What and Why?
Dandruff is one of the commonest complaints of all — a stubborn itching, scaly condition of your scalp and eyebrows that sometimes spreads to other parts of your body as seborroeic dermatitis. Many shampoos claim to be medicated to deal with it, but none abolish it completely.
Doctors usually confine themselves to distinguishing it from psoriasis, seborroeic eczema, nits and other infections (see also Fungus Infections), and prescribing a steroid lotion if the condition is a serious nuisance.
Scurf is the name that gives it away as a derangement of skin nutrition. It was formerly recognized as part of scurvy, resulting from drastic deficiency of Vitamin C. However supplements of that vitamin do not necessarily cure it since many other food factors are likely to be deranged too.
Minerals such as Zinc are particularly important and commonly deficient nowadays in people whose food is mostly processed or refined, especially since household plumbing has been based on copper. Small quantities of copper dissolve in your water and compete with zinc for access to your body. Even more of it gets into your hot water from the copper tank, and can soak through your skin if you spend too long immersed in a hot bath. As it happens, large supplements of organic acids such as Vitamin C enormously increase your absorption of all these minerals, helping to put right this modern difficulty.
Overconsumption of animal fats is another important factor in weakening the health of your skin. It neutralizes much of the benefit of the essential fatty acids in vegetable oils, however much of these you may also consume. Their purpose is quite different. They are essential ingredients in the skin structure of your body cells, which when cemented into a patchwork quilt form skin as you know it.
Essential fatty acids are also important raw materials for your sebum, the oily secretion from the gland at the root of each hair which keeps your hair water-proof and conditions the climate of your skin — your scalp in particular. Its slightly acid and greasy character is essential for health, whatever the advertisements may say. Whilst frequent washing with detergent shampoos certainly removes the scales and suppresses the itching for a time, it also destroys the climate without which your skin and hair cannot regain their resilience and health. Water that is too hot can do this too, without any help from soap or shampoo. Sebum only accumulates slowly, so you cannot afford to wash it out of your hair every few days.
Dandruff arises when there is too little sebum to protect your scalp from drying out. When this happens there is not enough oil to keep the cells in its surface layers stuck together. Vitamin C plays an essential part in the cement substance which normally does this, which is how it comes to be implicated sometimes in dandruff. Scales therefore flake away prematurely, exposing raw and immature layers underneath which are even more vulnerable to soap and heat than the mature outer cells are. Far from curing dandruff, washing with hot water and shampoo keeps it going.
What can I do?
Advice to maintain and maximise your health
1. Wash your hair in tepid water only, massaging your scalp thoroughly as you do so. Accept the fact that it will still feel greasy afterwards. Dry it patiently with a towel, or air at a comfortable temperature; carefully avoid overheating your hair or scalp.
2. Brushing: Meticulous brushing twice a day is the key to restoring your scalp to health. Obtain two good quality bristle brushes if your hair is short and fine, or a pair of well-made "pin-cushion’ brushes if your hair is thick and long. The bristles must penetrate to your scalp easily but should not scratch it.
With one brush in each hand and using them alternatively, groom your hair twice daily for three to five minutes.
- For half that time stroke systematically up towards your crown from the hair-line on each temple and at the nape of your neck.
- Then brush backwards from your forehead and follow through from your crown, backwards and downwards in all directions, respecting the natural lie of your hair.
- Finish with further strokes from each side up towards your crown against the lay of your hair, then settle it in place with gentle combing. Comb out the brushes carefully each time, and scrub one on the other with warm water and soap once or twice each week. This routine will keep your hair clean, manageable, and in excellent condition.
4. Diet: Adopt the diet for health which will set your consumption of animal fats within reasonable bounds. Fresh oily sea fish (e.g. mackerel) contribute to your intake of essential fatty acids; Egg Nog and Honey Cider Vinegar recipes augment your mineral supplies.
5. Supplementation: Supplement this with food-state Zinc 15mg and foor-state Vitamin C 250mg daily taken together. Food-state Multimineral and Essential Fatty Acid source (e.g. Flax Oil or Evening Primrose Oil) are worthwhile extras for a month or two if the expense does not daunt you.
6. Herbs: Many herbs are valuable adjuvants to good scalp hygiene and form the basis of several ranges of natural beauty products — such as Weleda, and Beauty Without Cruelty for example. Juliette de Biracli-Levy’s book The Illustrated Herbal Handbook (Faber & Faber 1982) gives details for home use of fourteen different herbs for healthy hair. Any medical herbalist or natural beautician would give you appropriate professional guidance.