This is another common question we are asked when we meet people and they are considering switching to one of our shampoos.
My immediate question is always: “do you really have dandruff?”
There are several reasons why your scalp could be flaky. In this post, we’ll break down what dandruff really is, the other reasons your scalp might be flaky, and what you can do about it.
#1: Dry scalp
Dry scalp is one of the most common reasons for a flaky scalp. If you have a dry scalp, you’ll notice the flakes are small and white. Your scalp could also be itchy, and you might have dry skin elsewhere on your body.
Dry scalp is particularly common in colder weather (hello, Swiss winters!) and in dry climates with low humidity. But it could also be due to dehydration or over-washing your hair. Sometimes people don’t notice they have dry scalp because they feel like their hair gets oily quickly. This leads them to wash their hair more frequently which can result in an even drier scalp. Just because your hair feels oily, does not mean you have an oily scalp. Let’s just bust this myth once and for all and see my previous post on the topic.
So, what can you do about it? The first and most important thing is to make sure you aren’t washing your hair too frequently. Almost no one should be washing their hair every day.
If you’re only washing your hair once or twice a week (with a shampoo containing moisturizing oils) and you’re still getting a dry scalp, try an oil treatment. Oils that are high in oleic acid are great for dry scalp, including shea butter, coconut oil, and even humble (and inexpensive) rapeseed oil. For extra sebum balancing power, add a few drops (no more than 1%) of ylang ylang oil.
To do an oil treatment, simply mix the ylang ylang oil (if you’re using it) into your carrier oil and evenly apply to the roots of your hair and scalp. Make sure your hair is dry when you do this as it’s much more difficult to apply oil to wet hair.
Massage in and leave for a few hours, or put a towel on your bed and leave in overnight. Wash out the next day and enjoy your lovely soft hair and moisturized scalp.
The final thing is to make sure you drink enough water – but I’m sure you’re doing that already 😉
You can also experience a flaky scalp if some of the products you’re using are irritating your skin. This is particularly common if you’re using products with allergens like fragrance, cocamidopropyl betaine, and parabens (in almost every commercial and natural shampoo) or behentrimonium chloride (in many conditioners). If you’re experiencing irritation, your scalp may feel dry but you’ll also have red itchy patches that could extend to other parts of your body.
If your flaky scalp is due to irritation, try to find the source of the irritation by eliminating certain common allergens in your hair care and using a shampoo especially for sensitive skin, and see if you notice a difference. Alternatively, a dermatologist can help diagnose this for you.
#3: Product build-up
If you comb your fingers through your hair and notice a waxy substance build up under your nails, this is product build-up. When it’s dry, it can flake off the scalp and look like dandruff. Product build-up can be due to a number of factors, like using too much conditioner on your scalp (a particular problem for people with short hair), using products with silicones and waxes in them, or using oil/butter-based products that are too heavy for your hair type.
If you think your flaky scalp is due to product build-up, it’s best to use a clarifying shampoo once a week or stop using the products that are causing the problem. The world is your oyster when it comes to hair products, there is no reason to continue using products that cause issues for your scalp.
#4 Seborrheic dermatitis/dandruff
Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition where the scalp becomes red and itchy, and you shed large yellow or white flakes. Dandruff is a milder form of the same thing. There’s still some uncertainty as to what causes this condition, but it’s most commonly seen in people who have an overproduction of oil and the abnormal growth of a yeast called Malassezia. This fungus naturally lives on the scalp, but an overgrowth of it can cause further sebum production which leads to an irritated and flaky scalp. There are several factors that can cause or exacerbate seborrheic dermatitis, including using hair care products that contain alcohol, stress, acne, and poor diet and skincare.
If you have seborrheic dermatitis or dandruff, you’ll typically need to use a medicated shampoo to get rid of the condition. Alternatively, research has found that products formulated with lemongrass essential oil can be an effective treatment of dandruff. As in most cases, more studies need to be done on these essential oils to prove their efficacy, but (when used in safe quantities, like in our Clear shampoo), there’s no harm in trying it out if you prefer a natural alternative to medicated shampoos.
Image credit: Alex Robinson