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Hair care: What you need to know about caring for a sensitive scalp

Flaky, itchy, tingling, tight or sore scalp? While a sensitive scalp can be annoying and painful, the good news is you’re not alone – around 60% of women (and 40% of men) experience scalp problems at some point. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to get to the root of the problem and relieve it.

What causes a sensitive scalp?

One of the most common culprits is dandruff, where the skin becomes dry, itchy and flaky. It has many causes, including when a yeast normally found on the skin goes into overdrive, a fungus, or eczema. Annoyingly, scratching it only damages the delicate skin more, leading to further flakiness.

However, there are other, more everyday explanations for dandruff too. The skin on your scalp is particularly delicate – after all, it’s the third most common area for sensitive skin after your hands and face – so it’s easy for it to develop contact dermatitis, a common condition that can cause flakiness, swollen skin or an uncomfortable red rash. It’s triggered by anything from certain soaps and harsh shampoos, salon hair chemicals and dye, pollution, detergents, contact with particular metals and even heated styling tools such as hair straighteners.

Aside from dandruff, your sensitive scalp can also be caused by tension headaches and migraines and even changes in your hormones at different times during your menstrual cycle, as well as during pregnancy and the menopause. Even factors such as extreme weather, stress, food allergies or an imbalanced diet can all play havoc with the skin on your scalp.

Luckily, just as there are plenty of possible causes, there are plenty of things you can do straight away to help ease the discomfort:

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  • Turn the temperature down in the shower – water that’s too hot is a big no-no when it comes to taking care of your scalp.
  • Cut down on the hair styling products you use and step away from tongs, straighteners and salon hair treatments for a while to see if this improves the condition of your scalp.
  • Change your shampoo to one specially formulated for scalp problems, such as Head & Shoulders Itchy Scalp. It has eucalyptus to fight dandruff and relieve itching, while Head & Shoulders Instant Relief contains soothing tea tree essence and peppermint oil. Head & Shoulders Sensitive Scalp has aloe vera to calm more irritated skin.
  • Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet containing a wide range of fruit and vegetables.
  • It sounds obvious, but hats can be a sore scalp’s best friend. Don’t just cover up in the sun – protect your head when it’s cold or windy too, as wintry weather can be just as unkind.
  • Make your own soothing scalp treatment by gently massaging warm water mixed with half a teaspoon of lavender or rosemary essential oil onto your scalp. Leave it on for 15 minutes, then rinse out.
  • If practical changes like these don’t work, see your doctor who can investigate further and may be able to help with a prescription treatment.

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