What is a sensitive scalp?
When your hair hurts, it is not actually the strands that are the source of the pain; it is your scalp. Your scalp is rich in blood supply, nerve endings and oil glands. These factors mean that it is an area that is susceptible to inflammation, which can cause sensitivity and lead to those feelings of pain. Although there are usually no visible signs, symptoms can range from itching, redness, prickling, tightness, throbbing and burning, and they are most noticeable when hair is being brushed, pulled back or moved around. “Hair pain” can also be exacerbated when hairs are swept up in a bun and slept in. If you wear your hair in the same style—in tight braids or a high ponytail—for multiple days, that can also contribute to more pain. If your symptoms are severe, they might accompany other conditions, such as headaches, allergies, psoriasis or eczema.
What causes a sensitive scalp?
There are a number of reasons for having a sensitive scalp, but one of the biggest culprits is not washing your hair enough—and not stimulating your scalp. If you like to stretch out your shampoos, oils that your scalp produces can accumulate around your hair shaft, promoting the overgrowth of yeast. This can cause micro-inflammation in the hair follicle, which can lead to a sensitive scalp; it also can cause a build-up of yeast, which can lead to another scalp condition: dandruff. But if you still want to go five or six days without washing, then at least brush your scalp using a paddle brush to help revive the blood flow in your scalp. We know that shampooing regularly is important, but the kind you use is equally vital. Using a shampoo that uses harsh cleansers and surfactants can disrupt the scalp’s acid mantel (the pH of your skin) leaving it at risk for developing dryness and irritation, which can lead to excessive scalp sensitivity.
Other notable causes for scalp sensitivity are stress, hormonal changes, food allergies, extreme climate conditions and too much protein in your hair products. Although protein is a key ingredient for strong, healthy hair, too much of it can make it brittle and cause inflammation in the scalp. How do you know your hair is protein sensitive? Simple. Trial and error. Styling products use a number of different proteins, from collagen to vegetable protein and wheat to silk protein. Keep track of what you are using, and if you develop brittle hair and a sensitive scalp, move on to a different protein-laced product.
How to soothe an irritated scalp?
We know that the two major culprits that trigger hair pain is under-washing and not using the right shampoo and styling products. Luckily, the pain is a pretty easy fix. The first step in soothing the irritation is to wash your hair more frequently. Second, look for hair products for a sensitive scalp. If you have oily hair, start washing your hair every day. Dry and coarse hair types should wash every two to three days with a shampoo for a sensitive scalp. Look for a gentle clarifying shampoo that breaks down product build-up and scalp oils without changing the pH of your scalp.