Have you ever looked at your scalp and wondered if it's healthy or not? While there are usually a few easy red flags that indicate your scalp needs some TLC (i.e. dandruff and pimples), it might be hard to determine exactly how healthy your scalp is when no major issues are showing up.
The good news is, there are many variations to having a healthy scalp — and it just depends on your skin type. And if you are experiencing any scalp issues, it usually means there's an imbalance occurring.
"Unhealthy scalp comes in many shapes and forms, just like for example, unhealthy skin does," certified trichologist and Rhyme and Reason expert circle member, Angela Onuoha, tells InStyle.
But how can you figure out exactly how healthy your scalp is, and why is it important to know this in the first place? We talked with a few trichologists to get to the root of this problem.
What Does It Mean to Have a Healthy Scalp?
According to Onuoha, a healthy scalp involves a "non-inflamed scalp that has the right balance appearance-wise and has an overall seemingly evenly distributed amount of hair."
But don't fret if your scalp doesn't quite sound like the above. Onuoha explains that just like the skin on your face, you have different types of scalps (i.e. dry, normal, and oily). "Having, for example, an oily scalp doesn't have to mean that it is unhealthy, but it is something to keep an eye on," she explains.
Why Is It Important to Have a Healthy Scalp in the First Place?
Onuoha thinks of the scalp as the soil for healthy hair to grow. Like plants, if your hair has a healthy scalp (soil), then it has the right environment to thrive — and when it doesn't, it can be very difficult for your hair to look and feel its best. "'Poor soil' will affect the hair's condition long-term resulting in weaker hair that is more prone to damage or can even fall out," she explains. "A clean scalp promotes good cell turnover, and that promotes healthy hair and optimal hair growth."
How Can I Get a Healthy Scalp?
Remember: Your scalp is part of your skin, says head of product development at Hairstory, Jackie Gilbert Bauer. So you should think of it as the foundation for promoting healthy hair, which means taking care of it the right way and "feeding" it what it needs to thrive. "When I was struggling with scalp psoriasis, I knew that something was disturbing my scalp's ecosystem; it was throwing it out of balance and that imbalance was having an effect on my hair," Gilbert Bauer explains. "I saw more breakage than usual, it was dryer, growth seemed stunted, and it was all because of what I was using on my scalp; it wasn't what my ecosystem needed to thrive."
Aside from making sure your scalp is receiving enough nutrients and vitamins, Gilbert Bauer says try not to strip your scalp of its natural oils. "You are depriving the follicles from getting what they need to thrive," she says. "I know that oil is a scary word when it comes to hair; however, you need some natural oils to give the hair what it needs to grow and remain hydrated and radiant."
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What Are the Signs of an Unhealthy Scalp?
"I think an unhealthy scalp can be characterized by dryness, itching, flaking, sometimes discharge, and excessive build-up," says Gilbert Bauer. "This then can lead to unhealthy hair, and in some cases, hair loss." And one of the reasons why your hair may become unhealthy is because your scalp goes through a lot (i.e. build-up from products, sweat, outside radicals, and dead skin cells), which can cause an imbalance to occur.
"The first sign that most people tend to notice is flaking or dryness," says Gilbert Bauer. "And, this can be caused by a variety of things including climate or nutritional changes, stress, and the products we use."
How Can I Fix an Unhealthy Scalp?
If your scalp is going through a tough time, Onuoha says one of the ways you can treat an unhealthy scalp is by simply changing your haircare products, routine, or if more severe, changing your diet or medical treatments. However, if you believe you are dealing with something that is a little abnormal, Onuoha suggests seeing a board-certified trichologist.
But before you head to the doctor, Gilbert Bauer suggests looking at the cleanser you're using.
"The number one thing to note when it comes to your cleanser is to make sure it's detergent-free," she explains. "Detergents are found in all shampoos and are super harsh cleaners that strip, irritate and throw the scalp's ecosystem out of balance." Just remember: you know your skin best, so examine what is going on with your hair and reach out to a hair expert if needed.