Dr. Dominic Burg, Chief Scientist and Trichologist for evolis Professional 
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Dr. Dominic Burg, Chief Scientist and Trichologist for evolis Professional

Baby, it’s cold outside.  And it’s dry inside.  This time of year, many clients might be noticing some changes in their scalp environment that start to bother them, even more than usual.  Dr. Dominic Burg, Chief Scientist and Trichologist for evolis Professional, talked to us about conditions that can be contributing factors to dry scalp and dandruff and offers some great insight into the causes and conditions. 

MODERN SALON: What the difference between dry scalp and dandruff?

DR. BURG: The skin of your scalp is very much like the skin of your face or the rest of your body.  The moisture of the scalp is predominately influenced by the sebaceous glands, little oil glands residing in each pore. As we know with the skin of the face, there are a variety of skin types ranging from dry to oily and this is no different for the scalp.   Oil levels are influenced by genetics, hormones, for example when pregnant or going through puberty (oily) and after menopause (dry), some drugs e.g. the acne medication Isotretinoin, and the environment.  Very dry air, air conditioning, excess heat when styling and using drying, harsh shampoos are some examples of external/environmental factors that can lead to a dry scalp

MS: How can you tell if you have a dry scalp vs. dandruff or a more serious case?

DR. BURG: Shedding of the skin cells is normal, and everyone will shed a small amount of skin from their body, collectively known as dander, every day.  A lot of people confuse dry scalp and dandruff, and while they are not mutually exclusive, i.e. dandruff can happen on a dry scalp, many manifestations of dandruff actually occur on oily scalp types.  

Simply having dry skin that is a little flaky may manifest as a few flakes of dander here and there, but when the shedding is excessive and visible, it may be a sign that there is some other underlying issue.  Excess flakiness and or dryness may be caused by things such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis and if you have itchiness, redness, sores, broken skin or areas where there is associated hair loss, it might be time to see a dermatologist.  The standard scenario we generally refer to as dandruff tends to not have severe symptoms at all (apart from the excess skin flakes!) and is actually a complex process thought to be influenced by fungi and yeasts in the scalp.  When your microbiome (the collection of good bacteria) on the scalp become imbalanced, damaging or inflammatory species can take over.   These inflammatory species can cause the skin to thicken and shed excessively and in clumps, causing dandruff.

MS: How often should you wash your hair and does the cold weather affect it?

DR. BURG: Too frequent washing of the scalp with harsh cleansers can upset that microbiome which can lead to scalp problems. In short: The skin on the body contains billions of good bacteria from around a 1000 different species that are natural beneficial: this population as a whole is known as the microbiome.  The population of microbes help maintain the skin pH and prevent bad microbes from colonizing the skin by competing for nutrients as well as by producing molecules that bad bacteria don’t like:  their special defense system.   An overabundance of the wrong bacteria or fungi can lead to infection or inflammation which can exacerbate any hair cycle issues, or in itself impact the hair cycle.

While over washing can be a problem, particularly if you use powerful and harsh cleansers, a good gentle cleanse of the scalp 2-3 times a week is often needed for removing excess sebum and unblocking pores.  Always remember that washing of the hair shafts and dry them out leading to brittleness, so always follow up with a hydrating, silicone free conditioner or a nourishing hair mask to maintain moisture and take care of the cuticles.

MS: Why do people get dry scalp and how to alleviate it?

DR. BURG: For dry scalp, as discussed above, oil levels are influenced by genetics, hormones, for example when pregnant or going through puberty (oily) and after menopause (dry), some drugs e.g. the acne medication Isotretinoin, and the environment.  Very dry air, air conditioning, excess heat when styling and using drying, harsh shampoos are some examples of external/environmental factors that can lead to a dry scalp. I suggest looking for product alternatives with gentle, natural ingredients. Aloe is a great ingredient for adding moisture, as is vitamin e; but when it comes to moisture, baobab oil really is king. Essential oils such as lavender and rosemary are also excellent for scalp health and, as a bonus, rosemary can also help with dandruff. I would also suggest adding some natural antioxidants such as green tea and goji berries to promote scalp health.

A good, gentle scalp cleansing and conditioning routine two to three times a week, using a silicone and SLS free product such as évolis Promote shampoo & Conditioner, which contains baobab seed oil, essential oils and natural antioxidants, is good for removing excess flakes and unblocking pores. Follow-up with a scalp serum with moisturizing ingredients such as the évolis PROMOTE Activator.

Certain supplements can help with dryness.  As the scalp is so similar to the rest of the skin the same principles apply.  Look for supplements with key ingredients such as the Omega 3 oils and vitamins A, C, and E which are great for helping skin maintain its structure and moisture.  Other ingredients to look out for are Zinc and Iron and the B vitamins, particularly Biotin.