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Not Just For Skin: Why Moisture and Hydration Are Important for Your Hair and Scalp

Dr. Neera Nathan, MD, MSHS, is a board-certified dermatologist and VEGAMOUR expert. Every month, the Harvard-trained doctor shares the science behind and potential solutions to topics such as hair loss, hair growth, scalp care and graying. Read all of Dr. Nathan's articles here

Moisturizing our skin is critical to keep it soft, hydrated and healthy, especially in colder months. That is because moisturizing helps to protect and support the skin barrier, the outermost layer of the skin, which is composed of cells, lipids and proteins that act as a “brick and mortar” to seal moisture in while keeping the bad stuff out (like pollutants or bacteria). But moisture and hydration aren’t only important for skin — they’re also vital to promoting and maintaining the health of your hair and scalp

When the skin barrier is altered, it is prone to inflammation, infection and disruption of our natural skin microbiome. While the scalp has a different composition than the skin on the face, similar principles apply regarding the importance of maintaining a healthy skin barrier. In fact, the scalp barrier may be even weaker than the skin barrier. Disruption of the scalp barrier has been linked to dandruff, inflammation and hair loss. 

The scalp needs as much, if not more, protection to strengthen its barrier. Using products that moisturize the scalp and hair and leave a protective coating can improve hydration by decreasing water loss. Those products can also act as barrier against environmental factors — wind, sun, pollutants — and heat styling or hair coloring, which can cause hair breakage and damage. Additionally, there are studies that show that using shampoo and conditioners with a low pH can prevent moisture loss and also help reduce frizz due to decreased friction. 

The scalp is also quite porous because of its high density of hair follicles, meaning that products can get absorbed more easily on the scalp than on the skin located elsewhere on the body. That is great news when using products like hair serums that are intended to be absorbed into the hair roots. However, it means that using clean, non-harmful products on the scalp and hair is of utmost importance. Products that contain sulfates, silicone derivatives or phthalates can lead to allergic reactions and clogged pores. Additionally, they may be potential endocrine disruptors when absorbed into the bloodstream.

Use clean, silicone alternatives, including vegan keratin and natural oils (coconut oil, marula oil or other plant-based oils) to moisturize and protect the scalp and hair. These ingredients may have anti-inflammatory effects and appear to support the scalp microbiome to keep your scalp and hair healthy and hydrated. 

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Disclaimer: Information in this article is intended for general informational and entertainment purposes only. It is not intended to constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician.