalp in good condition.
The bottom line is a healthy scalp leads to healthy hair. It’s important to pay attention to the health and condition of your scalp and to report any changes to your doctor or dermatologist. Look for symptoms of an unhealthy scalp like itching, irritation, redness, flakiness, or hair loss.
In addition to following the tips above, engaging in healthy daily habits may support scalp health. Eat a healthy and nutritious diet, engage in regular exercise, and avoid products, hair styles, or treatments that might irritate or damage your skin.
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