The Athlete's Guide to Scalp Health
You may be neglecting the area where your skin and hair meet—especially if you’re an exerciser.
From co-washing to mud masks, hair and skincare regimens get a good deal of attention. Ironically, the body part that most directly marries these treatments—the scalp—is often ignored. Regular exercisers, in particular, could seriously benefit from caring for it—which can easily be incorporated into your routine with targeted products that nourish both the skin and follicles.
First, though, you should learn whether you have an oily or dry scalp. "The oil levels differ from one person to the next," says Dr. Anthony M. Rossi, a dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. Your derm can give you more insight, though you might be able to diagnose yourself. If you experience flakiness, for instance, that likely means you're on the dry end of the spectrum. (Gymgoers take note: Your scalp can get dehydrated just like your skin. So, if you're sweating often and aren't replacing it with water to nourish the body, your scalp could be impacted the same way your complexion can show negative effects.)
On the other hand, if your hair looks greasy on a daily basis, then you're most likely dealing with an oily scalp, since that's where all the sebum (oily secretions) that cause that slick-in-a-bad-way look is being produced. (Yes, oily hair equals an oily scalp!)
How to care for a dry scalp
“You may not want to wash your hair too frequently,” says Rossi. “Soaps and shampoos will [further] dry it out.” For athletes in particular, Rossi suggests rinsing with tepid water after a workout, and only shampooing every second or third day. Rinsing alone should help get rid of sweat, sebum, and hair product. “You can use a 1% selenium sulfide or 1% pyrithione zinc shampoo two times a week,” Rossi adds. He also recommends hair oils or leave-in masks once a month to restore moisture with soothing vitamins and nutrients. If you have severe dandruff, however, Rossi recommends visiting your dermatologist to discuss prescription remedies. It's possible you have a condition like Seborrheic dermatitis (a scaly rash), for which proper recovery often requires a medicated anti-fungal shampoo, or topical corticosteroids, to help calm inflammation.
How to care for an oily scalp
If your hair gets excessively oily, it’s likely because of high sebum production. “You may need to use shampoo and conditioner every day or every other day,” says Rossi. In between washes, you can use a dry shampoo. "It can help curb the oily nature of both the scalp and hair without temporarily drying the skin.”
Tips for everyone
One way to keep the scalp healthy and stimulated is to massage it daily. You can do this by hand while shampooing and rinsing, with a comb while styling, or with a brush while detangling hair before bed. “Doing so will prevent knotting and also help ward off buildup of sebum and dead skin,” says Rossi. Many industry experts also believe that this stimulation prevents hair loss in men by keeping the follicles clear of excessive, suffocating buildup.