If you want to show off your crowning glory this spring and summer, you’d better be good to what lies beneath. Sun, salt water and chlorine can all punish your scalp, leaving it dry and itchy and draining the luster from your locks. Here’s how to keep your scalp healthy and your hair looking its best while you savor the season.
Practice Sun Smarts
With skin cancer rates “significantly” on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control, most of us have gotten the message to slather our faces and bodies with sunscreen. (The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30, reapplied every two hours.)
But we may be skipping our scalps, says Dr. Rebecca Kazin, a board-certified dermatologist in Washington, D.C. “Women don’t realize that even if they have a full head of hair, their part is prone to sunburn and potential skin cancer,” says Kazin. Ditto for spots where your hair may be thinning or your hairline is newly exposed by a summer ponytail or short haircut.
- To avoid a greasy head, soak a cotton-tipped swab in sunscreen and run it along vulnerable areas.
- Wear a broad-brimmed hat (not a paparazzi-tempting V. Stiviano visor!). Many versions now have built in SPF.
- Get a skin checkup from your dermatologist at least once a year, and watch any moles for changes that could indicate deadly melanoma. (The American Cancer Society predicts that 32,000 melanomas will be diagnosed in women this year.)
- Make your hairdresser or colorist a scalp scout. The Skin Cancer Foundation offers a free “Heads Up” training program to help stylists recognize troublesome symptoms.
Feed Your Head
Your hair and scalp need plenty of lean protein and a variety of nutrients to stay supple and strong, says New York nutritionist Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Throw some salmon, skinless chicken, lean beef or veggie burgers on the grill for some perfect summer protein. Other nutritional headliners for warm-weather appetites:
- Seafood: Smoked salmon, sardines, and shellfish such as oysters, clams, mussels and crabs can deliver zinc and essential vitamins, as well as lean protein.
- Low-fat dairy: Greek yogurt and cottage cheese are loaded with follicle-friendly protein and vitamins.
- Salad-worthy fruits and veggies: Try vitamin-rich cantaloupe, blueberries, strawberries, fresh carrots, tomatoes and baby spinach, as well as that year-round favorite, sweet potatoes.
- Olive and flaxseed oil, walnuts, almonds and avocados: Use these in dressings, marinades and salads. All pack lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which help our bodies produce the natural oils that condition the scalp.
Flaky, dry scalps can have numerous causes, ranging from year-round conditions like dandruff — an inflammatory reaction to yeast — to seasonal hazards such as poison ivy, bug bites or over-exposure to pool chemicals and salt water. In response, Kazin suggests:
- Don’t scratch; it might worsen the condition and invite infection. Slap an ice cube on the afflicted spot to fool the nerve endings and block the itch.
- Pick the right shampoo. If you’ve got showers of white flakes, use an over-the-counter dandruff product. If you’ve been swimming in the ocean or pool, choose a salt- and sulfate-free shampoo — and next time, wet your hair before hitting the beach to limit absorption of salt and chlorine.
- Try scalp massage, which can increase blood flow, says Kazin. Do your own — or enlist a significant other. If your scalp seems dry, use a dab of anti-inflammatory tea tree oil.
Condition. Apply a treatment under your bathing cap while you swim. Or slick your hair back with conditioner and let the
About Author: Lynn Langway is a health writer and former editor at Newsweek and Ladies’ Home Journal who frequently contributes to Life & Beauty Weekly. Follow her on Twitter: @travelcentricny.