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How to Care for the Scalp

By Renée Batchelor

Kickstart the new year by developing healthy scalp and hair habits.
Top Photo
Kickstart the new year by developing healthy scalp and hair habits.

Your scalp may not be an area that gets a lot of attention, but its health and balance are vital for good hair. In fact, a poor and unhealthy scalp is the primary reason for hair loss and a less than glorious mane. It’s no wonder that an unhealthy scalp is used as a metaphor for deeper physiological dysfunction. Witness the scene in the movie “The Witches” when Anjelica Huston, as the Grand High Witch, removes her chic, bob wig to reveal a bony, mottled and balding scalp that is meant to signify the height of horror.

The scalp is one of the areas that first reveals the effects of poor life choices, such as extreme diets or stress. Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist at the Eileen Tan Skin, Laser and Hair Transplant Clinic says that in general, one should avoid crash diets and tight hairstyles like braids and weaves, that may lead to traction alopecia. People with skin and health conditions may also find that they have adverse reactions to certain ingredients like sulphates and even gluten, and that these should be avoided. Hence, it’s advisable to check the ingredients in your choice of shampoos and scalp treatments.

Good hair and scalp practices meanwhile are rooted in common sense and are part of maintaining a balanced lifestyle, but they are oft-neglected. Dr Tan recommends washing the hair regularly, quitting smoking, maintaining regular sleep patterns and managing stress. And in a particularly sunny country like Singapore, a hat worn to protect the scalp from skin-damaging UV rays will not go amiss. Here are some other good scalp care practices.

Michelle KokAct + Acre Cold Processed Scalp Detox, S$62, Hair Cleanse, S$4,  and Hair Conditioner, S$41.
Act + Acre Cold Processed Scalp Detox, S$62, Hair Cleanse, S$4, and Hair Conditioner, S$41.

At Home

A dedicated at-home routine and proper techniques are vital to optimal scalp and hair health. Helen Reavey, a hairstylist and the founder of Act+Acre, a cold-processed haircare brand, explains why she chose to create her unique line. “If you have a healthy scalp, it means you will have a healthy root and healthy hair to grow. Every other brand is like a Red Bull and we are like a green juice,” says Reavey, and adds that investing in your scalp health takes time and effort and is not an instant process. Act+Acre uses a cold-processed method to combine the essential oils, vitamins and ingredients (including ylang ylang, amaranth oil and rosemary) in its products without destroying their efficacy.

The range of Act+Acre products is also free of sulphates and parabens and is gluten-free. “We have a microbiome on our scalp that is almost similar to our gut health, and sulphates are stripping that and removing the good bacteria along with the bad,” says Reavey. As for why it is gluten-free, Reavey says that contact with individuals who have severe gluten intolerance led to her awareness of the problem. “People are going into cleaner ingredients for their endocrine system and many cannot even have gluten on their skin without an adverse reaction,” she says. Act+Acre’s Shampoo and Conditioner are meant to be used on a daily basis while the Scalp Detox can be used weekly.

As a general rule, Reavey applies the same skincare rules to her scalp. “I would not use a harsh scrub on my face, so I would not use it on my skin,” says Reavey who points out that our scalp ages six times faster than our skin. She also notes that good daily techniques are important. “When you are cleaning your hair you are actually washing your scalp. Start by emulsifying the shampoo and begin at the back of your head — a spot that is often missed — before moving on to the sides and then end at the front of the head,” says Reavey. Wash off all shampoo thoroughly and apply conditioner on hair that has been squeeze-dried first — from the mid-length to the ends — to ensure that the hair does not get weighed down.

Left: Hair Rituel by Sisley. Right: Leonica KeiLeft: Hair Rituel by Sisley Colour Perfecting Shampoo, S$98. Right: Leonica Kei Clear Shampoo Sensitive Scalp, S$98
Left: Hair Rituel by Sisley Colour Perfecting Shampoo, S$98. Right: Leonica Kei Clear Shampoo Sensitive Scalp, S$98


For trichologist Leonica Kei, who is the founder of Leonica K Trichology, treating the scalp is key to improving the hair’s ability to grow strong and healthy. “The treatments that we do help remove dead cells and improve circulation so that we can help the hair receive the blood supply and nutrients from the body,” says Kei. While Kei says that deeper health issues may require a doctor’s visit and a change in diet, treating the scalp and hair on a surface level can help prevent hair loss and solve other scalp disorders.

“The humidity in Singapore can lead to oiliness on the scalp [which] weakens the hair follicle, and that can lead to premature hair loss,” says Kei. At her centre, Kei uses a blend of natural ingredients to create her own line of shampoos, conditioners, masks and tonics that are ideal for daily use. She also offers customised, non-invasive treatments that will help with her clients’ present condition — they are diagnosed at each visit as the scalp’s and hair needs can change from day to day. Some of the issues that can be treated include Alopecia areata and post-partum hair loss, with the use of steamers and infrared lights to help the products penetrate better into the scalp.


Finally, if you have dermatological issues with your scalp, then a consultation with a trained doctor might be required. According to Dr Tan, one of the most common scalp problems is seborrhoeic dermatitis and yes, stress can aggravate this condition. “This is an inflammatory skin disorder affecting the scalp and face. Typically, seborrheic dermatitis is exemplified by scaly, flaky, itchy, and red skin. It particularly affects the sebum gland-rich areas of [the] skin,” says Dr Tan.

Another issue is psoriasis, “The aetiology is due to increased cellular turnover. It tends to run in families. [As compared to seborrhoeic dermatitis] the scaling in psoriasis tend to be larger and more adherent onto the scalp,” says Dr Tan. “The treatment for seborrhoeic dermatitis and psoriasis are quite similar — shampoo off hair cosmetics before retiring to bed, then, washing your hair daily or on alternate days with a medicated shampoo, which contain ingredients like selenium sulfide, ketoconazole or ciclopirox,” says Dr Tan.

A stronger treatment course is essential in severe cases that don’t respond to over-the-counter products. “If you are not better, consult a dermatologist. In inflamed scalps, the doctor will prescribe a more potent medicated shampoo and non-greasy corticosteroid solution to improve the condition. Sometimes, secondary infection may occur due to scratching and the doctor will have to prescribe oral medications such as oral antibiotics to treat the infection,” says Dr Tan.

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