It’s logical to assume that our locks provide the scalp with a layer of protection from the elements, but it’s far from the truth: Beneath those 100,000-odd follicles hides a humid hothouse of microbial activity that is constantly being tested.
Exposed to every kind of weather, under-washed, overwashed, bleached, coloured and blasted with heat, dry shampoo and sticky hair products, the scalp ages up to six times faster than the skin on your face.
But it’s tempting to ask yourself this: Given you mostly can’t see what lies beneath your locks, should you really give a hoot about scalp care?
“The majority of hair-care concerns can be linked to changes that occur in the scalp and hair follicle,” says Aveda’s Principal Scientist, Alison Pawlus. So, there you have it. Yes, you should care. The trouble is, we’re generally blind to changes until we’re dealing with dandruff, lacklustre hair or fallout.
Even if it all seems to be going swimmingly, experts say ignoring the scalp is a risky approach if you lust after luscious locks. “The scalp is the foundation of healthy hair,” says Cindy Angerhofer, PhD Pharmacognosist and Aveda’s Executive Director of Botanical Research.
“But the scalp is typically harder to clean and often cleaned less frequently than facial skin, making it more susceptible to various types of external stressors. A high level of nourishment and protection is required.”
The team at Aveda spent eight years closely studying the scalp alongside skin and hair biologists at the University of Bradford in the UK. They’re confident your hair will be healthier if you treat your cranium as you do your face – with skincare-like ingredients.
We’re talking hydrating, sloughing and soothing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, AHAs and vitamins B, C and E. So, can you just use the same products for the scalp as you do for the face?
It’s not a totally crazy idea, the experts say, but those products could contain ingredients that don’t gel with your hair. “Many moisturisers used in skincare aren’t appropriate for scalp because they can have a negative impact on hair, are too heavy feeling, or cause flaking on the scalp,” says Alison.
“We have to use ingredients that work with the scalp’s natural barrier.” That barrier is different for everyone as, like our gut and skin, we all have our own unique microbiome.
“These microbes metabolise sebum into irritating molecules, including free fatty acids that can become oxidised and leak, causing scalp irritation and barrier disruption if not removed,” says Alison.
If you use a lot of product, particularly dry shampoo or anything with occlusive silicone, you’ll need a regular detox cleanse. “I recommend doing this once a week,” says Anthony Nader, the founder of RAW hair salon and ltn hair tools and accessories.
“Too much of a good thing can reverse the health of your scalp.”
Think of the scalp like the skin – it thrives from a cleanse, exfoliate and moisturise routine but it needs to be specific to individual needs. What you choose will differ depending on whether your scalp has build-up (go for a clarifying shampoo), is dry (try an AHA-based scrub to remove flakes and follow with a hyaluronic acid serum to boost moisture), or sensitive (a massage with calming hair oils or an antioxidant treatment to seal in moisture will feel good).
“Sleeping on silk is a no-brainer for both healthier hair and scalp if you have an inflammatory condition,” says Anthony. If you’re into labels, you’ll notice other skincare ingredients cropping up in scalp products, such as zinc (a major component of your skin’s natural moisturising factor and good for tackling dandruff), licorice (great for soothing inflammation), and caffeine (for its stimulating properties).
“Naturally derived vitamin E, ginger, and resveratrol are some of our favourite antioxidants,” says Cindy. “They also have scalp benefits above and beyond their antioxidant activities!”
Going above and beyond is the ‘mane’ message: treat your scalp like skin and your locks will thank you. After all, it’s what’s underneath that counts, right?