What’s Causing Flakes in Your Hair and How to Treat Them
The skin commonly experiences dryness during winter. This is natural, and in most cases, it's a sign that the body is devoid of warmth and the skin needs moisture. The scalp is no exception.
However, when we talk about scalp and hair health, the answer isn't as simple as loading it up with moisturizing shampoos, conditioners, or oils. Many underlying conditions are responsible for a dry, flaky scalp that can't be treated with over-the-counter hair care products.
More often than not, the products in question are infused with substances like parabens, sulfates, and silicones. These can cause much damage to the scalp regardless of how our hair feels after the wash day. For example, sulfates are most commonly used as a stripping agent in shampoos.
Sulfates are the reason our hair feels fresh, but if it's mixed with the wrong ingredients or if there's too much of it, the hair can become privy to problems like hair fall, thinning hair, and dryness. This is why experts suggest using sulfate-free shampoos or products that have a low concentration of it.
Much like sulfates, there are other common things we encounter in our daily life that can make our scalp act up. If you've recently moved to a city with a different climate condition than what your body and your hair are used to, then chances are that your scalp will experience some discomfort.
Today we are going to talk about what causes flakes in your hair, how to treat them, and some tips to treat an itchy scalp at home and possibly control the discomfort caused by them.
Possible Causes of Dry, Flaky Scalp
The scalp is made of multiple soft tissue layers that cover the cranium bone, i.e., the skull bone. This layer of soft tissue is also referred to as the skull flap.
The top layer of the scalp, which is right over the epidermic layer, contains at least 100,000 hair follicles. These hair follicles are responsible for maintaining the hair growth cycle. If the hair follicles get damaged for any reason, they stop producing hair.
A dry and flaky scalp is often accompanied by shedding, thinning, hair loss, balding, etc. This can mean that the hair follicles on the scalp are compromised. The damage to hair follicles can be caused by several factors, such as harmful substances, dirt, infections, and autoimmune conditions like alopecia areata.
Now, the most common cause of dry scalp is dandruff. But, in cases where dandruff is more severe and doesn't seem to stop, it could be indicative of an underlying condition that requires medical attention. If a dry scalp coexists with more than flakes in your hair, it's better to get it checked out.
That said, let's have a look at some of the most widespread reasons why a dry scalp may lead to flakes in your hair. Before we begin, remember that the hair is an extension of the scalp. This means that everything that interacts with the scalp will directly affect the hair.
Too much moisture? Oily scalp. Overusing shampoo? Dryness. Bad weather? Itchiness. Blood-sucking parasites, otherwise known as lice? Overwhelming pain.
Let's get started.
Dandruff & Dry Scalp
Both dandruff and a dry scalp can lead to flakes and itchiness. While dandruff is caused when there's a build-up of oils, a dry scalp results from a lack of moisture. Regardless, they cause very similar symptoms like itching, redness, flakiness, etc.
People who are prone to dandruff can experience a flaky scalp. This is because when there is an excess amount of oil on the scalp, it leads to a layer of skin cells that hardens and falls off. This layer presents itself as flakes in the hair.
When the scaly flakes fall off, dandruff appears. Dandruff usually looks like larger pieces of dry skin. This is most likely caused by a skin condition called seborrheic dermatitis.
Seborrheic dermatitis is extremely common and can take place due to various causes. One of these causes is yeast. The yeast that lives on the skin may lead to an infection, which in combination with stress and your overall health, can be an important factor in determining if there's something more to your flaky scalp.
A dry scalp can lead to itchiness and flakes, but it's not always dandruff. If you have a naturally dry scalp, it means that the rest of your body may experience dryness as well. For example, during winter, it's common for the skin to get dry and appear white. The same goes for the scalp.
Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that has no cure. It's defined by an abnormal rate of growth in skin cells. The accelerated growth of skin cells can cause them to pile up on the skin's surface or, in this case, the scalp. This leads to patchy areas on the scalp, also known as plaques.
Scalp psoriasis is a genetic condition, but in many cases, it's triggered by external agents like alcohol consumption, smoking, skin infections, severe injury, and certain medication. It causes redness, scaly skin, and itching.
People with this condition can try to manage the symptoms with treatments like UV therapy, topical corticosteroids, and prescription products that contain salicylic acid, but there is no cure for it.
Psoriasis of the scalp may look like it has resolved on its own, but the plaque build-up takes place again. The best course of action, in this case, is to consult a specialist that can help manage the severity of the flare-ups. Furthermore, try to work with your doctor to identify possible psoriasis triggers in your case to avoid them in the future.
Eczema is a common skin condition that leads to dryness, itching, redness, and a cracked scalp appearance. It's expressly widespread among people who have allergies. This is a genetic condition, which means that it runs in families, and if someone in your family has it, then it's likely for you to experience it as well.
Atopic eczema is often caused by harsh soaps, detergents, bad weather, stress, etc. It can affect all parts of the body, including the scalp. Therefore, you may notice dryness and flakes in your hair, on your elbows, hands, feet, and face.
The best way to manage eczema is by avoiding hair products that have too many stripping agents. If the condition becomes overwhelming, you can ask your doctor to prescribe an emollient cream to help add moisture to the scalp.
When the hair is exposed to the sun for prolonged periods without any protection, it can lead to dryness. This causes the scalp to itch. Precancerous sun damage, or scalp keratosis, also known as actinic keratosis (AK), is a common result of extended sun exposure.
Actinic keratosis is often found in people with male pattern baldness. This is because a large portion of their scalp is uncovered, and exposure to the sun can lead to a red, flaky scalp. Furthermore, this type of sensitivity to sun rays could be chalked up to genetics in many cases.
People with male pattern baldness tend to lose all or a huge chunk of their hair, which makes the scalp prone to damage.
Ringworm, also known as tinea capitis, is a type of fungal infection that causes a red, scaly, circular patch on the scalp. This is a contagious infection that spreads through the use of common hair grooming products like towels, combs, trimmers, etc.
It spreads fast by sharing objects like pillowcases, hats, and other headgear. If the skin comes in contact with any type of surface that harbors the fungus, it can lead to ringworm.
Treatment for tinea capitis usually involves a prescription-based course of antifungal medication that may be topical or oral. It's extremely important to keep the infected area covered if you have ringworm because it lives on the said surface for a long time.
Treating A Flaky Scalp With Healthy Hair Practices
While more serious conditions like psoriasis, allergies, and fungal and bacterial infections require medical attention, mild dandruff can be treated at home. Furthermore, if you're naturally inclined to have a dry scalp that causes flakes in your hair, it may be easier to deal with than you think.
The most crucial factor to keep in mind while trying to take care of a dry, flaky scalp at home is your hair care regimen. As we know by now, a dry scalp is caused by a lack of moisture. It's common for a dry scalp to be followed by a bout of dandruff.
However, in some cases, it's an isolated problem that may be more troubling in dry weather. In such cases, you can treat the flakes in your hair and possibly prevent them from occurring in the first place by implementing a few changes in your hair care routine.
One of the biggest causes of a dry scalp is the number of washes. How often do you wash your hair? Using too much shampoo on your scalp can strip away all its natural oils. This leads to white flakes which fall off while brushing and are often prominent on the hair if you wash your hair too frequently.
You can combat this by reducing the number of wash days in the week. Furthermore, if your hair is exposed to too much water, it will get dry and fall off sooner than expected. This is because your hair is at its weakest when it's wet.
Therefore, too much shampoo and water can make your hair brittle and prone to breakage.
Next, let's talk about the kind of shampoo you use. The ideal way to manage a dry scalp is by using a gentle cleansing shampoo that doesn't cause the scalp to lose its natural moisture. It can be difficult to find a shampoo that suits your scalp when it's already susceptible to dryness.
In such cases, trial and error is the best way to go. The reason your shampoo plays such an important role here is that it's supposed to clean your scalp. But using too much of it or using the wrong product can be counter-productive.
A dry scalp is also caused when you use too many styling products like mousse, gels, sprays, etc. This is because product build-up needs to be treated with a clarifying shampoo that may end up causing the scalp to lose moisture.
Try gentle clarifying shampoos to retain needed moisture. HAIRFINITY Gentle Cleanse Shampoo gently cleanses your hair with sea salt, hibiscus and essential oils and won't strip hair of its natural moisture. It's sulfate- and silicone-free formula is powerful enough to remove build-up but also leave your hair's natural oils intact so your locks don't dry out.
Therefore, it's extremely important to look for a product that gets rid of the build-up without making the scalp dry. A telltale sign that can help you figure out whether the shampoo is stripping the natural oils of the scalp is to see if it lathers too much upon application.
Another helpful tip is to look for a cleansing shampoo that is free of sulfates. You can always talk to your hair stylist or a doctor to recommend a good product for dealing with flaky hair.
Some warning signs that can help you figure out whether you need to visit a doctor are:
- Constant itching
- Swollen and warm to the touch
All in all, harsh weather conditions, hard water, toxic hair products, and many more factors that we might end up ignoring can cause the scalp to act up. You may notice symptoms like itchiness, flakes forming in your hair, and a dry scalp that leads to frizzy hair.
We tend to ignore such symptoms because they usually resolve on their own with the use of healthy hair practices and, in most cases, as the weather changes. This is why you must be mindful of what you expose your hair to every day and choose your hair care products accordingly.
It will help deal with problems like white flakes, dandruff, loss of hair texture due to dryness, etc. But what about a scalp that is dry and flaky throughout the year? What if the itchiness is accompanied by pain?
In such cases, there may be an underlying medical cause as to why the scalp is unmanageable. It's important to consult a doctor in time to curb the effect of the symptoms and treat the condition if there is one.