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Ask A Dermatologist: Hair And Scalp Care

Just like the skin on the rest of our body, skincare beyond the face extends all the way to the top. The hair on our heads is another fascinating (and fast-emerging) branch of dermatology, and finding medically-backed solutions and community wisdom for any hair-raising problems is another big topic on social media – #haircare has 6.9 billion hits and counting! 

From roots to lengths and ends, there’s no shortage of products out there that claim to repair, rebuild and protect your hair and scalp, but what actually works? With hair masks, hair oils, treatments and heat protectors, having a haircare routine is quickly becoming another staple in our selfcare schedules, so we sat down with our expert Dermatology Team for the low-down.

The root of the problem

If you’ve got dandruff, you’ll know how it is hard to control, especially if you have darker hair (or a darker wardrobe). It doesn’t mean your hair isn’t clean, that your hair is falling out, nor can you catch it or pass it on to anyone else. There are multiple causes for dry, flaky skin on your scalp – eczema and psoriasis, to name a few. 

Seborrhoeic dermatitis can also cause dandruff. Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Ben Esdaile explains, “It’s an extremely common scalp condition that often tends to flare up and down, particularly with stress and illness.”

“It is not fully understood why we get flares of seborrhoeic dermatitis but an overgrowth of a yeast that normally lives on the scalp is thought to play a role. Using products that help remove scale (including salicylic acid and urea) can be helpful. There are also ingredients in shampoos that help reduce the amount of yeast living on the scalp (zinc pyrithioine, ketoconazole and selenium sulphide) that can help reduce flares.”

You may also notice dandruff more as you get older, and your scalp produces less oil in general. Contrary to popular belief, over-hydrating or hair oiling scalp won’t help with dandruff, but hair oiling does have other benefits, and can keep your hair nourished overall. 

You may also notice dandruff more as you get older, and your scalp generally produces less oil.

So, what do you do if you have the opposite problem? Overly greasy roots that no amount of dry shampoo will keep at bay. That’s caused by the overproduction of sebum by your scalp’s sebaceous glands, which leads to build-up. Find a hair routine that works for you – you may find yourself washing your hair more or less often than usual in order to find a happy medium. 

One non-negotiable for looking after your scalp? Protect it from the sun. We apply sunscreen to our faces and bodies like clockwork, but our scalps get neglected. Whether you’ve got hair or not, your scalp is more exposed to the sun than the rest of your body, and it’s delicate skin – opt for a spray, powder or your regular sunscreen if you have more surface area to work with. The best protection? A hat! 

Spot of bother?

Hairline acne appears as spots on your forehead. Like acne on your face and body, it’s caused by clogged hair follicles and natural buildup in your pores. This type of acne is also known as pomade acne. Pomades are waxy products used to style hair, but their occlusive properties can also clog pores when applied to the skin by mistake. 

It could also be caused by certain types of makeup (if you wear it). Our tip? Bring your daily cleanser up to your hairline to cover your bases. You can also apply your targeted spot treatments here too. If you do have pomade acne, follow Dr Ben’s advice: “Take a careful look at your hair cosmetics. Try to use less greasy, non-comedogenic products. If this is not possible then try to use it away from the frontal scalp margin (your hairline) and use a good cleanser – consider the addition of salicylic acid.”

Going to any length (for happy, healthy hair)

Hair masks and serums are big business, but are they any good and do you really need one? Hair masks are intensely hydrating, and are generally left on for longer than your usual conditioner – they have more time to do their job. Like skin, hair needs hydration to look its best – emollients such as shea butter, and occlusives such as argan and jojoba oil make for great hair masks, as they soften hair and lock in moisture.

If you do want to use a hair mask, use one that targets a certain issue – dryness, frizz or breakage. As long as you limit the heat and styling tools, a good quality shampoo and conditioner is really all you need. Haircare, like skincare, only needs a solid, stripped-back routine for optimal results.

I’m at my splits’ end!

“Split ends are usually a sign of hair shaft fragility. This is often an indicator or excessive grooming including damage from the hairdryer, heat treatments and chemicals.” Dr Ben Esdaile

Hands up if you’ve ever pulled a split end apart? Like squeezing a spot or tearing at your cuticles, the short-term satisfaction isn’t worth the long-term damage. It’s best to trim a split end if you find one (it literally cuts off a dead end!) but regular haircuts are the best way to keep them in check. 

Dr Ben expands, “Split ends are usually a sign of hair shaft fragility. This is often an indicator of excessive grooming including damage from the hairdryer, heat treatments and chemicals. It’s important to look after your hair using a gentle shampoo, use a cool setting on a hairdryer and remember to protect your hair from the sun (and wear a hat!).”

A hair mask won’t repair a split end either, but it will nourish your hair with regular use – as, with most things, prevention is better than cure.

The hair necessities

Skincare routine? Sorted. Bodycare routine? Check. Haircare routine? Done! Investing in yourself from head-to-toe can help you put your best self forward, and selfcare is always a good idea – especially if all about feeling good

Taking care of number one can be fun (think of it as a good habit), nor does it need tonnes of products. Invest in solid, scientifically-backed formulations and stick to them. We promise, it’s worth the wait.

Medical facts checked by Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Ben Esdaile.

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