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How to Treat a Sensitive Scalp

The Best Hair Care Routine to Treat a Sensitive Scalp

Here’s how to soothe a sensitive and painful scalp—plus, we explain how to help restore its balance

1. What is a sensitive scalp?

2. What causes a sensitive scalp?

3. How to soothe an irritated scalp


Have you ever asked yourself “Why is my scalp sensitive when I move my hair?” If so, you’re not alone. Around 45% of people suffer from a sensitive scalp and if you’ve experienced it, you know that it can leave you with a burning or tingling sensation. Sure, it can be painful, but it’s also confusing because we all know that hair is dead, which means it has zero nerve endings. So why does it hurt?

Although it may feel like the pain is coming from your hair, it’s actually coming from your scalp. Scalp pain has several different causes, but it usually flares up when you’re tired, stressed or not washing your hair enough. Luckily, there are some ways to help ease the pain—and we’ve got the details on how to soothe an irritated scalp.

1. What is a sensitive scalp?

When your hair hurts, it’s not actually the strands that are the source of the pain; it’s your scalp. Your scalp is rich in blood supply, nerve endings and oil glands. These factors mean that it’s an area that’s 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.

2. What causes a sensitive scalp?

So, you’ve identified that you have a sensitive scalp, but now you have to ask yourself “Why does my scalp hurt?” 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 buildup 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’re using, and if you develop brittle hair and a sensitive scalp, move on to a different protein-laced product.

3. How to soothe an irritated scalp

We know that the two major culprits that trigger hair pain (a.k.a. scalp sensitivity) 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 buildup and scalp oils without changing the pH of your scalp. Vichy Dercos Dermo-Soothing Shampoo is a sulphate-free shampoo that’s formulated to relieve itchiness and irritation using Calmoxine, a patented ingredient that protects your scalp, strengthens its barrier and reduces scalp discomfort, all without stripping your hair.

Other ways to help soothe the pain, especially when your scalp is inflamed, is to put a hiatus on topknots and tight braids and avoid covering your hair—and smothering your scalp—with leave-ins, creams, dry shampoos and hairsprays.


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