Even though we tend to focus on our hair and hair growth and maintaining hair, the truth is, the hair scalp is where the action begins. A good understanding of how the scalp works and its role in hair growth and maintenance can save us a world of hurt.
I usually think of the hair scalp like a movie production, when the movie is being made, you have a host of people behind the scenes who get the actors ready to portray a story-line, when the viewer watches the movie they only see the actors and the story unfold, they either love the movie or hate it based on what they can see. So it is with our hair, the scalp is the director and producer and the hairs are the actors. Whatever, the scalp provides behind the scene will determine what people see.
The scalp has five layers; these are the layers that make up what we call the scalp. It is conveniently outlined in a mnemonic so that we can remember.
Skin- That’s the part of the scalp that you can see with your naked eyes, when you part your hair you see hair follicles attached to it. This is generally what we refer to as the scalp. The skin is made up of two main layers, the epidermis (outer layer) and the dermis (network of connective tissue). However, there are four other parts to what is called the scalp.
Connective tissue- this part of the scalp contains a thin layer of fat and some fibrous tissues. Our bodies need connective tissue to protect organs, connect body tissues, store energy and provide a structural framework. In the case of the scalp the connective tissue serves several purposes chief among them is to protect the brain
Aponeurosis- also called epicranial aponeurosis. This next layer is tough and contains dense fibrous tissue which runs from the front of your head to the back
Loose areolar tissue – this layer holds organs in place and surrounds the blood vessels and nerves. The cells of this tissue are generally separated by a gel-like substance made up of elastic fibers and contain major blood vessels of the scalp, which bleed profusely upon injury, partly due to the absence of venous valves found in the circulation below the neck. . This is the layer that is cut into for surgery (neurosurgery or craniofacial surgery) and for scalping. This layer is referred to as the “danger zone” because of the ease by which infectious agents can spread through it to veins and the cranium.
Pericranium covers the outer surface of the bones of the skull and provides nutrition to the skull bones.
Function of The Scalp
The scalp is supplied with an abundance of blood vessels. The scalp is also richly supplied with glands that provide oils to the scalp. These glands are called ‘Sebaceous glands’ and secrete oils onto the scalp. The oils secreted on the scalp is known as sebum. Even though the skin on the scalp is the same as the skin all over the body, these unique characteristics make it far more vulnerable to certain skin disorders such as fungal infections and parasitic infestations.
There are several scalp disorders, below is a brief list of the general disorders and their common descriptions.
Dermatitis- any inflammation to the skin.
Eczema- a range of skin complaints.
Pityriasis– fine scales of skin as in flaky skin.
Seborrhoea- a functional disorder of the sebaceous glands.
How To Have A Healthy Scalp
To maintain a healthy scalp there are some things that you can do especially if you feel as if your scalp is not functioning at its optimum.
1. Avoid putting heavy oils, grease or wax on the scalp- the scalp produces its own natural oil, when additional products such as heavy oils are added to the scalp it slows down the production of sebum. Avoid placing products on the scalp as best as you can because like the skin the scalp can become clogged and will not be able to function at optimum levels. Your scalp should be able to breathe freely just like the skin on other parts of your body. Would you put petroleum oil or glue on your face and leave it on all day or week without washing it off? If your answer is no, choose carefully what you expose the skin on your head to. At first, the no oil regime will take a bit of getting used to but as your skin adjusts and produce its own oil you will only need to oil the hair-not the scalp- to seal in moisture.
2. Keep Your Scalp Clean- like other skin on your body if you do not wash them, they become dirty and clogged and smell. Same goes for your scalp, it is especially important to keep the scalp clean if you sweat or exercise profusely. A clean scalp promotes hair growth and health. After your scalp is sweaty you can simply rinse it with water so that the salt deposits can be removed from your skin. If you bathe after exercising and feel icky after sweating, then imagine the skin on your head. Cleaning the scalp should not be done with any harsh chemicals either; these chemicals can strip the hair and skin of moisture and leave it dry and damaged.
3. Massage- Scalp massages are a great way to get the hair follicles stimulated; new blood circulated and allow oxygen to reach the hair follicles. Can you remember how it feels to get a massage on other areas of your body and feel the release and contentment that it brings, your scalp will respond very well to a thorough massage. Make it a daily habit and your scalp will be on the way to optimum health.
4. Diet- it is a fact that a balanced diet benefits the body generally. It is especially so for scalp health. Your body distributes nutrients according to the importance of an organ and what it needs to keep you alive, so vital organs usually get nutrients first. This means that if your diet is particularly nutritious, your scalp will benefit because there is a lot of nutrients to go around. The adage is healthy diet= healthy scalp.
5. Avoid external damage- the things that can damage the scalp include: sharp objects digging or pressing into the tissues of the scalp, these objects can come from your hair accessories, tightening and screwing the hair on the scalp until it cannot breathe-this can be the result of certain hair styles, heat and heat accessories- avoid burning or scorching the scalp this can cause scars and permanent damage and applying chemicals directly on the scalp-have you ever had relaxer drop on your skin? It burns and cause blisters, avoid as much as possible to have chemicals applied on the scalp, before you apply any harsh ingredients near the scalp, protect it thoroughly with an oil.
Henderson, Stephanie. Basic Hairdressing: A Coursebook for Level 2, p 9, Nelson Thornes; 4 edition (September 2003)