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The hair necessities

Great hair starts with a healthy scalp. Try these tips from Alison Young

There’s a buzz about the scalp in the beauty world, and quite rightly, because it’s literally at the root of great-looking hair.

It would be easy to take an ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ approach to the scalp, but in fact, the scalp is unique, and deserves some special care. With the density of hair follicles, high rate of oil production and the heat factor, many of us suffer from scalp sweating, even without hoods and hats; these all combine to affect the scalp’s natural microbiome, or its balance of yeast and bacteria. Each hair emerges from (and grows through) an individual follicle on the scalp. That follicle also produces sebum (oil), and as we pass through the stages of life, the amount of oil will vary. If the follicles become blocked by sebum or dead skin, this can lead to scalp problems (and there’s a risk that permanently blocked or obstructed follicles may cease to produce hair at all). The scalp itself is made up of cells which continually work their way to the surface, and those need removing, and not just by washing and brushing.

Scalp troubles that affect both men and women include itching, flaking, oiliness and dandruff, but you needn’t put up with any of these nowadays. The scalp may also be affected by eczema, psoriasis and other dermatological problems, about which you may need to talk to a medical professional; your doctor may refer you to a dermatologist or a trichologist (a specialist in hair and the scalp).

Even if your scalp’s perfectly well-behaved, it’s worth remembering that all good hair days begin with a healthy scalp. Here’s what you can do to help:

A healthy scalp begins with a balanced diet

With our incredibly busy lives, it can be difficult to guarantee that we get the full range of nutrients every single day, so do consider taking a hair/nails/skin supplement as a sort of nutritional ‘insurance policy’. Look for a brand that’s been around for many years, or perhaps which specialises in researching hair and scalp health.

Scrub your scalp

Just like the skin on the body, flakes build up on the scalp. A lot of specific scalp exfoliators are appearing on the market now, but for general scalp health you can also use the regular salt or jojoba-based exfoliator that you’d normally use on your body, working it into the scalp area and rinsing well. It’s likely to be an oil-based product, so do this before your first shampoo; the oils, however, will ensure that the scalp isn’t over-stripped.

Mud’s great for oily scalps

Mud (rhassoul mud from Morocco, or any kind of clay/kaolin) is brilliant for tackling oil and grease and removing toxins. Massage a mud-based mask into the scalp weekly, to get the benefit of its oil-reducing, flake-eliminating effects. If you have a dry or itchy scalp, try an oil treatment.

While oily scalps respond well to mud, the answer for a dry scalp is an oil treatment. Massage about a tablespoonful into your fingertips and massage onto the scalp, working into the scalp and the roots of the hair to soften and loosen dry skin before washing. Leave it on for 10–15 minutes before shampooing and conditioning as normal. Repeat weekly (or if your scalp is very dry, do this before each wash).

Check the labels

Two particularly common shampoo ingredients, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), are linked with scalp sensitivity and itching, so screen your products for this and if you’re experiencing an itchy scalp, switch to an SLS/SLES- free product. Natural stores often have a particularly good selection.

Don’t get burned

The scalp is very vulnerable to sunburn, particularly for anyone who has thinning hair, wears their hair with a parting, or has braids and corn-rows. My no.1 prevention from burning is shade. A hat does the job, or sitting under a parasol or in the shade of a tree or awning.

Avoid heat damage during styling

Some hairdryers really blast out very intense heat, which is drying and damaging (almost burning) to the scalp, and will definitely make the problem worse, if you’ve a tendency to dryness.

Keep hairdryer use to a minimum, if you have any scalp problems. Instead, gently towel-dry hair till it’s roughly 80 per cent dry, then apply styling products and finish with a hairdryer.

Extracted from The Beauty Insider by Alison Young (£16.99, Vermilion)

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