Many of us don’t often think about the health of our scalp. Instead, when considering your self-care routine and the products you use, you might think more about how they affect your hair. 

However, not taking care of your scalp care can lead to a range of unwanted issues – including dandruff, eczema, and infections. Though the good news is that making small, simple changes to your routine can make all the difference to the health of your scalp and, in turn, the health of your hair. 

Here are six tips for a healthy scalp.

Why is scalp health important?

Why is scalp health important

Taking care of your scalp is important for various reasons – including comfort and hair growth.

According to experts, a healthy scalp is pink in tone, well-hydrated, smooth, and free of flakes of skin or redness. Luckily, our scalps tend to be pretty good at letting us know if something isn’t right. For example, you might have experienced symptoms like burning, itching, extreme oiliness, dandruff, or hair loss before if your scalp hasn’t been happy. 

The scalp contains around 100,000 follicles which our hair grows from. These follicles produce sebum (or oil), which is responsible for keeping the scalp moisturised and protected from infection. 

Both hair follicles and the scalp in general have their own microbiome – and research has linked microbiome imbalances with dandruff, eczema, and seborrheic dermatitis (a condition that causes dandruff and scaly skin). 

Other studies have linked a lack of scalp care with dry hair, hair breakage, reduced hair shine, and in some cases, premature hair loss. Some people also experience scalp pimples or infections. 

Imbalances can occur as the result of excess sebum, dirt, and leftover product building up on the scalp. Creating a solid scalp care routine can help to protect you against these effects.

6 tips for a healthy scalp

So how can you best take care of your scalp? We’ll cover some ideas below…

1. Wash your hair and scalp regularly and be mindful of the products you use

When left unwashed for too long, excess oil, product, and dirt can build up on the scalp. 

How often you need to wash your hair will depend on your hair type and texture. People with fine hair may need to wash their hair more frequently than those with thicker hair because they have more oil glands on their scalp, so hair can become greasy quicker. You can find further guidance on how often to wash your hair on the Boots UK website.

However, just as not cleansing regularly enough can harm scalp health, it’s equally important not to overdo it and strip the scalp of all sebum. Sebum plays an important role in maintaining a healthy scalp – for example, by keeping it moisturised. If you remove all natural oils, your scalp may begin over-producing oil to try and keep it hydrated. So, your aim should be to remove excess sebum, but not all of it. 

Alongside not overwashing your hair, experts advise against using products containing sulfates. These can strip the hair of sebum entirely, leaving your scalp dry and prone to irritation. The same goes for products containing alcohol or fragrances, which can dry hair out and may irritate sensitive scalps. 

Try massaging products into your scalp instead of scrubbing when washing your hair. This can help to increase circulation and prevent abrasions from appearing on the scalp. 

Where possible, it’s also best to avoid having hair treatments that contain harsh chemicals, such as dye and bleach. These can cause damage and irritation to hair and skin.

2. Avoid keeping your hair wet for long periods

Having damp hair for long periods can negatively impact your scalp. 

The majority of bacteria thrive in a neutral pH – which happens to be that of water. Leaving your hair (and by proxy, your scalp) damp creates the ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. This can lead to problems like dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis. 

If you’ve ever sat with conditioner in your hair for several hours or tied your wet hair into a bun, you may have experienced an itchy scalp. This is just one example of how easily our scalps can become irritated – and how quickly the effects of bacteria can occur. 

It’s best to allow your hair and scalp to dry properly, whether freely or with a hair-drying device, after washing it as this will return it to its natural, acidic pH level.

3. Take steps to boost blood flow to your scalp

Blood circulation makes sure that your scalp receives all of the oxygen and essential nutrients it needs to thrive. A well-supplied scalp also means well-supplied hair follicles – and so a lack of blood flow has been found to impact hair growth and thickness. 

Symptoms of poor blood circulation to the scalp include brittle hair strands, reduced hair volume, and rough, dry hair.

Research shows that massaging your scalp is one of the best ways to stimulate blood flow. You can do this by applying gentle pressure with your fingers, or you might like to buy a scalp massaging device.

Some people also like to use a scrub while massaging their scalp. As well as helping to dilate blood vessels under the skin, scrubs are wonderful for exfoliating the skin – gently removing excess oil, dandruff, and skin cells. This is key for improving moisture absorption and preventing a dry, itchy scalp.

In turn, experts say that exfoliating the scalp stimulates the regrowth of hair follicles, offers an effective remedy for people with both sensitive and oily hair, and is key for maintaining healthier, shinier hair. Plus, many scalp scrubs are infused with nutrients like zinc, iron, and biotin, which are key for hair health.

You might like to try one of these 13 best scalp scrubs from Glamour UK. Then, check out this step-by-step guide to exfoliating your scalp from Boots if you’re ready to get started. To avoid irritation, it’s best to exfoliate your scalp no more than once or twice a week. However, it’s safe to massage your scalp with your hands every day.

Take steps to boost blood flow to your scalp

4. Consider investing in a water filter or softener

The type and quality of water that we shower and bathe in can significantly impact our hair and skin health. Water contains varying levels of minerals, which help to define how ‘hard’ it is.

Calcium and magnesium molecules, which hard water contains higher amounts of, have been found to react with the skin barrier and increase hair irritation and damage. According to experts, overexposure to hard water can worsen skin conditions such as eczema and weaken the hair shaft. 

Soft water is free from impurities like chlorine and other chemicals and minerals that can irritate hair and skin. It’s, therefore, better for keeping the scalp moisturised, improving blood circulation, and reducing inflammation. 

Hard water, on the other hand, can cause irritation, itchiness, and dandruff, and impact the health and growth of hair by clogging hair follicles with chemicals and reducing blood circulation. 

This study found that there was an increased prevalence of eczema in areas with higher water hardness.

If you live in a hard water area, you might like to consider investing in a water softener.

5. If your scalp is dry, use oil-free products to add moisture

If you’ve got a dry scalp, your first thought might be to treat it with an oil-based product. 

However, oiling your scalp can cause even further irritation and discomfort if it’s already dry. For example, research has drawn a strong link between the Melassezia fungus, which thrives on oils, and the onset of dandruff and seborrheic dermatitis.

The fungus already has an affinity to the naturally-occuring sebum on our scalps, so adding even more oil can create its ideal breeding ground.

However, scalp serums and treatments that contain oil-free ingredients like allantoin, glycerin, and/or hyaluronic acid have proven to be most effective at improving the skin barrier function. This improves the scalp’s ability to retain moisture without causing a buildup of excess oil. 

If your scalp is dehydrated, you might like to check out this list of 22 scalp serums to support a healthy scalp and hair growth from Get The Gloss.

That said, it’s important to note that our scalps don’t have to shine for us to know they’re sufficiently moisturised! An easy way to see whether your scalp has enough moisture is to press a clean, dry finger onto it. You should see a faint oily sheen on your finger that you can also feel if you rub your fingers together.

6. Consider adding more probiotics and anti-inflammatory foods to your diet

One of the major causes of dandruff and conditions like psoriasis and seborrhoeic dermatitis is persistent low-level inflammation. So, it’s worth considering how your diet may be impacting the level of inflammation in your body. 

Certain foods, including processed meat, refined carbohydrates, and foods with lots of added sugar are known to cause inflammation – so it can be worth limiting your intake of these. Meanwhile, foods such as berries, mushrooms, turmeric, and fatty fish are rich in nutrients like omega-3s, B vitamins, and magnesium, which are known to be anti-inflammatory. 

For example, research has proven that omega-3s help fight inflammation, soothe skin, promote wound healing, and prevent scalp irritation. In this study, omega-3s were found to be effective at soothing inflammation and itchiness caused by scalp psoriasis. Check out our article on 14 anti-inflammatory foods for more information. 

Assessing your digestive health may not be your first train of thought when it comes to caring for your scalp, but since gut and skin health are linked, it’s worth thinking about. 

A good place to start is to make sure you’re getting enough probiotics in your diet. Probiotics are the friendly bacteria found in your gut and are important for maintaining a healthy, balanced gut microbiome. In this study, probiotics were found to help thicken hair in mice. Good sources of probiotics include fermented foods like miso, tempeh, and kefir.

Final thoughts…

We might not think about it often, but taking care of our scalp is important. From improving hair shine and growth to managing skin concerns like dandruff and eczema, what part of your routine could you adjust today?

For further reading, head over to the general health section of our website. Here, you’ll find information on everything from common skin conditions to how diet affects all areas of health.

How do you take care of your scalp health? Will you be trying anything new after reading our article? We’d be interested to hear from you in the comments below.