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Scalp Problems


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What Ails Us

Barnett, a Dallas-based trichologist (a nonmedical hair-care expert) and certified natural-health professional, cites three scalp problems that are especially common among African-American women: scaly scalp, itchiness, and excessive dryness.

Scaly scalp: The scalp is no different from the rest of the skin, meaning that a healthy one renews itself and sheds roughly every 30 days. Through normal hygiene and styling routines, these cells are whisked away without our ever seeing them. But when hair sheds too quickly, as in every 14 days, the result is visible clusters of dead cells, called dandruff.

What causes accelerated cell regeneration? "Stress, hormones, and diet," says Barnett, who believes that by addressing these areas, women can guarantee long-term results that surpass any benefits derived from a quick-fix-in-a-bottle.

Itchy scalp: Stress is frequently the culprit here, too. Barnett explains that when stress levels are high, many people enter into a fight-or-flight response mode in which the body redirects blood to the muscles for extra adrenaline. Often this means that the required amount of blood isn't available to reach the skin. As a result, nutrients and oxygen go missing, leading to an itchy feeling. "However, raking nails or a comb across the scalp will only further irritate the area," warns Barnett.

Dry scalp: The sebaceous glands secrete natural oil to the skin and scalp. When these glands are not properly working, either too much or too little oil is produced. A diet high in saturated fats and hormones is often the cause.

Black women, more than other women, tend to disrupt the natural distribution of oils even further because of harmful styling habits. As a result, we often end up with dry scalps, leading to damaged follicles and unhealthy hair. "Caustic chemical relaxers and the excessive heat of curling irons and blow-dryers is enough to dry out the oils on the scalp," points out Barnett.

Dos and Don'ts for a Healthier Scalp

Beyond checking with your doctor to rule out a hormonal imbalance or serious illness, and working to reduce daily stress, here are additional strategies to help you get your scalp into tip-top condition:

Do drink enough water. Barnett says that you need to consume half of your body weight every day to keep things running smoothly. This means that a 130-pound woman should be downing 65 ounces of H2O daily.

Don't slather on petroleum-based or animal-derived oils and products. While they initially may seem to moisturize, Barnett warns that "they will just lie on your scalp and over time will clog pores and make the problem worse."

Do use essential oils, either directly on the scalp, as part of hot-oil treatments, or as ingredients in hair products. "Peppermint, for itchiness; lavender, to soothe irritation; and rosemary, for circulation, are excellent," Barnett recommends.

Don't rely solely on antidandruff shampoos. "Used alone, they tend to be too drying for Black hair," explains Barnett. "Use one first and follow with a moisturizing shampoo. You shouldn't do one without the other."

Do eat lots of essential fatty acids, found in flaxseed oil, avocados, and nuts. These important components of a healthy diet help to moisturize the scalp and keep the body working optimally.

Natural Wisdom

Incorporating changes into your normal hair-care routine is another excellent way to prevent future problems. Yvette Smalls, a Philadelphia-based hair-care expert, recommends these natural remedies to keep your crown looking and feeling glorious:

Jojoba: "This essential oil is, hands down, the best thing you can use for your scalp," she says. Give yourself monthly hot-oil treatments with it to moisturize the scalp and keep hair follicles clear.

Apple-cider vinegar: When it comes to restoring the scalp's natural acid balance, which can be upset by shampooing, vinegar never fails, according to Smalls. "Don't worry, the smell doesn't linger," she adds. "Just take one part vinegar to three parts water and use as a rinse after shampooing."


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