Why Your Scalp’s Microbiome is Crucial to Your Hair’s Health
A microbiome, simply stated, is a community of microorganisms that exist in one habitat, like your gut, your skin—or your scalp. In order for a microbiome to function efficiently, it must maintain a diverse mix of microorganisms, with each one contributing something unique to the productivity of the habitat. If, however, the ratio of microorganisms gets out of whack, and one type of bacteria overpowers the rest, the microbiome—and the health of anything supported by that habitat—can become compromised.
Symptoms of a compromised microbiome in the gut can include digestive issues like bloating or constipation. An out-of-whack microbiome on the skin may lead to rashes or acne flare-ups. And an out-of-balance scalp microbiome can result in inhibited future hair growth, as well as strands that become increasingly dry, brittle and fragile. Here, we’ll focus on the causes of a compromised scalp microbiome and what you can do to restore and maintain order.
Cause #1: Over-washing hair
One primary reason the microbiome on your scalp becomes imbalanced is that you’ve stripped away your scalp’s natural defenses, inhibiting the growth of certain microorganisms and enabling others to flourish. This stripping is typically the result of either washing too often or using a shampoo formula that contains traditional sulfates, a cleansing ingredient that can remove an inordinate amount of your natural scalp oils. To avoid over-stripping, do not wash more than once a day (and, if you can stretch cleansing to every other day or even more infrequently, that’s even better). You should also consider switching to a sulfate-free shampoo to avoid removing too many of your scalp’s natural protective oils.
Cause #2: Product buildup
While over-stripping can cause problems, so can not sufficiently removing environmental grime and styling-product buildup. If you go days between shampoos—or use copious amounts of dry shampoo or stylers—it’s important that you deep clean your scalp when you finally do suds up. Allowing that buildup to sit on the scalp can clog hair follicles, trap scalp oils, cause irritation, and disrupt the microbiome. To properly cleanse, apply about a nickel-sized dollop of shampoo, massage into your scalp and allow it to sit for at least a minute before you rinse it out.
Cause #3: Not exfoliating
Just like the skin on the rest of your body, scalp skin will benefit from an occasional gentle sloughing in order to remove dead-skin-cell buildup. Similar to having an abundance of styling-product buildup, dead-cell accumulation can mess with your scalp’s microbiome balance. Exfoliating the scalp should not, however, be an elaborate endeavor: Once a week, when you shampoo, just use a soft-bristled brush to massage your scalp for about a minute. This gentle kneading will help loosen dead cells, enabling them to rinse clean away. To complement this mechanical massage, you may also use a scalp-specific treatment monthly, such as one from Prose that utilizes ingredients like Watercress to efficiently and effectively remove dead cells and buildup, or that contains prebiotics to help recalibrate an imbalanced ratio.
To create a customized Prose regimen that helps you maintain a healthy scalp microbiome, get started here.