Top 5 Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Scalp

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On the Fox television show "Glee," sneering cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester reveals that she puts down glee club mentor Will Schuster's hair because she's jealous. It seems that as a teenager, Sylvester bleached her hair with napalm, damaging her scalp so severely that she's been forced to keep her hair short ever since.

Of course, "Glee" is just a television show, and Sue Sylvester's napalmed scalp is fiction. However, you need only to glance at the snowflakes on an officemate's shoulders or your own limp, lifeless locks in the mirror to realize that unhealthy scalps are a problem. A damaged scalp can be itchy and flaky or oily and scaly. In severe cases, a person may develop scalp sores or suffer hair loss. Many things including diet, hormonal fluctuations, medication, hair care products and the environment affect the health of your scalp. Like Sue Sylvester's corrupted coif, many modern scalps -- and the hair they wear -- could benefit from some TLC. Here are a few tips to help you get your scalp back into superior shape.


5: Avoid Sun-baked Hair

One of the more iconic images of the 1970s is a young, bikini-clad girl sprawled on a plastic mesh lawn chair soaking up the hot summer sun. You can almost smell her tanning oil and hear the crackling of her transistor radio. For many people, there's nothing more relaxing than lolling about in the sunshine. However, like many things, the sun is best enjoyed in moderation. Its invisible UV-B rays are necessary for enabling skin cells to produce vitamin D, but overexposure can cause sunburn, or worse.

Hair that is subjected to too much sun can become brittle and dry. And people with balding or thinning hair are especially susceptible to cumulative and irreversible scalp damage from sun exposure [source: Cheyenne Skin Clinic]. To avoid sun damage, wear a hat. You might also try hair care products with sunscreen in them (look for Octyl Salicylate/PABA on the label), but take care to coat your hair evenly in order to receive even protection.


4: Fried Fringe: Be Careful with Hair Dyes and Relaxers

Having your hair colored can be hard on your scalp.
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Whether you're looking to cover your gray, go from brunette to blonde, or straighten your curly hair, chances are you'll be using hair dyes or relaxers that contain chemicals that could burn your scalp, and, in some cases, cause severe allergic reactions [source: SafeCosmetics].

Your safest bet when coloring or relaxing your hair is to have the job done by a qualified professional stylist or colorist. If you do choose to use hair dyes or relaxers at home, always follow the package instructions. When using hair dye, make sure you do a skin patch test before using the product. Rub a tiny bit of the dye on your elbow or behind your ear, wait two days, and if your skin develops a rash, do not use the product on your hair. Also, never mix two different types of hair dye because this can damage both hair and scalp [source: FDA]. When using hair relaxers, coating the scalp with petroleum jelly before applying the product may help reduce scalp irritation and burning [source: FDA].


Organic non-ammonia-containing hair dyes are also available, as are vegetable dyes made from extracts like sage, walnut, chamomile, saffron and marigold. Keep in mind that organic hair dyes, though purported to be kinder on the scalp than their chemical counterparts, still contain chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide. Vegetable dyes are completely natural, but since they only coat the outer layer of the hair (the cuticle), color results can be erratic [source: SafeCosmetics].

3: Treat Your Tresses

The Internet is loaded with home remedies for hair and scalp care. You'll find recipes for everything from banana and almond-oil scalp conditioning pastes to avocado and raw egg follicle-boosting emulsions. While these homeopathic concoctions probably won't hurt your hair, chances are, they won't help it much either.

If, thanks to poor diet, medication, hormonal changes or damage from chemical hair processes, you're experiencing thinning hair, dandruff or other annoying but nonmedical scalp conditions, you might want to consider a professional scalp treatment. For example, Nioxin therapy revitalizes hair follicles and promotes growth, Moroccan oil treatment strengthens hair and restores shine, and there are also treatments for dry scalp [source: Rooks]. Similar therapies can be found at most professional salons, and professional hair care products like Drench and Moroccan oil can also be purchased online and used at home.


2: Massage Your Mane

A scalp massage is good for your hair and your head.
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If you've ever had your hair professionally shampooed at a salon, you know the calming luxury of a scalp massage firsthand. However, you may not know that there is a method to your stylist's madness. He's not only giving you the star treatment, he's employing a massage technique that traces its roots back to the ancient Indian art of ayurveda, which focuses on preventing problems before they occur. In addition to bestowing a sense of peacefulness and calm, a scalp massage can also increase blood flow and lymphatic drainage in the head, both of which purportedly stimulate hair follicles in the scalp [source: Osborn].

So, next time you lather up, take your time and really massage your scalp, rubbing the pads of your fingers firmly against your head in small circles [source: Rooks]. You might also consider investing in a scalp massage brush, which can be used while you shampoo or on dry hair.


1. Balance Your Diet

Although a starvation diet might help you slither into that size four dress, it could also rob your hair follicles of important nutrients and make your hair appear dull and lifeless. Similarly, if you stuff yourself with chips, soda and other processed fare, your scalp isn't going to be as healthy as it could be.

Healthy hair is a sign of overall good health. If your hair is dull, lifeless, brittle or lank, some common-sense dietary changes could liven your locks and improve your overall health. Healthy hair comes from healthy hair follicles, and hair follicles thrive on a balanced diet of protein, complex carbohydrates, fatty acids and essential vitamins. Salmon, rich in omega 3 fatty acids and full of lean protein, provides great nutrients for your scalp. To strengthen the cuticle (your hair's outer layer), feed your hair a cocktail of vitamins A, B12 and biotin found in spinach, eggs and bananas. Hair loss has been associated with deficiencies in certain minerals, so splurge on Brazil nuts for selenium and oysters for zinc. Iron has also been shown to support hair replenishment.To achieve a more balanced diet and improve the health of your scalp, put down those chips and that meal replacement bar and shop on the outer aisles of the grocery store, where you'll find fruits, fresh veggies, lean meat and dairy products.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Goins, Liesa. "Shampoo Chemicals Have You Confused?" Women's Health. Nov. 28, 2009. (April 19, 2010)
  • "Good Hair Care May Head off Hair Loss." American Academy of Dermatology. June 17, 2009. (April 19, 2010)
  • "Hair Colour: Chemical or Organic?" No publication date listed. (April 19, 2010)
  • "Hair Dye and Hair Relaxers." US Food and Drug Administration. 2007. (April 19, 2010)
  • Kotz, Deborah. "Time In the Sun: How Much Is Needed For Vitamin D?" U.S. News and World Report. June 23, 2009. (April 19, 2010)
  • McClain, Cassia. "The Truth About Hair Relaxers." (April 19, 2010)
  • Osborn, Karrie. "Indian Head Massage." Massage & Bodywork Magazine. January 2005. (April 19, 2010)
  • Nissel, Jan. "Topic: scalp Problems." Blue Shield of California. July 3, 2007. (April 19, 2010)
  • Rooks, Joi. Owner, Fresche Salon; Sebastian Creative Team. Personal Interview. April 13, 2010.
  • "Sun and Your Skin." Cheyenne Skin Clinic. No publication date. (April 19, 2010)
  • "The Power of Madonna." Glee. Fox. WAGA, Atlanta. April 20, 2010.
  • Way, Gina. "Sexy, Shiny Hair Starts From the Inside Out." Women's Health. Nov. 28, 2009. (April 19, 2010)
  • WebMD. "What Your Hair & Scalp Say About Your Health." Dec. 18, 2008. (April 19, 2010)