Stress, diet and shampooing incorrectly: This is why your hair is in bad condition

Four experts tell Katie Wright about the dos and don’ts of scalp health.

With daily cleansing, toning and moisturising, not to mention weekly exfoliation or sheet masks, we pay a LOT of attention to our faces, but have you ever considered how much we neglect the skin on the top of our heads?

Focusing solely on the condition or our hair, rather than our scalp, can have drastic consequences, even leading to premature hair loss, experts say.

“Scalp health has a huge impact on hair,” warns Anabel Kingsley, Trichologist at Philip Kingsley. “Like any skin, the scalp sweats, sheds dead skin cells and produces oil. To help keep your scalp in tip-top shape, give it similar care to the skin on your face.”

“It is your scalp that mainly determines what your hair is like, whether it’s dry or greasy, dull or shiny, thick or thin,” agrees Trichologist Tony Maleedy. “Your scalp is the starting point and its health determines the quality of the hair.”

Whether you want to improve the look of your locks or are already experiencing problems like a flaky or itchy scalp, there are lots of things you can do to boost the health of your bonce.

Here, four experts share their advice for getting ahead in the hair game…

How can lifestyle factors affect my scalp and hair?

“A good diet is essential for follicular health, so make sure you eat plenty of foods, like eggs, for the biotin,” recommends GP Dr Unnati Desai. “Selenium is another must-have – you can get that from oily fish, like mackerel or sardines – and finally zinc. You can find zinc in red and white meat, and spinach. Vitamins B1 and B5 are important too. If you’re buying supplements, these are the main ingredients to look out for.”

Dr Adam Friedmann of the Harley Street Emporium also advises eating a healthy diet as well as “sleeping well, keeping adequately hydrated and trying to live a relatively stress-free life. That said, genetics play a role and some people will struggle more than others”.
Kingsley points out that you could be inadvertently causing scalp problems with the way you wash your hair: “A common mistake is to simply plop shampoo onto the root area, and quickly move your hands over it. However, being skin, your scalp needs to be cleansed properly. Using a similar method to how you would cleanse the skin on your face, spend around one minute gently massaging your scalp when you shampoo and rinse well.”
It’s also important not to scrub your hair or pile it on top of your scalp.

“It’s not necessary,” she says. “The suds that run down through your lengths will be enough to remove daily environmental grime and product residue, and doing either of these things can tangle your hair and damage the hair cuticle.”

“Don’t use metal-pronged brushes, ” Kingsley adds. “These can scratch the scalp and, as they can get very hot when you blow-dry, they can also burn your hair. Instead, use a brush with round plastic prongs.”

How can I fix a flaky scalp?

What should you do if you’re already noticing the effects of a less than healthy scalp?
“I’d always advise patients suffering with a scaly scalp to wash their hair with medicated dandruff shampoos containing salicylic acid – which dissolves away the skin cells, coal tar – which has a natural anti-fungal agent, or a tea-tree oil,” says Friedmann.

Desai recommends Capasal Therapeutic Shampoo, £7.85, Superdrug: “Lather it on and leave it for about three minutes before rinsing.”

If the problem persists, there may be scalp disease or a fungal infection present.
“If it is troublesome and cannot be treated with over-the-counter remedies, it is worth seeing a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment,” Friedmann says. “Signs of inflammation include redness, itching, weeping or flaking. All of these can be markers of scalp disease.”

What can I do about hair loss?

Did you know that hair loss isn’t just genetic, you can actually cause it by the way you style your hair?

“When you wear your hair up, tie it back loosely. Tight hairstyles can place a lot of stress on your hair follicles,” Kingsley warns. “Initially, this can give you a sore scalp. Long term, traction can damage hair follicles and cause a type of hair loss called ‘traction alopecia’.”
Stress is also a risk factor, Friedmann says: “Stress-related hair loss is particularly common in people who suppress feelings of stress and anger – those that implode rather than explode. We never switch off and it can result in chronic stress.

“Stress hormones called neuropeptides push hairs out of the growing phase into the resting phase – slowing regrowth to the point thinning hair is more obvious.”

Ultimately, you need a proper diagnosis to discover the underlying cause, he says: “Forget the wonder creams and supposed miracle shampoos, visit a dermatologist to discover the actual cause of your hair loss, and whether it’s treatable.”