Dandruff. It’s a word that many people get uncomfortable associating with. You hear words like: dry scalp, flaky scalp, or even ‘product buildup.’ As Black women, the industry and thus, in turn, us as a people, tend to focus solely on haircare. The desire for most: what can I do to make my hair grow? Unfortunately, the focus on haircare and lack of education on scalp care is leading us to more breakage, more dryness, more itching, and overall unhealthy hair. Scalp health and hair health are entirely different and have different needs.
Your skin is the largest organ on your body. You wouldn’t ignore it by not cleaning it, moisturizing it, and protecting it from the elements of nature. However, we tend to do this with our scalp. Some of our haircare methods are actually more conducive to doing a disservice to our hair and scalp vs. helping it. According to a study conducted by Head And Shoulders, 71% of Black women have experienced or were concerned about itch, dryness, and flaking in the last month and 73% of us are using an oil to soothe, moisturize, and relieve the scalp, without knowing it can actually make scalp and hair issues worse. Yes, you read that right: you should not be using oil to soothe or grow your scalp. It’s actually clogging the pores that your hair follicles grow out of and provide a breeding ground for scalp fungus (I know, ewww) called Malassezia. Malassezia is a yeast-like fungus that can irritate your scalp and cause more skin cells to grow. When they die, they flake off, which explains dandruff or as some of us like to call it “product build up.”
Before I scare you or make you freak out (is your scalp itching yet?), let’s learn some more about this scalp fungus. According to a Proctor and Gamble Commissioned North America study, 40% of the US population has dandruff, 77% of Black women suffer from it. Why is it higher for Black women? Our haircare methods. Let’s break it down by how we wear our hair. For natural women or women with relaxers, we’ve been taught to oil our scalp to help grow our hair as well as nourish and improve it. No matter what your favorite YouTuber is telling you, unfortunately, it’s not. Dr. Rolanda Wilkerson, who works for Head And Shoulders explained,
“She’s having damage to the hair, even before it grows out of the scalp, if her scalp is unhealthy.”
What’s making it so unhealthy? Well, for women who wear protective styles like weaves, the heat, moisture, mixed with oil provide a breeding grown for the fungus (find out the name). When you wear braids for long periods of time and go without washing, by adding oil and not giving your scalp the care it actually needs, Dr. Wilkerson revealed, ““Pre-emerging hair as it comes out of the scalp will look a little bit dryer and duller because of scalp issues.”
Oil is for your hair, not your scalp. Think of your hair follicle (hair strands) like an egg. Due to the oval shape of Black women’s hair, fatigue and tensile tests show that African hair is significantly weaker than Caucasian or Asian hair. Add our chemical treatments and repeated heating, it significantly increases damage in the already fragile strands. Same as when we are wearing hair in protective styles like braids. The weight of braids (hello high bun) also weakens our hair and can lead to a type of hair loss called traction alopecia.
Still think none of this applies to you (or that you really just have product build up?) Dr. Wilkerson explains that you can have dandruff without flakes. While visiting P&G, she told me, “There can be itch that may not show up in the form of dandruff (flaking). There can be scalp tightness, there can be dryness. Only about 10% of the US population actually flakes.” So yes, ladies, if you are patting your weave to avoid itching your scalp, chances are there is some flaking too. Dr. Rukeyser Thompson, Section Head Global Hair Care Research and Development at P&G explained, “Culturally, to say, ‘She has dandruff,’ she feels somehow she’s less clean. It’s been a huge insight we’ve shared with the Head And Shoulders team. This is a global phenomenon and even more so in sub-Sahara Africa.”
Whoa. So what can you do to help your hair? Use an anti-dandruff shampoo, EVEN if you think your scalp does not suffer from it. Not just any AD shampoo, you need one with zinc pyrithione also called, ZPT. ZPT helps protect your scalp from dandruff causing fungus, Malassezia, which causes scalp irritants. If you’re looking for one, definitely try out Head And Shoulders Classic Clean 2-in-1 Anti-Dandruff Shampoo and Conditioner ($7.82, Walmart.com). Think of adding AD shampoo and conditioner into your routine like washing your hands. If you had dirt and germs on your hands, you’d want it off, right? Same for your scalp, sis.
Beauties, have you used an anti-dandruff shampoo? Why or why not? Sound off in the comments.