• Olamide Afolabi

But First...Scalp! A Guide to Healthy Scalp Care Practices

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

The summer solstice recently passed (June 21st), but I know for many curly-haired girls the protective styling season started weeks ago…as soon as it got too hot outside! With the blazing sun usually comes the unwillingness to wear our gorgeous curls out because, well, it’s HOT! Protective styling is good for us though, because the sun can definitely be damaging on those natural tresses. Unfortunately, many people assume they’ve been let off the hook to take care of their natural hair while protective styling, but sis….you are so far from the light. Protective styles are actually the perfect opportunity to show your scalp some extra care and attention, which further promotes the growth of healthy hair! Your scalp is (usually) easier to access while protective styling anyway, so why not show it love?

First of all, you need to cleanse your scalp. For some reason, there’s this misconception that you don’t have to cleanse your hair during long term protective styles like braids or weaves/wigs. This is the furthest from the truth! Let’s say you’ve had your braids in for a month and a half. You’ve been oiling your scalp regularly, keeping it nice and moisturized, right? If you aren’t also cleansing your scalp in those six weeks, all that oil is building up and actually clogging the pores of your scalp, likely causing increased itching and irritation.

There are a few ways to cleanse your scalp with a protective style in:

1. Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) cleanse

The ACV cleanse method is a very easy and time effective way to clean your scalp with a protective style in. All you need is ACV, water, and some cotton pads. I know some people do two parts water, one part ACV, or something along those lines, but personally I just use straight up ACV because it doesn’t bother me. Dilute the ACV with water to your liking and comfort. Anyways, you soak the cotton pad in the ACV solution, then gently scrub your scalp with the cotton pad. Afterwards you soak some cotton pads in just water and repeat the process.

This is helpful for a number of reasons. Firstly, ACV is a great disinfectant because vinegar can kill bacteria and fungi. For your scalp, this can help with itchiness, dryness, or any infections. ACV is also extremely acidic, so it helps to re-balance the pH of your scalp. Hair that is suffering from dullness or brittleness is said to be more alkaline, so something acidic like ACV can help balance all that out and improve the health of your scalp and hair. There are many other benefits to using ACV, such as its anti-inflammatory or moisturizing properties, but I’ll spare you any additional science talk. All in all, it’s a great way to cut out that buildup.

Be sure to seal your freshly cleaned scalp with some sort of oil or leave-in, and try to repeat weekly while protective styling. If you’re not really into the DIY life, Girl + Hair sells an Apple Cider Clarifying Rinse for under-hair care that you can try out!

2. Shampoo

I know we all hate when our hair looks too worn in, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with straight up shampooing your hair and scalp while protective styling. The largest factor in shampooing protective styles, to me, is the time it takes for my real hair AND the extensions to dry. As long as I allot enough drying time, bring on the shampoo! Personally, I love to just shampoo my scalp while my hair’s braided up. After all, the best way to re-hydrate natural hair is with water! While protective styling, your natural hair is receiving virtually no water to hydrate it. Working in regular shampoos and wash days, as you would with your hair, can really give your hair and scalp that added hydration that it’s been yearning for.

To avoid frizzing up your hair, it’s best to use a sulfate free shampoo that won’t lather up too much. You should also be very gentle with rubbing to avoid disrupting your hair more than necessary and causing your style to get that old, fuzzy look (lol). One of my favorite sulfate-free shampoos is the TGIN RepaiRx Strengthening Shampoo. After shampooing hair that’s in a protective style, you may be able to skip the conditioner (with braids) and just apply a light leave-in conditioner to seal in the moisture to your scalp and hair. Don’t forget to treat your scalp to an oil that is both moisturizing and cleansing, such as Lavender Jamaican Black Castor Oil.

3. Steam

Another way to show your scalp love, protective styled or not, is to steam it 1-2 times a week. The Secura Steamer is my favorite: it’s a 2-in-1 steamer that can be used for both facial and hair steaming! Adding heat to your hair routine via regular steaming can help to increase blood flow to the scalp, which actually aids in hair growth. As most people know, heat is one of the most effective ways to unclog pores. The heat also opens the hair follicles to assist the scalp in releasing toxins while absorbing more of the moisture and nutrients that are added with hair products.

Steaming your scalp on a regular basis can be a game changer in itself, but you can really up the ante by adding oils to your steaming regimen as well. For example, if you are dealing with dandruff or an itchy scalp, add jojoba or tea tree oil into your steaming process for their antibacterial and moisturizing properties. If you are dealing with brittle or dry hair, adding castor or extra virgin olive oil can help your hair to absorb the moisture that it’s craving.

Adding to the benefit of heat, steaming also gives your hair the benefit of water. As stated earlier, water is the most promising and beneficial method to add hydration to your curls. When water produces steam, the mist is a small molecule that’s much easier for the hair and scalp to absorb for added moisture and hydration.

So now we’ve gone over a few ways to maintain and love our scalps this protective styling season, so I don’t want to hear any more excuses! Showing your scalp this added love and attention can only add to the benefits of protective styling. If we’re looking to grow long and healthy curls, we have to focus on our scalps. With all that being said, after cleansing and moisturizing your scalp, apply some scalp sunscreen to avoid sunburns and unnecessary damage.

Happy protective styling!

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