There are many reasons why your scalp could be showing signs of dandruff or flaking. First, let’s clarify the difference between both conditions.
Dandruff generally results in larger flakes or scales that are white, grey or slightly yellowish in colour, and can also give off an odour. A scalp associated with dandruff can be either oily or dry, and is often itchy. A higher percentage of men tend to suffer with dandruff, as opposed to women.
A flaky scalp doesn’t tend to have an odour and tends to produce smaller flakes than dandruff. The scalp tends to be dry, and the condition is similar to dry skin on other parts of the body.
Both conditions can have different causes. As a professional hairdresser who has also studied nutrition and how the body works, I have developed an understanding of the effect of imbalances within the body and how these can show up in hair and scalp health. In my experience, the main causes of dandruff or flaky scalp are:
- Scalp/skin microbiome (bacterial) imbalance
- Gut microbiome imbalance
- Food intolerances
- Allergic reactions
- Sensitivities to environmental factors such as dust, animal hair, shampoos, skin products and household products such as detergents
- Insufficient healthy fats within your diet
- Poor digestion
All of these issues can trigger your immune system and impact on the health of your skin in different ways, whether on your scalp or other parts of your body.
What can you do to prevent dandruff and flaky scalps?
1. Use a shampoo and conditioner specifically designed to work on dandruff or scalp concerns, as well as a scalp treatment to make sure your scalp is getting optimum support.
The best recommendation will depend on the cause of your dandruff or flaky scalp. If you suffer from oily dandruff or a condition caused by a bacterial imbalance, you need to cleanse away excess sebum (oil) and rebalance your scalp's natural pH and microbiota (bacterial balance). Here are some general recommendations:
- Regular use: One of The Hair Consult's bestselling hair products is Redken's Scalp Relief Dandruff Shampoo, a regular-use dermatological shampoo that draws on the soothing qualities of pyrithione zinc to specifically tackle dandruff and flaking.
- Luxury option: Oribe's beautifully scented Serene Scalp range of products are formulated with salicylic acid to help soothe scalp irritation and prevent dandruff. The range includes the Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub, Serene Scalp Balancing Shampoo, Serene Scalp Balancing Conditioner and Serene Scalp Soothing Leave-On Treatment.
- Natural/vegan option: My recommendation would be Aveda's scalp programme which includes Pramāsana Purifying Scalp Cleanser, Scalp Benefits Balancing Shampoo, Scalp Benefits Balancing Conditioner and Pramāsana Purifying Scalp Concentrate. Note that if you have damaged hair, you can substitute the Scalp Benefits products with Botanical Repair shampoo and conditioner while still reaping the benefits of the Pramasana products. Similarly, if you have dry hair, substitute the Scalp Benefits products for Aveda's Nutriplenish range.
- For men: Redken's Redken Brews Anti-Dandruff Shampoo uses pyrithione zinc to soothe and hydrate the scalp, and is gentle enough for regular use, while Aveda's Scalp Remedy Dandruff Solution uses natural ingredients to restore scalp balance.
2. Eat a balanced diet full of nutrient-rich, whole foods.
All vitamins and minerals are important for building skin cells, and protein in particular should be consumed in every meal. Vitamins A, C, D, zinc & selenium are at the top of the list of those in your daily diet.
3. Ensure you eat healthy fats daily.
Examples of healthy fats include oily fish (such as salmon), avocados, nuts and seeds, and cold pressed oils (such as olive oil). Fats, also called lipids, are well-known for their anti-oxidant properties, which is turn will protect the skin cells. They give the skin its moisture, keeping it supple.
4. Drink two litres of water a day.
Still the best remedy for keeping your scalp and hair in tip-top condition. Your daily water intake can include herbal teas, but you should try to avoid coffee as this can dehydrate you.
5. If you have food intolerances, remove those foods from your diet.
This one is the trickiest because to truly understand your intolerances you should undertake an elimination diet for at least six weeks before slowly reintroducing foods one at a time. A doctor can test to find allergic reactions, while a qualified nutritional therapist can perform a food intolerance test and also check for allergies.
6. Reduce your exposure to environmental aggressors.
Similarly, it can be difficult to pinpoint what might be irritating your scalp and skin, but it's best to start with your shampoos and conditioners, then work from there.