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Help for the Dry, Flaky Scalp of Mystery

By Amalah

Dearest wisest oh wonderfullest Amalah,
I’ve stood by and clapped wildly as you’ve advised many a stumped and confused soul on their quest to the best possible makeup application/skin care solutions.
Heck, I’ve even submitted my own fashion question in the past (thanks again for answering!). Now, I come before you once again, asking for guidance on a more sensitive subject… hair maintenance, or even more specifically, scalp cleanliness.
So here’s the dealio: A little over 2 years ago, I had gastric bypass surgery which aided me in losing lots and lots of weight. The down side to that operation is the fact that my hair, skin and overall body chemistry is TOTALLY DIFFERENT now than what it was before. I’ve been able to find a happy medium in skin care products for my face and body, but not my hair and I am at a total loss. Even my awesome hair stylist *hollerin at Tanya!* cant seem to figure out how to help me.
The problem, and ooooooohmygoshisthishumiliating… I don’t have dandruff, persay. I have, buildup. They aren’t flakes, its more like product buildup, but it happens even when I don’t use any product at all. I can wash, condition, and air or blow dry my hair with no product, and by the end of the day run my hands through my hair and on my scalp there is this, this… EW! And if I’m wearing a black top, its just terrible. White balls? White specs? I don’t even know what to call it.
Amalah, I’m at your mercy. Tanya suggested that it might be dandruff, but using dandruff control shampoos only seems to aggravate the problem. Using products doesn’t make it any better or any worse. It’s the weirdest thing and I don’t know what is going on or how to stop it!
Right now, I’m a brunette, but am totally thinking about going back to being blonde so that at least it wont be as visible to the nekkid eye. For the record, I’ve already seen my dermatologist who said it wasn’t a skin condition. So I dunno what that means.
Could it be that I live in the Midwest where its cold and dry and maybe it is a dry scalp? Could it be that my scalp is just crumbling to bits and one day I will awaken to my brain in a soupy mess all over my pillow?
Patiently awaiting your guidance and suggestion,
Lather, rinse, repeat

Hmm. So first of all, I kind of want to slap your dermatologist a little, because DUDE. Dandruff is a skin condition. Dry flaky skin is a skin condition. What you have really sounds like SOME kind of skin condition, but…well. Okay, DOCTOR. Whatever.
(I just feel like a dermatologist, even if there was nothing prescription-pad worthy, should have been able to give you a few tips at least. Like the ones I’m going to give you, which are not ancient Internet advice columnist secrets, you know?)
(Hi. I can’t drink coffee anymore. I am cranky.)
Since the dandruff shampoos only aggravate your problem, and you aren’t complaining about a lot of itching, I’d say your scalp is on the ridiculously sensitive side, and it may take some trial-and-error in order to find the right shampoo/conditioner combo for it. It could very well be a dermatitis/allergy thing. You could be having a reaction to the chemicals found in most commercially-available products, which would jibe with your “build-up” description.
Have you tried going with more natural-type products? The JASON line (available at Whole Foods and health stores and even some better drugstores) is pretty good and has lots of moisturizing/normalizing shampoo options. Another good one for sensitive scalps is Aveda’s Sap Moss shampoo.
group.jpgThis next one may sound too crunchy for you, but hear me out. Try the no-shampoo method (dubbed no-poo by its sometimes-a-little-much-to-take followers) for awhile. Look at it like a detox for your hair, to see if you are, in fact, having a reaction to a specific ingredient. Ditching shampoo and conditioner DOES NOT WORK FOR EVERYBODY, but for the right person, it can be downright marvelous. Wash your scalp with baking soda and rinse with apple cider vinegar. And that’s it. Baking soda will gently clean your scalp and hair, while the vinegar will add shine and possibly help squash any fungus/bacteria that could be lurking in your scalp and causing the flakiness.
Try it for a week or so, and if you want to add real shampoo and conditioner back in, go for something with the highest number of actual pronounceable ingredients possible. Stick with moisturizing versions (dry hair shampoos are the best for dry scalps), and keep your conditioner as far away from your scalp and roots as possible. And really, REALLY get in there and massage your scalp. The skin is going to flake off anyway, so best to work it loose in the shower and stimulate new, healthy skin growth with a vigorous massage. (Then clean your fingernails with the apple cider vinegar afterwards.) If you’re still not satisfied with your scalp health, try a V05 Hot Oil Treatment or avocado hair mask and head back to the drawing board with a different shampoo. I think you’d do well with a mantra of Gentle and Natural.
(And be really, really careful with coloring your hair. Until you figure out what is triggering the condition — be it an allergy or just severely dry skin — contact with hair color chemicals is not going to help anything.)

Published February 15, 2008. Last updated February 15, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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