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A Melbourne dermatologist shares scalp-care tips for women with thinning or no hair

IMAGE VIA LACK OF COLOUR

WORDS BY GEORGIE KIBEL

Because scalp-care is even more important if you’re dealing with hair loss.

Our society is constantly bombarded with everything hair. From curtain bangs to box dye, split ends and Dyson Airwraps, hair and all of its fun accessories are a huge part of our life.

There are innumerable how-to articles related to styling and care, and it is almost impossible to watch TV without viewing a Loreal or Pantene advertisement. 

But what is spoken about far less is that approximately half of Australian womxn experience some form of hair loss. And when it inevitably impacts you or someone you know, you may find that there is a lack of information out there.

In an effort to fill the scalp care void, I spoke to Melbourne-based dermatologist Dr Ryan De Cruz. Dr Ryan runs his own practice, Southern Dermatology, and is also a consultant for Australia’s first teledermatology subscription service, Software.

I know that dermatology appointments often don’t come cheap, so I was excited to pick the brain of a doctor without coughing up the fees. 

Dr Ryan explains that when someone goes through alopecia, there are profound changes on the scalp besides the loss of hair. “There is scarring and non-scarring alopecia. Non-scarring alopecia means that the hair follicles are still there, they’re just not producing any hair.

“Whereas the scarring alopecia, the bulbs or hair follicles are destroyed. Much like the proverb ‘all roads lead to Rome’, eventually all forms of alopecia will likely become the scarring type.”

This scarring means there is a significant change to the ‘pilosebaceous unit’. As I failed year 10 biology, I ask him to explain what on earth that means. “Oil glands are very closely interlinked with the hair follicles. It’s described as the pilosebaceous unit. So, if the hair follicle dies, so too will the oil gland, which is very important as it keeps the scalp hydrated.” 

Moisturising and hydration are therefore important steps in a scalp care routine. While I curse my oily skin for its acne-inducing tendencies, Dr Ryan explains that the production of oil does help the ‘health’ of our scalp. “It’s not unusual for people who have lost their hair to find they might have a drier scalp and therefore potentially a more sensitive scalp.” 

Over exfoliation, skipping moisturiser and a lack of sun protection will exacerbate a dry scalp. “La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP+M and CeraVe are my favourites and some of the most effective moisturisers,” he suggests. Like most skincare advice, twice a day seems to be the golden amount for application. 

Like any good dermatologist or person mildly interested in beauty, Dr Ryan tells me that everyone, not just people experiencing hair loss, must make suncare a priority. However, he did emphasise that this is of utmost importance for those who have suddenly lost their hair. “Because the skin on our arms, face and the back of our hands is chronically exposed to the sun, it thickens,” he explains.

“The outermost layer, which is called the stratum corneum, thickens and protects us from UV damage. But the scalp doesn’t usually do that because it has had hair to do it. So if you suddenly experience hair loss, or even if you just thin, you are much more prone to sun damage.” 

Hair loss poses a unique challenge as it leaves one of the more sensitive parts of the body defenceless against UV rays. “The scalp is on the most exposed side of our body. It is facing the force of the sun every day,” he explains.

To avoid overexposure, he recommends a wide brim hat or a good broad-spectrum sunscreen. He also notes that headwear such as silk scarves or wraps can be a good option. Choosing ones made out of natural fibres will be the best way to avoid skin irritation and ensure they are comfortable for a full day of wear.

“Materials like cottons, merino wool and silk are very breathable and don’t tend to irritate the skin. I would choose these other polyesters and nylons,” says Dr Ryan. 

“In terms of sunscreen, La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Dry Touch SPF50+ Sunscreen and Sunsense Moisturising Daily Face spf 50+ are great,” Dr Ryan tells me.

Not unlike the entire beauty industry, Dr Ryan warns that marketing presents a major issue for people attempting to care for their scalp. “There are a lot of different products that are marketed as being scalp-friendly,” he says.

He also urges people to be wary of what they choose and to not let persuasive marketing sway you into spending over $50 on a product. “What I want to make clear is that these products don’t have a lot of validated research to really back them up or support their claims.” 

As I am someone who has been lured in by the extravagant claims made by beauty brands, I understood his gripe all too well. “My main piece of advice is that patients shouldn’t be spending a lot of money on different products that don’t have good research to confirm such claims.” 

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