This question appears on no-poo message boards a lot: “Since I’m not using shampoo, how do I get rid of my scalp itchiness without medicated shampoos?”
I don’t have all the answers. I’ve shared a few before, but the process really takes into account a number of factors, and not every factor will be applicable to every person. I’d like to go into better detail here.
Keep irritation in my body low. Since I have allergic contact dermatitis and chemical allergies, part of the most important prevention strategy is to minimize my systemic irritation. If one part of my body is already breaking out because my immune system function has been kicked into high gear, you can bet my scalp will try to get in on the action, whether it was directly affected or not. Treating other reactions promptly is one of the key factors in keeping my head from itching.
- Tied in with number 1, the next most important thing to do to prevent scalp irritation is to avoid allergens. Hair absorbs chemicals in the air like a giant sponge, and constant contact with the scalp can lead to irritation there. If I am in the presence of my allergens, I rinse or wash my hair as soon as I can, or as soon as I get home. Likewise, I make sure that I’m not washing my hair with something that contains my allergens.
- Avoid long-term moisture on the head. Bacteria will grow in a moist environment, so keeping my hair clean enough that it dries naturally within a couple of hours helps to reduce bacterial growth that could potentially cause irritation. Likewise, if I must put my hair up when it’s wet, I do so very loosely, sometimes moving the main mass of hair around my head a bit as it dries, so it doesn’t sit in one place too long.
- With regards to washing, an important factor is to avoid overwashing the hair. Yes, I just said to keep the hair clean enough to dry easily, but too much washing will dry out your scalp, and that will cause itchiness. If my head is itchy and it isn’t yet time to wash, I will do a rinse of my head with some treatments (below).
- Rinses really help soothe my scalp. Some people find water sufficient to reduce itchiness, but I have had the best luck with 1/4 to 1/2 cup of epsom salt or dead sea salt in 3/4 to one litre of water (or one quart). If you have hard water, use distilled water or rain water instead. Stir thoroughly to mix, then apply to the hair and scalp and allow the mixture to sit on your head for up to five minutes before rinsing off. If you find your scalp beginning to sting, rinse off sooner. Why does it work? Traditional dandruff shampoos contain sulphur. These salts also contain sulphur, plus magnesium, which seems to help my scalp. And no, these salts will not “soften” water. Hard water is made “hard” by the presence of calcium and magnesium ions. Adding these salts will harden your water, but only with one of the two ions typically present in hard water.Another common scalp treatment is pine tar. This goes by other names such as colophony and rosin. I won’t go into that here because I have never tried and will never try a home remedy using this ingredient, because I am allergic to it. I also have never investigated how one might take a very sticky substance and turn it into a scalp treatment that won’t stick to and pull out your hair with use.
Clean my brushes regularly, with non-allergenic washes. I mention brush cleaning in How to Use a Boar Bristle Brush, and that is really the best advice I can give about that.
- When all else fails, I pull out my Luxiq foam. This is a steroidal medication, prescribed by the doctor, containing betamethasone. Because it’s in an alcohol base, I can apply it to my scalp at any time, regardless of my wash schedule, and it doesn’t interfere with my hair. It can be applied twice a day, and it is really my saving grace when the itch just won’t stop. I do try to apply it a few times consecutively so that the condition is cleared, not just reduced.
Finally, how do I deal with the flakes that come with scalp irritation? I wait until my hair is dry, brush it, and then hang my head upside-down and shake my hair out with my fingers. This seems to get rid of the most noticeable flakes until I can improve my scalp condition. Heavily diluted peroxide will also do this, but it will dry out your scalp more in the process! Peroxide is definitely not the ideal choice for dandruff removal.
Obviously no-poo scalp care is less straightforward than just reaching for a bottle, especially with chemical allergies. The good news is that it is possible to have an itch-free scalp with a bit of care and attention.
How do you reduce scalp irritation without commercial dandruff shampoos? Comment below.