Tola Okogwu is a healthy hair care advocate, hair coach and author of the critically-acclaimed children's book series "Daddy Do My Hair?". She has been an outspoken advocate for more informed hair care choices among black women, particularly with recent research highlighting frightening statistics about the hair care products targeted at this community.
We asked Tola to share some of her expertise with our readers, and she is sharing her top 5 tips for maintaining optimal scalp health. Check them out below!
The scalp plays an important role in healthy hair care by providing a healthy and optimum environment for hair to grow. If you think of the scalp as the soil from which hair grows, you can see why it’s so important to keep it nourished and healthy. An unhealthy scalp will struggle to produce healthy hair, so much like the rest of your body, it needs to be cared for properly.
1. KEEP IT CLEAN
It’s important to wash your scalp regularly as it accumulates a build up of dirt, bacteria and sebum (a natural oil produced by the scalp). The frequency with which you wash will depend on your lifestyle, scalp health and product use. Someone who exercises regularly and uses a lot of styling products would wash far more frequently than someone who mostly uses naturals products. As a rule of thumb, I advise cleansings at least once every two weeks.
It’s also a good idea to both clarify and detox the scalp periodically to prevent a build-up of products and toxins as this can lead to dryness, scalp disorders and even hair loss. Clarifying shampoos work to strip the hair and scalp of product build-up and because of their harsh nature should be used infrequently. Detoxing cleansers such as natural clays, help to rid the scalp of mineral and heavy metal deposits such as lead and chlorine.
2. KNOW YOUR TYPE
Like hair, there are also different types of scalp. Excessively oily scalp is caused by an over production of sebum on the scalp and can result in hair loss due to congested follicles and bacterial growth. Whilst more common in straighter textures, it can still be an issue for highly textured hair. Avoid washing too frequently as this can exacerbate the problem and also dry out hair. Using products containing acidic and astringent properties such as apple cider vinegar, witch hazel and tea tree can help combat this issue.
Dry scalp on the other hand happens when the scalp doesn’t produce enough sebum. Symptoms included flaky scalp, tightness and itchiness and hair can appear dry, dull and brittle. The causes of dry are wide and varied and so should always be investigated by a professional. If you are experiencing excessive itching, flakes, sores or bleeding, it’s important to see a Trichologist or Dermatologist as soon as possible. Mild dandruff can easily be managed using specific shampoos but some scalp issues such as Seborrhoeic Dermatitis can cause permanent hair loss if left untreated.
3. TO GREASE OR NOT TO GREASE
I encounter a lot of bad hair care habits and myths, a popular one being the use of heavy greases or Vaseline on the scalp. Unfortunately these greases do not moisturise and instead create an impermeable barrier on the scalp, which can cause irritation or build-up, which in turn can lead to hair loss.
Oiling the scalp is unnecessary except in very specific circumstances. Sebum naturally keeps the scalp moisturised and when we add external oils it can cause the body to reduce production of sebum, which in turn makes the scalp dry and you have to add more oil. I only ever recommend applying oil topically to the scalp when it is acting as a carrier for specific active ingredients. Things like essential oils to promote growth when doing scalp massages or antifungal and anti-inflammatory ingredients for scalp conditions like Seborrhoeic Dermatitis or Eczema.
4. CHECK YOUR INGREDIENTS
Even if you don’t have a specific allergy, the chemicals in many hair products can be irritating to the sensitive skin on your scalp and even cause issues such as Contact Dermatitis. Common ingredients to look out for include:
Surfactants in shampoos such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Cocamidopropyl Betaine
Short Chain alcohols such as Isopropyl alcohol, Propanol and Alcohol Denat (not to be confused with fatty alcohols such as Cetearyl or Cetyl alcohol).
Fragrances including synthetic and some natural (essential oils)
Ethanolamines such as Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA).
You may have heard the mantra rinse, rinse and then rinse again. It is very true and very important. A lot of the products we use contain ingredients, which are not designed to be left on the scalp and so it is very important, especially for highly textured hair, to rinse thoroughly. Also avoid applying products such as conditioners or gels to your scalp. This can cause irritation and build-up which can mimic the appearance of dry scalp.
5. INSIDE OUT
Healthy scalp starts from the inside so it’s important to have a healthy lifestyle. Make sure to drink plenty of water, as dehydration is a common cause of dry hair and scalp. Also, include lots of leafy green vegetables in your diet and exercise is also beneficial as it reduces stress and promotes blood circulation.