September 17th 2019
Who, What, Hair
8 ways to treat a dry and itchy scalp
March 23rd 2018 / 0 comment
Scratching your head wondering what to do about a dry and flaky scalp? Here’s what you need to know
Scratching your head a little more often than usual? While it’s probably not down to nits (fingers crossed), it could be because of a dry scalp instead.
A dry flaky scalp isn’t to be confused with dandruff or seborrhoeic dermatitis though (a common mix-up), which occurs when there’s an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast. “In these instances, the scalp is almost always oily, not dry,” says trichologist Anabel Kingsley. “This imbalance of the scalp’s microflora can cause skin cells to divide too rapidly and, as they are produced faster than they can be shed, flakes appear.”
The most common causes of a dry and flaky scalp are constant exposure to changes in temperature and weather (switching from the cold outdoors and central heating indoors for instance), dehydration and sunburn. Flakiness is a natural side-effect of extreme dryness and when scratched, it can become especially hard to shrug off. “A dry scalp is also more common in older age,” says Anabel. “This is because the skin’s sebaceous glands become less active.” Over-washing with aggressive detergents, and using the wrong products for your hair and scalp type are also other sure-fire ways to dry your scalp out too.
If the itching’s starting to drive you a little bit crazy, not to fret, here’s how to get your scalp back to feeling its best again.
1. Use a gentler shampoo
To prevent stripping the scalp of lucrative moisture and leaving it further parched, swap aggressive shampoos for gentler and more hydrating alternatives.
If your scalp is particularly sensitive, Anabel recommends using one that is free of colour and fragrance. Philip Kingsley No Colour Shampoo, £18.50, is one of the best around in this particularly category. It’s so gentle that it can be used by those undergoing chemo and radiation therapy, treatments that can make skin particularly sensitised.
A friend of mine who’s been trying Kerastase’s Specifique Bain Riche Dermo-Calm Shampoo, £16, has been especially impressed with the effect it’s had on her dry and flaky scalp. Its combination of scalp-friendly ingredients such as calophyllum oil to calm inflammation, anti-bacterials to relieve itching and glycerol to hydrate and protect has helped reduce her flaking after just a few uses.
For a hydrating cleanse, I’ve particularly loved using Mr Smith’s new Balancing Shampoo, £25. Sulfate, paraben and silicone-free and certified vegan too, its conditioning formula of jasmine and mandarin oils alongside blood circulation-boosting patchouli and avocado oils, leaves scalp and hair soothed and less stressed.
If you’re looking to turn your hair washing routine on its head even further though, Percy & Reed’s Wonder Cleanse & Nourish, £14.40, could be just what you’re looking for. A no-lather, no-conditioner, sulphate-free cleansing cream for hair, it’s packed with goodies such as aloe vera, camellia oil, essential oils and keratin and wheat proteins for a calming cleanse that both strengthens and rehydrates.
2. Don’t wash your hair in hot water
As well as drying out the actual hair shaft and making it more prone to environmental damage, hot water can also damage the scalp and negatively impact on future hair growth. Stick to warm water and if you’re still in the mood for a temperature change, finish your hair wash off with a cold rinse to seal cuticles, increase shine and boost circulation in the scalp.
3. Use a moisture-boosting scalp treatment
Team your weekly hair mask with a weekly scalp treatment to boost hair health from root to tip. If your hair is particularly dry and itchy though, use twice weekly instead to further boost its rehydrating benefits.
For a pre-shampoo treatment, try Moroccanoil Dry Scalp Treatment, £25.65, a pipette drop applicator elixir designed to increase moisture levels and calm irritation. As well as antioxidant-rich argan oil and soothing lavender and geranium essential oils, it also contains salicylic acid to gently exfoliate flakiness away.
Philip B Rejuvenating Oil, £33, is also a great pick for both dry hair and scalps alike thanks to its rebalancing list of plant and nut oils that includes olive, walnut, jojoba and lavender oils (to name but a few). You’ll want to savour every last drop.
If you're a fan of Sisley’s skincare range, you'll also likely love its new Hair Care range - Hair Rituel by Sisley. Its 2-in-1 Hair Care Mask, £71, is just as luxe in texture as its predecessors - with an equally high price tag to match. However, unlike a lot of other hair masks, it’s formulated to strengthen roots as well as ends. Lightweight and creamy, it contains a mixture of botanical oils, vitamins and minerals to help recondition the scalp and counteract the damage caused by over-processing.
...but opt for a less abrasive approach and choose a milder alternative. “You should exfoliate your scalp once to twice a week with a gentle mask,” says Anabel. “From our retail range, I love our Exfoliating Scalp Mask, £8, which contains gentle exfoliants, as well as moisturizing aloe vera and protective emollients.”
5. Don’t scratch…
“It’s important not to scratch, as this can abrade the scalp tissue and cause further aggravation,” says Anabel. A surprising skincare-inspired hair care product can help alleviate the itching. “Apply a soothing scalp toner that contains ingredients such as camphor (cooling and calming) and benzalkonium chloride (an anti-itch agent) such as our Flaky/Itchy Scalp Toner, £9,” says Anabel. It’s also fragrance-free in case you’re especially prone to irritation.
6. Drink more water
As well as helping aid better digestion and brain function, water is essential for hydrated skin too. When life gets in the way though, chances are that most of us don’t drink enough of the stuff and as a result, our skin suffers, turning drier and more likely to become irritated. Aim for around 2 litres a day (depending on your level of activity and what it’s like weather-wise) to support scalp health and future hair growth.
7. Eat your way to a more hydrated scalp
Just like you can eat your way to glowing skin, you can eat your way to a healthier scalp too. “The scalp is simply skin, and like all skin, it will benefit from a balanced and varied diet,” says Anabel. Protein (to aid hair growth) and complex carbohydrates (to provide energy for hair growth) are key, as is upping your intake of iron (ferritin) to extend the length of time hair spends in its growth phase. Good sources of iron include red meats, but also vegetables such as beetroot, spinach, broccoli and almonds.
Zinc is also important due to its role in helping our bodies process other hair building blocks such as carbs, fats and protein. It can be found in foods such as nuts, eggs, chickpeas and spinach.
Upping your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is key too as not only will they help improve moisture levels, but also reduce inflammation too. Foods like walnuts, seeds and fish are valuable sources.
8. See a specialist if you need to
The above recommendations should help for mild to moderate cases of dryness, itchiness and flaking. If the dryness is painful though or your symptoms worsen, book in with a professional. “If your scalp is very red, sore, bleeding or inflamed, or if scales are firmly stuck to your scalp or built up along the hair shaft, you should make an appointment to see a trichologist or dermatologist,” says Anabel. “In these instances, you may have a different scalp condition, such as psoriasis or pityriasis amiantacea, which need prescription treatment.”