chibichomp, I recently came to the conclusion that co-washing the scalp might not be so great for everyone. A few short weeks after going CG I developed flakes and itching at the scalp for the first time in my life. I never had an oily scalp, I never had a dry one, I was just normal before. And if you were anything like me, I just assumed that it was a phase my hair was going through while my scalp adjusted to CG and that my scalp was "healing". Well after this one night this past weekend in which I couldn't sleep at all because of the unbearable itching and burning I'd had enough. I did one last brown sugar scrub and applied some aloe to the scalp to soothe it and did a ton of research on this site. It turns out many people have never experienced dandruff or so-called "dry scalp" until they started CG. That's what led me to believe that for some it isn't "dry scalp" at all but merely product buildup. Conditioner isn't designed to be worked into the scalp so why do we do it? For some of us it might just be smothering the follicle and since conditioner is designed to penetrate and moisturize, no matter how hard we scrub, it may be difficult to rinse out entirely. Instead there's always a residue that sits there and irritates the scalp and causes unsightly flakes whenever we try to scratch!
I read on livecurlylivefree.com it's not good to co-wash the scalp more than once or twice a week. I was doing it every other day to every day depending on whether or not second day hair was achievable. Most of the time it was, but the second days I had were pretty itchy so I often felt like I had to wash my hair again. Little did I know that I was compounding the problem by doing so. Also I think co-washing so often and scrubbing the scalp vigorously with your fingertips while you do so is disadvantageous because it can cause increased hair loss and irritation. And I think it might not be so great because if you're plugging in the moisture manually and artificially, it sends a signal to your scalp that it might no longer have to produce as much sebum. So I'm guessing your scalp takes a holiday, produces less natural oils (which isn't good for your hair at the root which you want to grow in healthy), and the conditioner you have sitting on top of the scalp merely smothers it and makes it worse. The result is drier itchier skin that flakes and stings.
Also did you know that plenty of conditioners and haircare products contain preservatives that dry your scalp out? Check out this list. My As I Am coconut Co-wash contained methylisothiazolinone. In the future I am going to try out more natural products with less preservatives in general. At least for my main rinse out conditioner because when you're in the shower the heat causes your pores to open up and your skin to be more vulnerable to penetrating products. Shea Moisture is looking pretty good in that respect when it comes to preservatives so I bought some of that.
Itchy Scalp Causes: Preservatives in Hair Products
All right so what to do about it all? Well, here's what I've been doing this week, and again this won't work for everyone I'm sure but for me the itching and flakes disappeared immediately and I'm back to the healthy scalp I had before I went CG. I'm going to continue this routine until it fails me:
1. I stopped co-washing! I only apply conditioner to the bottom 2/3 of my hair. Just below the crown and below I slather it on, but I no longer work it into the scalp.
2. I bought a light low-poo that I plan on using once a week--no more than once a week. TOPS. So far it doesn't irritate me and seems to cleanse the scalp very well, but if I see any problems arise I'll drop it like a hot potato. It's one of the shea moisture ones. I hear they're all good and this one seems nice.
3. Most importantly, I've been applying diluted tea tree oil solution topically to the scalp on wash days. My schedule is I do light yoga one day and cardio the next so I wash my hair every other day. One day on, one day off. On the day I wash, if it's not my low-poo day, I take about 8 q-tips and dip them into 100% tea tree oil on either side. I then dip them quickly and immediately into a shallow cup of water to dilute the solution. Then I gently, very gently, massage my scalp with the ends of the q-tips. I'm very meticulous and sure to cover all the skin from nape to crown. It's sort of a massage, but not as vigorous as I used to do it. Then I get in the shower typically right afterwards and rinse the top of my head and rest of my hair. It feels wonderful and very invigorating. I also lightly massage the area while rinsing. Again I rinse my hair thoroughly and then I put in my conditioner to the bottom 2/3 of my hair but I do not apply conditioner to the scalp and crown area. NEVER. Once I get out of the shower, I do lightly apply a little leave in and gel to the surface of the crown and sides of it to tame the frizzies but the leave in and gel I use are Kinky Curly Knot Today the Curling Custard and even though they have one not so great preservative, they also both have marshmallow root and ingredients that, in the rare event they were to seep down and touch my scalp, would be soothing to it.
Okay back on point. The reason I decided to try tea tree oil is that it's supposed to be great for both dry and oily skin. Not just oily like dandruff but also flaky like dry scalp, I reasoned. My younger brother had a bad case of acne in his teenage years and after watching him try out so many harsh drugstore products that irritated his face and dried him out I did some research into natural remedies. The reason why he was getting so irritated was that he had what is known as combination skin, in which certain spots of his face he was producing too much oil and others too little. Tea tree oil helps regulate that and maintain balance. So to apply it I told him (after researching) to dip a q-tip in the tea tree oil then dilute it or rinse it in water under the faucet before applying. His skin got so much better and I realized if it could help him, it could help my scalp in no time!
So I’m doing well now. I might reduce my tea tree treatment to once a week or less depending on whether I feel I need it but but I hope I can keep it up. I notice my scalp is much happier and seems to be producing oil all on its own now, but not too much. Just enough to give my hair shine and to look healthy but my roots are never, ever greasy. The best thing I believe overall is to leave the scalp be and give it a little encouragement to work things out for itself. Low-poo whenever you need to, but don't be excessive. Also be wary of co-washing. I don't think I'll be trying that out again anytime soon. I also made some homemade lavender spray which I use on second day hair. Lavender is supposed to have a cleansing or medicinal effect and be good for the scalp and hair, too. The recipe is in the Curly Girl Handbook but I believe I know it off the top of my head. Boil 2 quarts of water to purify it. Then put in five drops of pure lavender oil. Let it cool and store the mixture in bottles. (I keep mine in the fridge.) Makes the best and cheapest refresher spray. It also smells so nice.
I hope this helps. It is what is working for me and you never know, it might work for somebody else.