I don’t know whether it’s the central heating, or the fact that WFH allows me to go days without washing my hair, but recently, when I’m sat at my desk, concentrating but not concentrating, my hand subconsciously gravitates towards my head, and I begin to scratch. I barely know I’m doing it, until a ceremonious shower of confetti settles on my keyboard. Sorry, are you eating?
I’m not alone: two in five adults suffer from some kind of scalp condition, which can be anything from flakes to dandruff. “Genetics, the environment, illness, allergies and hormones all play a big role” says Kelly May, senior stylist Neville’s Hair and Beauty. At best, it’s uncomfortable and will make you blush. At worst, it’s maddening and will make you bleed.
“Everyone’s susceptible, no matter what your hair type”, says Charlotte Mensah, whose clients include Michaela Coel and Zadie Smith (now you’re listening). "Straight hair collects oil, which leads to flaking. Curly hair doesn't hold enough moisture, meaning scalps are drier, and afro hair is usually worn in one style for a number of days, which can cause build up on the scalp”.
Although the symptoms are largely the same, they’re two very different conditions. A flaky scalp is down to dry skin that becomes irritated and flakes off. Dandruff however, occurs “when the scalp's microbiome becomes imbalanced and too much of a certain type of yeast accumulates,” says Annabel Kingsley, daughter of the late and lauded trichologist Phillip Kingsley.
Stress is a huge factor, and something we've all been under a lot of recently. Also, dry skin. “In colder months, dandruff becomes much more of a problem,” says May. To remove product build up, oil and dead skin that may be blocking pores, Mensah recommends an exfoliating scrub. BURO. loves the Omorovicza Revitilising Scalp Mask, £57 (see below for more details).
Diet wise, full-fat dairy products and carbs are known to cause flare ups, so if you are suffering, try and cut back. Mensah suggests foods that are rich in vitamins, nutrients and fatty acids, such as salmon, walnuts and flaxseeds. And drink plenty of water. "It helps you cut back on caffeine, alcohol and salty foods, all of which dehydrate you and your scalp," says Michael Lendon, Aveda’s Creative Director.
Shampoos with sulphates and parabens will strip your hair of its natural oils and in the long run, make it more susceptible to bacterial build up. So swerve those, and instead, look for formulas that are rich in fatty acids.
“Be sure to use natural oils,” says Renee Gadar, Aveda's Global Artistic Director of Texture. “Whether your hair is natural, or you're wearing a protective style, you must regularly oil your scalp, either by applying it with your fingers, or, if access is limited by a wig or weave, using a basting syringe”.
Apply onto a dry scalp and leave for 30 minutes, before rinsing and shampooing.
Not all hair brushes are created equal. While some bristles may feel good, they can damage your scalp, and in turn, your hair. Zoe Irwin, ghd ambassador, advises swapping smaller brushes for big paddle ones. “As you sweep the brush along the scalp, it will lightly massage and increase blood circulation, helping to stimulate healthy hair growth. Plus, the wide surface means less brushing is needed overall and thus, less stress is put on your hair."
In order to remove excess oils, Kingsley says that one of the most important things you can do is shampoo regularly. “This helps keep yeast levels in-check and makes it harder for them to grow. Plus, the massaging action of shampooing also helps to remove dead skin cells from the surface of your scalp”.
Adam Reed, L’Oréal Professionnel ambassador reccomends Source Essentielle Delicate Shampoo, £14.50, which, formulated with chamomile flowers, soothes a sensitive scalp whilst getting rid of impurities.
“Overly hot water will dry your hair and scalp out, and often, halt hair's natural oil production," says Mensah, who recommends turning the temperature dial right down. Lendon agrees, and adds that you should try and air dry your hair every other wash, and turn the heat down on your hairdryer.
This specifically targets the malassezia yeasts that cause dandruff. It's designed to be applied to a dry scalp, and doesn't need rinsing out.