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Expert Speaks: Dermatologist Sharmila Nayak's Guide To Scalp Care

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Over the years, sort of like the popular Korean 10-step skincare ritual we have also inculcated an exhaustive regimen to improve the health of our hair.We’ve been there, done that. You know? In pursuit of enhancing the quality, make it manageable — come what may, the scorching heat or the incessant showers and above all, to ensure it looks glossy and luxuriant. Yet, what most don’t realise is that this all encompassing procedure precludes tending to the scalp, which is astonishing, as the scalp is nothing but the extension of your skin, which bears the hair follicles (sprouting the hair strands).

Infact, I would even go on on a limb to say this — we don’t take the health of our scalp into due consideration until there are salient, conspicuous signs that something might be wrong triggers like breakage, hair loss, excessive dandruff and lint or dead cells found on your hair brush are what prompt you into action (that was the case for me for a really long time). To keep the aforementioned problems at bay and nurturing the health of the hair from the root, Beauty Book sat down with Dr Sharmila Nayak, an esteemed professional in the dermatology world.  Below, the Mumbai-based skin expert and founder and medical director of The Skin 1st Clinic breaks it down for us and addresses some of the most popular customer questions on the subject.

Beauty Book: Hi Dr Sharmila, how are you doing? We wanted to kick start the interview by understanding the reason one should pay attention to their scalp?

Dr Sharmila: Hi Srishty, I am doing well. So glad that Nykaa has taken this initiative to focus on the science of the skin that extends to your scalp. We always talk about how our hair is the crowning glory but where does the hair sit on? It sits on the skin of your scalp. Scalp is a part of your skin and if your scalp isn’t healthy how can you expect your hair to be healthy?  The scalp is a living tissue, as is the hair follicle from where the hair growth starts. And the nutrition for healthy tresses starts from the base. If you have a healthy scalp then your hair would be a lot more buoyant and shiny. When you see someone sporting a healthy, shiny mane it can be attributed to a healthy scalp. So, please take care of your hair but also see to it that your scalp is functioning properly, providing the base required for the hair to become much healthier.

Beauty Book: Thanks Doctor. You said that a healthy shiny mane can be attributed to a healthy scalp, I am sure our readers want to know how one can identify a healthy scalp?

Dr Sharmila: When we talk about a healthy scalp it should be devoid of any kind of flaking, irritation, inflammation that manifests in the form of any itching or redness (track it back to external agents disturbing the scalp’s pH). A healthy scalp is just like healthy skin — it's neither too oily nor too dry. It steers clear of excessive oil build-up or debris (which is basically a dead layer of skin). An exceedingly dry scalp isn’t healthy either as it gives rise to concerns like itchiness and dry dandruff.

Beauty Book: Following up on the last question, I wanted to ask about all the aforementioned issues. How to address common scalp concerns like itchiness, dandruff and inflammation?

Dr Sharmila: The initial stage that most people grapple with is identifying the underlying issues hampering the scalp and therefore the hair. Only when you are facing issues like hair loss or irritation on the scalp is when you come to the realisation that the scalp’s heath has been compromised. Now that you have successfully recognized the matter, say like dandruff — which is probably the most common problem that people face. Just a side note to help combat it better — there are two types of dandruff-oily dandruff and dry dandruff. Oily dandruff goes unnoticed till one starts facing issues like an itchy scalp or thick flakes coming out while brushing their hair. It could very well be a dermatological condition and I would recommend seeking expert advice to help zero in on the reason for it.

Dry dandruff is anyday more common and people facing it are more likely to know the problem at hand. To combat dry dandruff, ask your dermatologist for a mild, home care remedy or you can opt for anti-dandruff shampoos with gentle formulations. Use this formula once a week. Furthermore, alternatively to address the dry scalp, turn to a gentle hydrating shampoo.

Beauty Book. How can one create a healthy environment for better hair growth?

Dr Sharmila: In cases of some genetic predisposition or a hormonal health issue where you see scalp or hair related issues from very early on in life, I would recommend consulting with your dermatologist. However if you are blessed with a healthy scalp and want to steer clear of pertinent issues from the get go, you may follow these steps. The first one — the mantra that I always follow is please refrain from overdoing any treatments. Don’t use harsh products and keep away from over styling your hair. Some dos that will help to help restore your hair's health to its former glory—use a shampoo meant for your hair type. Case in point: if you have an oily scalp but it's healthy, people tend to overdo the shampooing ritual with oil control shampoos and face two of the below problems: excessively parched ends, irritable scalp — which is the result of strippping the skin of its natural oils. Oil is an essential part of the skin and one should learn to create a balance, so kindly practise moderation. Another thing, invest in smoothing and nourishing scalp serums, and apply once a week. I firmly believe that health and beauty is a reflection of what is going on the inside. So make sure to hydrate, turn to vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin C and omega 3. Load up on green leafy vegetables that give your body a dose of iron and antioxidants. Focus on your lifestyle, a well known fact that stress and sleep are contributing factors in the health of your scalp and hair. So the emphasis is always on a healthy lifestyle.

Beauty Book: What are the different types of scalps and how should one combat related concerns?

Dr Sharmila: Although slightly thicker and different in anatomy, the scalp is an extension of the skin. So there are broadly four types of scalp: oily, dry, a normal-healthy scalp and a sensitive or sensitised scalp, which could be due to both internal and external factors. Internal conditions like eczema, genetic condition or scalp psoriasis, just to name a few. External factors may include over styling, overheating and colouring.

Beauty BooK: Should a person with a naturally oily scalp abstain from the oiling ritual?

Dr Sharmila: When we look at oils, say coconut oil — it is laced with a lot of goodness and nutrients, but if you already have an oily scalp why would you add more oil to it? Your hair follicle is already attached to an oil gland so try to keep it more towards the normal or healthy as discussed earlier. We Indians have been very fond of oil massages for ages. Let me put it this way, the oil doesn't penetrate the scalp, or reach the hair root or follicle. The scalp has a thicker layer that acts as a barrier to external factors like dirt and bacteria root. However, taking a little oil and gently massaging your scalp with circular motion helps stimulate the blood circulation and also alleviates any irritation.

Beauty Book: Is there a way to strengthen the roots, for people battling with this issue?

Dr Sharmila: Hair loss or hair fall has always been a matter of great concern, but even more so now. We are residing in the post-pandemic world and still reeling from the stress, trauma and exhaustion, collectively endured. To combat hair fall or hair loss, the very first step is to find out the probable causes which may include —  iron deficiency, lack of protein, overstyling or hormonal issues. If you need help in identifying the underlying issues, I would recommend seeing a dermatologist, who is well-versed and qualified to direct a treatment for the pertinent issue. Another thing is ensuring a good diet. Understanding whether the diet you are partaking in is protein rich or deficient. The hair is made of creatine which is a protein, so basically second only to water, protein is extremely important for hair growth. If you are a non-vegetarian, consume it in the form of eggs, chicken and fish. However if you are a vegetarian, turn to spinach, paneer, tofu, pulses, and soya. If you are still deficient then increase your intake of protein in the form of plant based supplements like green leafy vegetables that are rich in iron, vitamins, minerals. People notice intense hair fall after recurring episodes of stress, so it's important to direct your lifestyle accordingly and curb stress. Exercising to stimulate the blood circulation that facilitates good hormonal change is integral. Find out the right product for your hair type and concerns and use it in the right way. Avoid getting chemical treatments around this time that will weaken the hair shaft and follicle. If I may add, tight braids, plaits, high pony — if you are forcing your hair into these styles it tends to put a lot of stress on the roots often termed as the tracationality issue. Nowadays there are products in the market that help strengthen the roots and improve the health of the scalp, I would recommend investing in a good scalp serum by a recognised brand.

Beauty Book: On behalf of all our readers who are new to this territory, could you give us a quick guide to care for the scalp?

Dr Sharmila:

  • Identify and be aware — to have a healthy mane you need to have a healthy scalp.
  • Read the sign — next time when you are in front of the mirror, combing your hair check the scalp for any signs of atypical behaviour and try to determine your scalp type.
  • If you have any skin condition — identify the treatment you want to vest in.
  • If you have a healthy scalp — maintain it with a good care regimen.

Beauty Book: What are your product supplements or recommendations to enhance the hair’s health?

Dr Sharmila: First and foremost, ensure sufficient intake of protein. Plant based protein is easy to digest and absorbs readily. So, if you could just add a scoop of a protein powder to your milkshake that would further enhance your hair’s health. Buy a multivitamin for hair especially, which has all the trace elements and biotin. Take a water soluble vitamin C which won’t just help redeem your hair’s health but is also wonderful for your immunity, so it’s a win-win. If your haemoglobin is low, I would recommend taking iron tablets, something with folic acid. If your scalp, and as a result of it, your hair is particularly dry and parched, you ought to take an omega 3 tablet everyday. However, if you are on medication, make sure to consult your doctor or physician before administering these supplements. I tell this to all my patients, to take vitamins for 2-3 months at a stretch, give a wash out period of a month and then resume according to your needs. Treatments like PRP and meso vitamin therapies also help by providing the right nutrients and growth factors to the hair root. Just ensure that you get it administered from an expert doctor or dermatologist.

Beauty Book: I have always been curious to ask this to an expert! Is there a right way to wash your hair and how often should one do so?

Dr Sharmila: I would say, go by your scalp condition and hair type. If you are someone who stays outdoors, sweats a lot and has probably a naturally oily scalp, then go for that wash the next day. Use gentle everyday shampoo. I would like to reiterate that one formula doesn't fit all. If you have a dry scalp, and hair you don't want to go for a double cleanse and rinse ritual as it is stripping your mane of its natural essential oils. Having said that, there are some offerings for pre-washing rituals, hydrating and nourishing gentle formulations by top tier brands. So you can turn to these products and follow it up with conditioning. If your scalp is oily and treated, I would recommend going for clarifying shampoos that gently remove debris and make your scalp squeaky clean, alternate this with another shampoo. Use a hair mask once a week, don't over do it as hair masks are rich in lipids and have the tendency to weigh your hair down.

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