Although a healthy scalp appears smooth to the eye, flakes of keratinized cells are continually forming on the scalp's surface. We can't see this flaking process until it is thrown out of balance resulting in dandruff.
With psoriasis this flaking process is multiplied many times over. Skin cells are produced and die within 5 to 6 days instead of the normal 28-day cycle. These dead skin cells build up on your skin in dry, thick, scaly patches.
What causes scalp psoriasis?
The exact cause is not known but we do know that the body's immune system plays a role. The immune system protects the body against infection. If you have psoriasis, special white blood cells (called T-cells) start to attack healthy skin cells by mistake. This causes the body to produce more skin cells and T-cells to replace those lost.
Psoriasis worsens or can start as a result of one of more of the following triggers:
- A skin injury (cut / scrape / insect bite / sunburn)
- Certain medicines, e.g. lithium, some antimalarial medicines and anti-inflammatory medicines including ibuprofen
- Other immune disorders e.g. HIV
What can you do to control scalp psoriasis?
1. See a doctor or a trichologist
They can prescribe the appropriate lotions and creams that help to soften the skin cells so that they wash off easily. The active ingredients in the lotion will typically be salicylic acid, lactic acid or phenol; this is applied to the scalp to soften the psoriasis plaques which can then be shampooed out more easily.
The doctor can also recommend medicines or a round of treatment. If you're in the US you can locate a doctor via psoriasis.org, if you're in the UK, just see your NHS GP to start off with.
Here is very useful information on treatments that work from the British Medical Journal Group:
Your circumstances are unique to you and what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. Following internet advice could lead to lots of trial and error that only makes things worse. It's not worth the risk.
That said, check out this girl with scalp psoriasis on Embarrassing Bodies (a UK TV show where people showcase medical problems that have been ruling their lives). I chose to show you this because the show is run by proper doctors and they're not trying to push products. These two episodes show the great results you can achieve after treatment.
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- Stop relaxing your hair. Healthy hair has a pH of 4.0 to 5.5 (acidic) whilst relaxers are very alkaline with pH values ranging from 12 to 14. This difference in pH will create disharmony.
- Don't use hair dyes. They're also alkaline
- Don't use any products that use petroleum / petrolatum / mineral oils. These oils are heavy and are much more likely to block your skin. The scalp needs to breathe. Importantly, note that although I speak against mineral oils, I have seen a TV doctor recommend it and I have seen at least one natural haired girl state that Sulfur 8 which contains mineral oil works for her. Shea butters that haven't been mixed with these cheap oils are a good option.
- Consider using organic unrefined jojoba as your preferred oil. Jojoba is the only oil whose structure is similar to that of sebum, the oil produced by the scalp's own sebaceous glands. Jojoba is also a weak acid and as such will complement your scalp's own acidity
- Drink lots of water, at least, eight 250ml glasses a day. The moisture content of scalp is controlled from the inside. According to The Science of Black Hair (page 28), if the moisture content of the scalp falls below 10% and the scalp's natural flaking process is disrupted, dandruff and other scaly scalp irritation issues result
- Don't use blow dryers and hot combs, they will only dry your hair further
- Don't use commercial shampoos including the anti-dandruff variety
Unique issues you may face with natural hair
1. If you're being "forced" to go natural because of the scalp psoriasis you'll also have to learn how to manage your new hair. In addition to nenonatural.com there are many other online tutorials by USA hair bloggers, UK hair bloggers and beyond.
2. Combing flakes out will be harder because of the curls so you'll need more patience than someone with, say, type 1 hair, especially if your hair is long.
You might also like:
13 Top Tips for Keeping Natural Black Hair Moisturised - No More Dry Hair!
Managing natural hair and scalp seborrhoeic dermatitis
Psoriasis Treatments: Now and in the Future (webmd)
Scalp Psoriasis - Channel 4, Embarrasing Bodies