As a hairstylist, I see a lot of scalps. It's usually the first thing I inspect during a consultation. I've learned over the years that most people pay very little attention to their scalp. It's usually hiding under their hair and not a concern until they experience symptoms. Scalp conditions vary from simple (like dry, flaky scalp or scalp acne) to serious (an irregular mole, a rash). Here are a few scalp problems I have come across:
Dry Scalp feels tight and dry combined with tiny white flakes you may notice on top of the head, around the hairline and on the back of the neck. The usual cause is dry winter weather, or a possible summer sunburn. Try shampoos and conditioners that are dry-scalp specific. Always use warm to cool water and rinse well. Hot water and residue of products left behind promote dry flaking. Use minimal heat when styling, and always wear a cap in the sun to prevent sunburn.
Dandruff is excessive rapid buildup of dead skin flaking and shedding from the scalp. You may experience redness, itching and oily larger scale flaking. It's not dangerous or contagious -- just annoying. You might try dandruff shampoos containing zinc (such as Head and Shoulders), coal tar (T/Gel) or selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue). Always consult a physician if your dandruff doesn't clear up after a few shampoos.
Seborrheic Dermatitis looks and feels like an advanced version of typical dandruff. You'll likely experience redness and itching, with larger areas of thick crusty white/yellowish oily flaking and possible hair loss. I highly suggest treatment by a dermatologist. A daily at-home treatment of a five-minute scalp massage to loosen skin followed by an over-the-counter medicated shampoo containing resorcin, selenium, salicylic acid, coal tar or zinc can be helpful, in my experience. Always remember to rinse well and use clean brushes and combs to prevent infection.
Psoriasis is often itchy, dry and painful. It can be identified by red patches of raised thick, dry silvery-pinkish scales of dead, dry skin. Your doctor can easily diagnose and prescribe treatments in the form of lotions, creams and shampoos, and sometimes prescribe pills, injections and phototherapy. In my experience, organic topical oils such as Argon oil and coconut oil can help ease the symptoms and provide comfort to an itchy scalp.
Moles can be very dangerous. I always observe and report moles that appear to grow in size, change in color, itch, feel rough in texture or bleed. They may need to be removed, so I also advise any client with a mole to seek the consultation of a dermatologist.
Staph infection may result from head trauma or a simple scratch to the scalp. Staph can be contagious and if not handled promptly and specifically treated, can cause organ failure or death. Pay attention to unusual itching, pain or tenderness, lumps, lesions or nodules that are tender, painful, scabby or oozing with pussy liquid. Address these symptoms with your doctor immediately.
Treatment usually consists of antibiotics given orally, topically or through an IV. Use a medicated shampoo such as Hibiclens in addition to a few drops of tea tree oil at the site several times per day. Be extra hygienic by repeatedly washing your hands so as not to reinfect the area. As a precautionary measure, throw out old hair brushes, combs and styling tools.
Scalp Ringworm (tinea capitis) is a common fungal infection of the scalp and hair that appears as scaly spots and patches of broken hair on the head in circular patterns. It is most commonly seen in children and treated by a physician with anti-fungals in pill form accompanied by anti-fungal shampoos and creams. It is also contagious and transferred through infected objects. So wash hands consistently, and throw out anything that may have been contaminated.
Never hesitate to ask your hair stylist to routinely inspect your scalp. It may serve you well to check your scalp regularly -- and an early diagnosis could end up saving your life.
Nicole Cothrun Venables is a Hollywood stylist with two dozen films and television shows to her credit. Her interviews and beauty articles have appeared in Elle, InStyle, Women's World and Los Angeles. For more tricks of the trade, read her blog on Red Room.
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