The health of your scalp determines the health of your hair. “Your scalp is like the soil of a farm. Poor soil will directly affect the well-being of the plants growing in it,” Umar says. “Similarly, anything that would cause scalp inflammation can be harmful to the existence and well-being of hair.”
Our scalp contains about 100,000 follicles, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association. Like a seed sprouting a tree, each follicle contains a single hair that grows. The follicles also produce sebum, or oil, that helps keep the scalp moisturized and protects the skin from infection.
A hair follicle goes deep into the scalp and has its own microbiome. The scalp also has a microbiome. Disruption in the balance of the scalp microbiome has been to dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis (a condition that causes dandruff and scaly patches), and atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Some simple changes to your hair care regimen can make a big difference for the health of your scalp. Sometimes, it’s as easy as being more gentle while shampooing or only straightening your waves on occasion. If none of the following options help, see a dermatologist for advice.
1. Use gentle hair care products
Avoiding products that contain sulfates, alcohols, or fragrances may help improve your scalp health. “Sulfates strip away natural oils in your hair and remove dead skin cells, which makes the scalp dry and prone to irritation,” Umar explains.
“And since your skin and scalp are already sensitive, using products that contain alcohol and fragrances suck the moisture out of your hair. This will have your hair feeling frizzy, dry, and damaged and will result in inflammation that leaves you with a dry, itchy, irritated scalp.”
Also, avoid any hair care products that contain harsh chemicals and hair treatments such as dye and bleach. These may cause damage to the hair shaft and scalp skin.
2. Shampoo gently
Rather than scrubbing your scalp when shampooing your hair, massage it. “This will increase circulation and avoid causing abrasions on the scalp,” St. Surin-Lord says.
3. Wash less often
It’s natural to think that in order to avoid oily hair, you should wash your tresses more often. However, this may backfire. Shampooing your hair too frequently strips away the natural oils. In turn, your scalp may produce more oils in order to keep it hydrated, resulting in oily-looking hair, Umar says.
“Those who already struggle with a dry or itchy scalp would benefit from increasing time between washes to balance out the oil production,” he adds. As a general rule of thumb, Umar recommends washing your hair three to four times a week, tops.
4. Try an omega-3 supplement
Although the scientific evidence isn’t substantial, many believe that taking a fish oil supplement can help promote hair growth and prevent hair loss.
In a 2015 study, women with self-perceived thinning hair took a fish oil supplement (also containing other nutrients) or a placebo. Those who took the fish oil for 90 days reported increased hair growth and strength.
In another 2015 study, women with female pattern hair loss who took a supplement containing omega-3, omega-6, and antioxidants for 6 months experienced increased hair density and decreased hair loss.
“Omega-3s and fish oils nourish the hair by stimulating circulation in the scalp. They also reduce the inflammation that could be associated with hair loss,” Umar says. Talk to your doctor to be sure a supplement is appropriate for you and to help you find the best one.
5. Eat more antioxidants
Oxidative stress occurs when the number of damaging free radicals in the body overwhelms the number of beneficial antioxidants. Not only can oxidative stress lead to health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, it’s also believed to affect the health of the scalp and to cause hair loss.