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Photography Katie Scott

Scalp health 101: Expert advice to keep your hair healthy and growing

With the number of people experiencing hair loss since the pandemic skyrocketing, scalp health is becoming an increasingly hot topic. Here is everything you need to know

Scalp health is key to the overall health and growth of your hair. “Think of your scalp as the soil in a garden,” Jen Atkin, celebrity hair guru and founder of Ouai, told Dazed back in May. “You need to tend to the soil for everything to grow.” 

The scalp is the production centre for hair, with each strand growing from an individual follicle. The quality of these follicles is dependent on the underlying structures of blood vessels, tissue and cells. Factors like vitamin deficiencies, health conditions and high cortisol levels from stress can all have a negative impact on the hair follicles, as can build-ups of sebum, dead skin or dandruff which block the follicles and hinder growth. Permanently blocked follicles may eventually stop producing hair altogether. 

Alongside hair thinning and loss, symptoms of an unhealthy scalp also include itchiness, pain and discharge, says Dr Mia Jing Gao, a consultant dermatologist who specialises in hair loss and scalp conditions. So it’s worth your time maintaining a clean and healthy scalp. Luckily it’s becoming easier than ever. Previously overlooked, the topic is increasingly gaining popularity and traction both online and off. 

Over on TikTok, #scalp has almost 800 million views, while terms like #scalpcare and #scalptreatment have each racked up millions more. In the industry, scalp care – alongside targeted hair loss products – has become a category in its own right with brands including T.H.O.M, Ouai, Augustinus Bader, Dr Barbara Sturm, The Nue Co. and The Ordinary all entering the market with various scalp serums, scrubs and supplements.

It’s not surprising, considering the link between scalp health and hair loss. During the pandemic, the number of people experiencing hair loss increased dramatically. COVID-19 itself has been linked to hair loss, while emotional stress as a result of financial worries, the loss of jobs and other personal worries also contribute. “A lot of people who had COVID lost their hair,” says Hannah Gaboardi, trichologist and hair growth specialist, who is busier than ever since the pandemic. “Everyone is also highly stressed. So with COVID and stress, everyone’s got hair loss issues.”  

To find out the best practices for maintaining a healthy and happy scalp, and keeping your hair strong and thick, we spoke to Dr Gao, Gaboardi and Paul Windle, hairdresser and founder of Windle Lab. Below they share their best tips and tricks that you can do at home. Remember, Gaboardi says, if you see the signs of hair loss – act on them early. “Start using your supplements, start using a scalp serum and go see a trichologist or a dermatologist,” she says. “Fix the problem early on because if you leave it and you start going bald there’s nothing anyone can do except a surgeon.” 


When it comes to keeping your scalp healthy, diet is key. According to Gaboardi, high protein, zinc and iron are all important for general hair health. She recommends fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, spinach, avocado, carrots and sweet potatoes. Oysters are high in zinc – “they are such a good food for hair,” Gaboardi says – while meat is key for protein and iron. “A lot of my clients who suffer from hair problems are normally not eating meat and are iron deficient,” she says. 

As well as eating the right foods, if you are deficient in iron, vitamin D or zinc, Dr Mia Jing Gao says supplementing them can be helpful for hair growth. Alongside targeted supplements, more and more hair brands are releasing combined supplements designed specifically for hair. “The Ouai supplement has zinc, vitamin Bs, vitamin D and also pea extract which is another ingredient that everyone’s talking about,” says Gaboardi.

The Nue Co’s Growth Phase contains vitamins including all eight B vitamins as well as collagen-rich ingredients and ones which work to reduce stress like reishi mushroom and eleuthero root extracts. It also includes biotin which stimulates keratin production in hair, although you may want to keep clear of it if you have skin concerns. “The downside of taking biotin is it causes acne,” says Gaboardi. “A lot of clients have noticed that they’ve been getting skin flare-ups.” 


What’s the number one thing you can do to keep your scalp healthy according to Paul Windle? Massage. “Don’t shampoo your hair too often, but when you do make sure you give it a deep cleanse,” he says. “Use a lot of friction with your fingertips.” Gaboardi agrees on the benefits of massaging your scalp, which stimulates blood flow to the area and encourages hair to grow. “I always tell my clients to massage or use a scalp massager,” she says. “Put shampoo on a scalp massager. This will take off the dead skin cells and stimulate blood flow.” 

As well as when you’re washing your hair, you can use a scalp massager at night before bed. Another way to get your blood circulating to the scalp, says Windle, is exercise. “Your hair is a byproduct of your blood, so the more blood flow, the better the scalp and hair.” Some of Gaboardi’s clients will even do handstands after treatments to rush blood to the area. 


As we go through the hot summer months, everyone is talking about sunscreen and how important it is to protect your skin from the damaging rays of the sun. What isn’t as widely discussed, however, is that we should also be using SPF on your scalps. “Scalp is a common location to develop skin cancer especially in people with hair loss as the hair does somewhat shield the scalp skin from sun,” says Dr Gao. 

“A burnt scalp is like burnt skin, it causes irritation, it makes your scalp flaky,” adds Gaboardi, who says the sun will also dry out your hair shafts. Using a hair SPF is great or wear a hat to provide sun protection.


“Stress is probably the number one trigger for hair loss right now,” says Gaboardi, who cites “everything that’s going on in the world” as a major source of stress for people, alongside the stress Covid itself puts on the body. She has seen a lot of clients experiencing hair loss who have gone through Covid or lost their job because of the pandemic.  

“Physical and mental stress cause stress hormones Cortisol and adrenaline to rise in our bodies which drives changes in our skin and scalp, including oil production and inflammation,” explains Dr Gao. “This can flare or even trigger conditions such as seborrheic dermatitis or psoriasis. Women who experience high levels of stress are also 11 times more likely to experience hair loss than those who do not report high stress levels.”

Hair loss from stress will usually start with an initial shedding of hair, a phase called telogen effluvium which is when your growth phase is interrupted. Once this has started there is no product that can help stop the shedding as it's an internal process. Normally it will last for three to six months but the good news, says Dr Gao, is that it is reversible. “But it can take up to 18 months to fully regrow,” she says.


When it comes to silk pillowcases, opinion is divided. We often hear that silk pillows and scrunchies are the key to smoother, healthier hair and Gaboardi is a proponent. “You should be using everything silk,” she says. Windle, however, disagrees. “Silk pillowcases make no difference at all and cotton will not damage your hair,” he says. “Hair is very abrasive – it can in fact wear out your pillow case. In itself, the friction of hair rubbing against hair whilst sleeping is what causes damage during sleep.”


“For a healthy scalp, a lot of people think that not washing their hair helps,” says Gaboardi. “Not washing your hair actually makes situations worse.” Washing your hair regularly helps keep your scalp and therefore hair healthy, she explains, recommending that you wash your hair every other day or every third day. 

Introducing a detox shampoo or a scalp scrub once every two week is also recommended as it will help remove the buildup of dead skin cells and sebum and boost follicle growth. “A build-up will block the follicles,” she says. “You need to cleanse to get growth.” Detox shampoo will also help remove any product buildup that has occurred. According to Gaboardi a lot of people don’t rinse out their shampoo and conditioner properly, which can cause dandruff. Make sure to rinse your hair really well and then do a cold rinse at the end.


Another product which could help with keeping your hair healthy and growing is scalp serum. Formulated to help promote hair growth, boost new follicles and put moisture into the scalp, brands like Ouai, Augustinus Bader, Dr Sturm and T.H.O.M have all recently released scalp serums. 

Depending on your age and hair health, how often you use the serum will vary. If you are worried about hair loss, Gaboardi recommends using it daily or every other day. If you are younger and generally happy with your hair, once or twice a week will be enough.


While products are something that we can use at home, experts like Gaboardi will also offer in-clinic treatments to help with scalp health. PRP is a plasma injection that you might have heard of referred to as the “Vampire facial”. It can also be used for the scalp to treat hair loss as seen famously on an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

PRP involves taking a small sample of the patient’s blood, spinning it in a centrifuge and then injecting the plasma back into the scalp. This helps rejuvenate the area by promoting epidermal stimulation and hair follicles and the growth of collagen. It can be used on people who are experiencing hair loss as well as those who are just interested in keeping the scalp more generally healthy and their hair thick.  

“The clients I’m seeing for PRP are people who are experiencing thinning on their hairline, on the crown area, men who are experiencing male pattern hair loss,” says Gaboardi. “But everyone needs to catch hair loss very early on. When you leave it too late, there’s not much I can do.” Signs that you are losing your hair include a receding hairline or balding on the crown area, for men, and a widening of the parting in women. 

Other treatments available include hair injectables which involve biotin, hyaluronic acid and amino acids which help with growth; scalp facials which have peptides; red light therapy and micro-needling.