Caring for your scalp is key to having healthy hair and improving hair condition. The scalp is also skin, and as such, it needs to be looked after just like you would any other part of your body’s skin. An unhealthy scalp will react by becoming itchy, oily or dry, and can also develop issues like dandruff, resulting in inflammation that can weaken hair follicles that struggle to grow strong, beautiful hair.
Too often, we wait until our scalp is itchy or has visible signs of inflammation until we do something about it, which hurts the scalp microbiome as it struggles to heal itself.
But what is the microbome?
The microbiome is a community of microorganisms, like fungi, bacteria, protozoa and viruses, that live in and on our body. These microorganisms are also in our intestines, genitals, mouth, lungs, and all over our skin – each its own ecosystem that balances and protects it. It really is a marvellous thing, kind of like the balanced garden bed on which your plants will grow.
On the scalp, the microbiome has a propensity for yeast. It can be a dark, warm part of the body where air may not easily circulate as it’s covered by hair and a thickened skin layer – a perfect home to yeast, same as having a yeast infection on you privates (both yeast, just different species of yeast-like fungus). The temperature on the scalp is slightly higher than that of the body (In fact, the treatment of “scalp cooling” and using cooler water has been recommended for decades to help prevent hair loss, and for patients undergoing medical treatments). On top of this ‘hot head’ we are then applying occlusive products like oils and conditioners that cause drastic damage to the scalp microbiome.
The biggest issue is that for centuries now, cosmetic manufacturers (a.k.a. manufacturers of skin, haircare and makeup products) did not consider the microbiome in their products. Waaay before, a long-time ago girls and boys, it was all about using soap on your hair (since 2800 BC! Yechh!) The issues with soap on the scalp were awful and we were oblivious!
Then, as chemistry in cosmetics developed and marketing showed we were interested in nicer, smelling lotions and potions, the emphasis became all about creating gorgeous textures that made our products smell nice and applied generously, and not necessarily on the viability of each ingredient. It was about cheap, pretty, and gorgeously-scented. We switched to synthetics and began to omit plant-based ingredients because they were comparatively expensive.
Now, there are many synthetics being used unnecessarily, resulting in a cocktail overload on our skin and hair, and this essentially affects our microbiome.
Plus, we are using too many products daily, which are used all too often. This causes damage to our delicate skin microbiome, and this damage can take a long time to reverse (or in many cases, irreparably so).
At Obloom, we see this routine commonly in haircare brands all over social media and online: The practice to pre-poo with a hair oil or hair mask, we then wash with a shampoo, add a silicone-based conditioner for that ooh-aah softness, plonk on a leave-in product and maybe a gel or mousse to finish it off with hairspray. Whaaat?! These 5 products alone can contain over 150 different ingredients that are touching the scalp – sometimes on a daily basis – and damaging the microbiome! (Plus these routines take SO LONG… I can’t even!)
What happens when your scalp gets itchy and flaky from all this product use? We then use a harsh shampoo to remove the “dead cells” and flakes, and maybe even add on some antibiotic products. How is this not supposed to damage the microbiome in the long run? And did you know that these strong so-called “dandruff shampoos” work temporarily, while the problem returns after you stop using them?
This extensive process is not sustainable, yet we have the best remedy right here: Our own microbiome.
When your scalp microbiome is unhealthy or affected, then the happy family of microbiota begin to argue with each other and cause drama, with each ‘family member’ wanting to dominate to survive – alas, the scalp imbalance. And the problems begin.
So, we need to go back to basics and simplify our daily routine in order to support the microbiome on the scalp for healthy hair growth.
Here are some top tips for best microbiome 'practices':
Less ingredients, more natural products.
Use simpler products with less ingredients. If you’re unsure about the ingredients, look them up and understand what the function is for each of them. Try and source products that are made up of more naturally-sourced ingredients and less synthetics.
Less often. Keep the oils on.
We have become used to washing our face daily, having daily showers, and scrubbing every inch of our skin with foaming cleansers. This practice is highly unnecessary and may strip off the bits of dirt and oil from your skin, but it also strips off the nutrition that feeds the microbes. Simply washing the body with water (arms, legs, torso) and concentrating on washing more delicate areas (privates, scalp, armpits, etc.) is best. And doing it less often too – you really don’t need to wash your whole body and hair daily as this affects the microbiome.
Read about your hair product’s pH and why it matters [HERE]
and how this affects your scalp and hair health.
Plenty of water – rinse thoroughly!
It’s important to cleanse your scalp, but it’s even more important to rinse out all of the product that has been building up on your scalp. Using lukewarm water is best, rather than hot water. Remember what we already mentioned – cooler temps mean growth and hair fall prevention!
Don’t use your nails to scratch your scalp.
Be gentle and darn it, don’t scratch your scalp in the shower while you're washing your hair. Don't use a brush in the shower. Don't scratch vigorously! Using your nails can damage the scalp causing small tears that can harm the microbiome and overproduce sebum (natural oils). Just use the pads of your fingers gently, kind of like you’re massaging a newborn baby’s back.
Stop touching it all the time.
The fingertips and nails are the dirtiest parts of our body – second to the mouth . Try to touch your scalp less often and when you do massage daily, be sure that it’s with freshly cleaned hands and nails to prevent foreign bacteria from being deposited on the scalp.
How does it feel?
Listen to your body’s reaction to washing and using products. Does your skin feel dry after a shower? Do you have to add moisturizers and creams on it because you just stripped off its natural protective oils? Is your scalp itchy after using a certain shampoo or maybe your scalp feels “sensitive” and painful to the touch? Is your face red and burning? These are immediate signs that you may be using the wrong products that are harming the skin’s microbiome. Long-term, you can expect to exacerbate skin issues and this can also affect your hair growth.
You have certainly heard that “less is best” and “simplicity rules”. This is certainly the case when it comes to the scalp microbiome. And this is the best advice to keep it at its optimal balance for growing beautiful, healthy hair.
Do you have questions about the scalp microbiome? Add your comments below and we’ll get you sorted out.
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