Ok, so let’s go back to the scalp for a moment. We’ve discussed the structure of hair follicles and how to nourish and stimulate it for growth. The hair grows out through the pores in the scalp. If the pores are obstructed, or clogged, you may experience stunted hair growth (and nobody wants that).
Human skin naturally secretes oil called ‘sebum’ via the sebaceous glands. Fresh sebum protects the skin and moisturizes the hair. This is a good thing. However sebum can combine with other oils, pollutants, hair care products and dead skin cells and cause build up on the scalp. When this occurs, the sebum-based oil forms a hard layer of plaque. This plaque clogs the scalps pores and embeds itself into the scalps top layer of dead skin (the epidermis). This is a major problem because if the pores are clogged, hair follicles will not be able to grow.
This is illustrated in the diagrams below.
There are some who say to never put oils or conditioner on the scalp because "you don’t want to clog your pores”. Well, let’s be clear about this. Generally speaking, I agree that you should avoid using conditioner on the scalp, mainly because conditioners contain ingredients that are designed to coat the cuticles of hair to create a protective layer. This protective film is left behind after rinsing. So, applying conditioner on your scalp can also contribute to scalp build up.
Now, as it relates to oils, you must consider the type of oil. I’ve been advising people for years that you must only apply “scalp-friendly” oils to the scalp. These are natural, plant-based oils that have a comedogenic rating of 0-2 (0= won’t clog pores through 5=will clog pores, based on ratings found in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology), are beneficial to the scalp and can be used for days between cleansings.
Although, not an all-inclusive list, here are some scalp-friendly oils that I like:
- Castor oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Argan Oil
- Apricot Kernal Oil
- Jojoba Oil (most closely resembles human sebum)
- Grapeseed Oil (most closely resembles human infant sebum)
- Avocado Oil
- Camellia Oil
- Hazelnut Oil
- Hemp Seed Oil
- Kukui Nut Oil
- Olive oil
Please take note that Coconut Oil is not on the list because it has a comedogenic rating of 4. We know that coconut oil has wonderful benefits for the hair and is a staple in the haircare community. I would not recommend using coconut oil on the scalp as part of your regular grooming regimen, however. If you are using coconut oil, I’d use it only on the length of the hair and as a pre-poo (pre-shampoo) component to your regimen.
Also note that just because an oil or ingredient is all-natural does not mean it’s for you. Always test anything that you put on your skin for sensitivities. An allergic reaction can look like redness, irritation, raised bumps and/or itching. For this reason, I encourage you to patch test any new substance before putting it all over your scalp. I can’t even imagine how crazy it would feel to have your whole scalp feeling like it’s on fire from irritation. BUT, if you should happen to have some sort of reaction, aloe vera gel or aloe vera juice applied to the scalp can be soothing. Or, you may need to take some form of antihistamine to stop your body from reacting. I keep Benadryl handy just because. I have a food allergy to cherries that developed out of nowhere so, I know that there are things that you may not be sensitive to one day and develop a sensitivity to later so, always be prepared.
Greasing the Scalp
Now, I don’t know about you but, I grew up in a generation where oiling the scalp with hair grease was a normal part of a healthy hair care regimen. It was to moisturize and promote growth. Some still swear by it today. Well, the practice of greasing the scalp is not the problem. The problem is, what are you using to grease the scalp with? Hair grease is usually made of petrolatum, mineral oil, and/or lanolin. It gives the appearance of a moisturized scalp but is not absorbed and actually lays on top of the skin, not only blocking the pores but creating a barrier to the skin’s ability to absorb moisture. So, it looks moisturized because it’s all shiny but it’s sealing out moisture and slowing growth instead of promoting it. If you are one who uses hair grease on the scalp and plan to continue doing so, all is not lost. I advise you to be sure to clarify or detox your scalp on a regular basis to keep your scalp healthy.
Preventative Maintenance: How to avoid scalp buildup.
- Avoid using products that build up on the scalp. Replace products that have petroleum, mineral oil and/or lanolin in the top 5 ingredients with something that is more scalp-friendly. (Refer to the “scalp-friendly” oils list)
- Avoid using conditioners directly on the scalp. Remember, conditioners leave a film that can contribute to scalp buildup.
- Massage your scalp for at least 4-5 minutes daily. Along with increasing blood flow, this also stimulates the production of natural sebum which works to clear the pores and break down buildup.
How to properly cleanse to avoid and rid scalp of build up
Again, no matter how natural the oil is that you use on your scalp, regular cleansing is a necessary part of a healthy hair growth regimen. Grease and oils attract environmental debris, such as dust and dirt. Add product build up and shed skin cells and you have a scalp regularly in need of cleansing.
But, before you grab that bottle of shampoo to wash your hair and scalp, let me remind you that shampoos containing sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, or SLS) do a great job of stripping the hair of its natural moisture in the harsh process of cleaning it. This dries the hair out and makes it more susceptible to damage. To keep our hair healthy, our hair naturally needs to retain moisture. So, as a part of our healthy hair growth regimen, it’s important to limit our hair to the exposure of this sort of natural oil stripping. I’ll come back to the proper way to wash hair to avoid damage later. But for now, let’s focus on the scalp.
Here are a few ways of keeping the scalp clean and free of buildup:
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar (Braggs or any brand that has “with the mother” on the bottle)
1 quart of water.
Apple Cider Vinegar not only removes build up but also helps to close the cuticles on the hair shaft. Mix the ingredients and pour over the scalp as a final rinse in your wash routine. There’s no need to rinse it out, although some do. Let me warn you. There will be a vinegar smell but, thankfully, it dissipates as your hair dries. Besides, your moisture and sealing process will also help to get rid of the temporary smell. I would not recommend using this more than every 2 weeks. That’s just my personal preference tho.
Mud Detox Mask
Ah, Mother Nature’s own earth. Clays such as bentonite or rhassoul can be used to detoxify the hair and scalp.
- Mix equal parts of clay and apple cider vinegar until you have the consistency of mustard.
- Apply to scalp and/or hair, being sure to work it onto the scalp.
- Allow to sit for 30 minutes. Do not manipulate the hair during this period.
- Then rinse completely.
NJoy’s Platinum Purifying Hair & Scalp Detox
Unlike mud and clay masks that pull impurities by allowing the mud to dry, NJoy’s Platinum Purifying Hair & Scalp Detox uses the detoxifying power of activated charcoal to gently and completely remove all build up, including product build up. It does not dry on the hair and actually conditions the hair in the process. There’s no mixing. Simply apply the product to the scalp and hair, allow it to sit for about 4-5 minutes and rinse. Your natural curls will pop and you’ll notice a more vibrant look because all buildup is removed. This product is gentle enough to be used weekly. Bonus: the Detox will not cake up on shed hair strands that may have have made it to your drain, causing clogs and drainage issues.
Exfoliating Brown Sugar Scalp Scrub
1 cup of brown sugar
2 tbs of jojoba oil (or any scalp-friendly oil)
3-5 drops of essential oil (see list below) *optional
- Mix ingredients together in a bowl. Do not heat the oil or it will melt the sugar.
- Massage onto the scalp using circular motion.
- Rinse well to remove.
List of Essential Oils you can use in Scalp Scrub
Basil: Oily hair. Promotes hair growth
Cedarwood: Aids in Dandruff, relieves itching
Chamomile: Fine to normal hair. Gives golden highlights
Clary sage: All types of hair. Dandruff treatment Adds Shine
Cypress: Use in treating hair loss, alopecia. clears oil
Geranium: deters head lice
Grapefruit oil: Promotes hair growth
Lavender: Normal hair. Scalp treatment for itchiness, dandruff, and even lice!
Lemon: Oily hair. Gives golden highlights; treatment for dry scalp, dandruff, lice, and underactive sebaceous glands
Myrrh: Dry hair. Treatment for dry scalp, dandruff, lice, and underactive sebaceous glands
Orange Oil: Oily Hair. regulates the production of sebum, the hair’s natural oil
Patchouli: Oily hair. Dandruff treatment
Peppermint: Dry hair. Promotes hair growth. reduces itching and irritation
Rose: Fine hair. Soothes scalp
Rosemary: Oily hair. Dandruff treatment; promotes hair growth
Sandalwood Oil: soothes a dry and irritated scalp
Teatree: Oily hair. Treatment for dry scalp, dandruff, lice, and underactive sebaceous glands
Ylang-ylang: Oily hair. Dandruff treatment
Scalp-only washing is just what it sounds like. Washing only the scalp. This is particularly useful if you need to clarify the scalp, which is shampoo the scalp to remove build up, without stripping the length of the hair of natural oils.
Clarifying agents to use:
- Clarifying or regular shampoo that contains sulfates (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, SLS) or,
- Conditioner with 1 tsp of baking soda added, or
- NJoy's Platinum Purifying Hair & Scalp Detox
- Before applying, pre-poo (or pre-treat) the length of your hair with natural oils and/or conditioner.
- Then, apply the cleansing agent to your scalp with an applicator bottle or directly with your fingers.
- Massage well onto your scalp until you have cleaned your scalp to your satisfaction.
- Rinse well while gently to massaging to ensure that all the cleansing agent is out. The runoff is enough to give the length of your hair a light cleansing but your natural oils will have been protected by your pretreatment.
- Continue cowashing as normal.
If your hair is in braids, use one hand to lift and hold braids away from your hair while massaging with the free hand. Do the same to rinse the scalp only. A flexible showerhead may help facilitate this. The point is to wash and rinse only the scalp to help preserve the integrity of your braids, if your regimen calls for washing your scalp more frequently than your braids. (I get asked about this often from those using braids as a protective style) *Note that I’m not saying not to wash braids. But to avoid getting the fuzzies, some wash less frequently than the scalp requires.
Hair grows freely from a healthy, unobstructed scalp. Learn how to listen to your scalp and know what it takes to make your scalp happy. I recommend cleansing your scalp weekly. You can use a sulfate-free shampoo to wash your scalp to help prevent buildup of dirt and oils but, product buildup usually requires a bit more effort. Detoxing your scalp can be done as frequently as weekly but, clarifying your scalp with a clarifying poo or baking soda should not be done more than monthly.
Find what works best for you. I detox my hair every 1-2 weeks with NJoy’s Platinum Purifying Hair & Scalp Detox. It leaves my hair soft and vibrant and allows all other products to produce the absolute best results. Your growth oil or pomade will penetrate the scalp better, your hair will receive the benefits of your leave ins and deep conditioners AND your styling products will work better. You're thoroughly removing dirt, oil and all product build up from your hair and scalp and your hair will thank you!
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