One of the most frustrating things about a sensitive scalp from psoriasis, seborrhea or dandruff or is managing the flare ups in between doctor visits and shampoo sessions. Flare ups can not only be annoyingly inconvenient but they can be a beast to battle. In our continued series on Scalp Health, we’ve broken down eight steps to managing and preventing scalp flare ups before they happen. We want you to know what to do to prevent a flare up – from the right shampoos and conditioners to use – to what to use when they start to minimize the impact on your scalp and life. By being prepared, you can seriously change your scalps condition and spend less time thinking about your flakes.
Before we get to our tips, we just want to point out that when seeking out a doctor, be sure to find someone who not only understands health but hair and curly hair as well. Prescription steroids can wreak havoc on your hair causing it to break and fall out so it’s important to know what’s being prescribed for your scalp based on how you take care of your hair. If you wash every other week because that’s the best way to keep your hair healthy, you may find yourself in world of trouble when you need to wash every day because of steroid creams. Talk to your doctor about incorporating our suggestion below so that you can balance out your medical care with your at-home care and keep your hair healthy in the process.
STEP 1. KNOW YOUR STRONGEST SCALP SOOTHING INGREDIENTS – SALICYLIC ACID, COAL TAR, SULFUR, ZINC PYRITHIONE
These three FDA approved ingredients are effective in treating dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis flare ups. They all work by causing your scalp to soften and then gently slough or peel in areas where they are applied. If you are using an effective shampoo while managing your condition with a doctor, this will help your scalp greatly. You should always do an allergy patch test as many, many people are allergic to sulfur or salicylic acid and don’t know it. Before you choose any of these ingredients, talk to your doctor about how to incorporate a coal tar, salicylic acid and or sulfur shampoo into your routine especially if you are pregnant or nursing.
STEP 2. FIND AN EFFECTIVE PRE-SHAMPOO TREATMENT
To help sooth and prevent flareups between doctor visits, try a pre-shampoo scalp balm like Lush Superbalm Scalp Treatment. Lush’s co-founder is a trained Trichologist and created this soothing ointment of coconut oil, candelilla wax and salicylic acid to soothe your scalp while softening and ridding your hair of loose flakes. Tarsum Medicated Shampoo/Gel* is a coal tar scalp treatment that you can use before you shampoo.
STEP 3. CHECK YOUR SHAMPOO FOR SULFATES + MAKE SURE IT HAS A SCALP SOOTHING INGREDIENT
If you have curly hair, you may already know that you should be avoiding sulfates as often as possible. Simply put, shampoos contain sulfates to create a rich lather so that people will “know” their shampoo is working – but shampoos don’t actually need sulfates. For some people, sulfates can irritate your scalp whether you have a scalp condition or not and overly strip your hair of moisture. Keep in mind though that some of our suggested products have sulfates because they are the best of the best over-the-counter you can get (we tried to balance this out by suggesting products that also have natural oils to combat the stripping effects of sulfates). Sulfates are often listed on the bottle in the first few ingredients as Sodium Laureth, Lauryl Sulfate or Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate.
For coal tar-based shampoo we like Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo*. Our salicylic acid shampoo choices are Yes to Carrots Scalp Relief Shampoo, Neutrogena T/Sal Therapeutic Shampoo Scalp Build-up Control and Tarsum Medicated Shampoo/Gel. Though they are labeled for dandruff treatment, Giovanni Don’t Be Flaky Dandruff Shampoo which is salicylic acid based and Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo are two powerful shampoos that are full of all natural, organic ingredients. Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo is equally 2% sulfur and 2% salicylic acid based and is all natural and full of organic oils.
If you find that you like coal tar shampoo for its effectiveness but not so much for the smell and messy stains it can create, you could try rotating your shampoo between something softer smelling if you find that your hair smells like a medicine cabinet. You could pair Tarsum Medicated Shampoo/Gel as a pre-shampoo treatment and Jason Dandruff Relief 2-in-1 Shampoo & Conditioner for instance.
STEP 5. USE YOUR MEDICATED SHAMPOO CORRECTLY
Did you know there’s a proper way to use a medicated shampoo? Unlike regular shampoos, every drop counts so you want to make sure it goes to work. You don’t want most of the product on your ends, it should be on your scalp. Of course you can’t go wrong by following the instructions on the bottle, however, we tweaked them long ago and found that our new method gave us longer lasting results.
To get the most out of you dandruff shampoo and to use it properly, add the shampoo to your scalp first – like you would a pre-shampoo treatment. You can do this before or after wetting your hair. Gently massage it in and let it sit for 10-15 minutes and then proceed to wash your hair as you normally would. By letting it sit on your scalp, you allow the medication to go to work better and will know for sure that your scalp is clean. This means less wasted product (read: money) and a healthier scalp for you.
STEP 4. CHECK YOUR CONDITIONER AND LEAVE-IN FOR SULFATES + GO NATURAL OR ORGANIC
Like shampoo, your conditioner should be sulfate free as well if possible. Repeat step three here as you want to make sure that your conditioner keeps working for your scalp instead of against it. There are medicated conditioners you can use like Neutrogena T-Gel Treatment Conditioner. However an alternative is going with an organic conditioner with skin soothing and anti-itch ingredients like aloe vera juice, camphora and shea butter which can help cut down your flare ups. You want to think of your scalp as delicate and it only deserves the best. Botanical Skin Works Intensive Dandruff Concentrated Conditioner, Aveeno Nourish + Dandruff Control Anti-Dandruff Conditioner, Rahua Conditioner and Organix Argan Oil & Shea Butter Conditioner are good choices.
Even though your conditioner is a vital step in helping to prevent flare ups, be sure to avoid getting conditioner on your scalp to help prevent unnecessary build up. Remember, shampoo is for your scalp and conditioner is for your hair.
STEP 5. KNOW YOUR ALTERNATIVES
Zinc pyrithione is another active ingredient that works to calm an irritated scalp and willow bark extract and tea tree oil have been long touted as scalp calmers. Though tea tree has not officially been scientifically proven to work, many people love how it makes their scalps feel – including us. Shampoos with these ingredients include Organix Scalp Therapy Australian Tea Tree Shampoo which has both tea tree and will bark to naturally cleanses skin build up, Aveeno Nourish + Dandruff Control Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, John Masters Zinc & Sage Shampoo with Conditioner, Nioxin Scalp Recovery Medicated Cleanser and Jason Dandruff Relief Shampoo are all zinc pyrithione based shampoos and Jason Tea Tree Scalp Normalizing Shampoo and Kiehl’s Tea Tree Oil Shampoo are tea tree oil based.
STEP 6. STEP UP YOUR MOISTURE
You may find that you sometimes need to oil your scalp to keep it calm. The most important thing here is to pick the right oils so that you don’t end up with greasy hair or undo all the good you started with your pre-shampoo treatment, shampoo and conditioner. Jojoba oil is a great choice as it mimics our natural scalp oils and 100% organic unrefined shea butter is thick and creamy and will lock in moisture on your scalp to keep it from drying out. You don’t need much, just a light touch of oils on your scalp should do the trick and will keep your curls from becoming too greasy.
STEP 7. ADDRESS WHEN AND WHY YOU ARE SCRATCHING
If you still find yourself needing to scratch after all of the steps above or have sensitive skin, make sure you look for fragrance-free shampoo and conditioners. The added scents can be irritating to skin and even if a product is marked “unscented” it still might not be “fragrance-free.” DHS Tar Fragrance Free Tar Shampoo is a good place to start for those with sensitive skin.
STEP 8. BE PREPARED FOR ITCHING AND FLAKING AT ALL TIMES
A very important step in preventing or combating itching flare ups is a constant on hand treatment; something that you can keep in purse, desk or close by to whip out in a hurry.
An oldie but effective goodie is Scalpicin Anti-Itch Liquid Scalp Treatment which is formulated with 2% salicylic acid. However, if you want a better smell and prettier bottle just for the less locker room feel of Scalpicin, you could try Carol’s Daughter Lisa’s Hair Elixir Fortifying Scalp Spray which is formulated with camphor oil and cedar leaf which soothes and calms. Aveda Scalp Remedy Anti-dandruff Tonic is a daily leave-in scalp treatment with salicylic acid, sugar beet extract, rosemary, echinacea and sage and L’Oreal Natures Therapy Scalp Relief Leave-In Treatment* is also formulated with salicylic acid. Philip Kingsley Flaky Itchy Scalp Toner is another option. It’s a clear and odorless camphor-based watery leave-in that provides immediate and long lasting relief from irritation.
STEP 9. CHECK YOUR DIET
Lots of times inflammatory scalp issues are signs of autoimmune issues. Whether or not your doctor has suggested that this is the case for you, you may need tweaks in your diet to help cut down on your flare ups. A diet high in healthy protein – both meat and vegan based, complex carbohydrates, fatty acids and essential vitamins is vital to a healthy scalp. Seek out the advice of a nutritionist for optimizing your daily foods.
STEP 10. DON’T LET YOUR SCALP CONDITION GET YOU DOWN
There are a few things in life to ponder heavily over – world peace, homelessness and childhood diabetes being a few of those things. Your scalp should not be one of them. Don’t get us wrong, we know you need to think about it, but we don’t want you to stress. Take your time to stick to a game plan with your scalp – get the right combination of products in addition to seeing your doctor and nutritionist so that you don’t have to worry about something that you can partially or even fully control. By having a plan, you can cut down on the stress of having flareups and maybe even the flare ups themselves.
Though these conditions are not contagious, you should see a Dermatologist or Trichologist immediately if you are experiencing any symptoms related to psoriasis, seborrhea or dandruff to be properly diagnosed and treated. Failure to do so can result in chronic progression of the disorder and premature hair loss.
*An asterisk denotes products that are not sulfate-free.