“I am using a popular brand of anti dandruff shampoo. I shampoo every single day, because I’ve been told that only this will keep away my dandruff. While my shampoo removes the dandruff, my scalp feels itchy by the evening and the flaking starts again. What do you think could be the problem? Am I stuck with dandruff and shampooing everyday forever?”
This was in response to the Krya newsletter I had sent out last week. This query was sent to be by a man who described his hair as having worsened after he started to work. He was now in his 30s, and his dandruff had become extremely noticeable and quite alarming.
There are 2 causes of dandruff: the first is an underlying skin condition like psoriasis, eczema or seborrhea. And if you had any of this, any part of your skin will be affected, including your scalp. Also, when you have an underlying skin condition like this one, you wouldn’t just have your scalp affected, but atleast some part of the rest of your skin.
The other kind of dandruff which the Mayo Clinic describes as the most common cause of dandruff today is dry skin caused by aggravated sebaceous glands. This aggravation can occur because of how often you shampoo or what you shampoo your hair with.
What is in your Anti dandruff shampoo:
The lead chemical used by an anti dandruff shampoo is a fungicide – this could be ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione or selenium disulfide, miconazole and even hydrogen peroxide or common bleach. Now the thing to note is this: this solution is logical only if your dandruff is caused by a fungal infection like seborrhoeic dermatitis.
Even then the fungicides do not heal the root cause. Worse still, they are excessively harsh and drying on the scalp and could lead to the other type of dandruff. This could explain why people using an anti-dandruff shampoo feel that they are worse off than before.
Environmental effects of fungicides like Ketoconazole:
With the increasing use of fungicides in anti dandruff shampoos, it should come as no surprise that these fungicides find their way into fresh and salty water bodies through our sewage lines. As is common with many classes of synthetic chemicals, fungicides like ketoconazole are easily absorbed into the body of fishes and other aquatic organisms – here they tend to get stored in the body and bio accumulate with increasing exposure.
Studies indicate that increasing doses of these fungicides retard the activity of CYP3A, an important enzyme group present in human beings and acquatic organisms like fish. This enzyme group helps catalyse many reactions in drug metabolism and also help synthesize cholesterol, steroids and other lipids.
In rainbow trout and killifish, ketoconazole accumulation decreased the catalytic activity of this enzyme group by 60 – 90%. Needless to say, ketoconazole is not healthy for these fish or the human beings who eat them.
Adverse effects on hair and scalp due to use of fungicide based shampoos
One of the common side effects caused by fungicides on hair and scalp is skin and scalp irritation. Because of their harsh and excessively drying nature, the sebaceous glands in your scalp can get aggravated leading to extremely dry or extremely greasy hair.
Other allergic reactions may include severe itching, burning or irritation, redness or pain on the scalp, oozing or weeping of skin, eye redness and swelling and hair loss.
The main cause of dandruff today: aggravated sebaceous glands
Dandruff used to be an isolated problem and a specialized problem, usually affecting men, 20 – 30 years ago. However today, it is one of the most commercially exploited scalp condition – estimates of dandruff in urbanized populations range from 20% to 50%! And it is now a gender agnostic condition – women and men suffer from dandruff.
It is important to note here that while dandruff has rapidly increased among urbanized populations the incidence of skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and sebbhoroea have not multiplied this rapidly.
What appears to have increased is a non-specific type of dandruff caused by aggravated sebaceous glands – which is dandruff caused due to an excessively oily or an excessively dry scalp.
Why do your sebaceous glands become aggravated?
We’ve written in our last few posts about some of the hazards behind the chemical ingredients that go into your shampoo.
SLS and SLeS
SLS and SLES dissolve your hair and scalp’s sebum layer and strip skin of all its natural oils leaving you with dry skin and hair. “The lathering power of liquid soaps is actually an enemy. It can bubble the oil out of your skin” says Dr. Marianne O’Donoghue, associate professor of dermatology at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology.
Skin below 35 years reacts aggressively to this systematic stripping of sebum. With the increased use of Sulphate containing product, you may find your skin and scalp becoming oilier, creating a vicious cycle where you are compelled to wash more frequently. If you find that your hair is getting greasy and oily a day after shampooing, then you need to investigate your shampoo – the excessive harshness of this product usually forces a defensive skin reaction where the scalp starts to aggressively produce sebum to make up for the loss every time you shampoo.
Of course this will only prompt you to use more shampoo to counter this greasy defense – the result damaged and dry hair and scalp.
MEA, DEA and TEA:
The effect of ethanolamines, added to shampoos to increase foam and to thicken the liquid is equally worrying. Ethanolamine based products can trigger contact dermatitis, and irritate your scalp leaving your hair feeling dry and lifeless and breakdown your hair’s keratin structure.
Even an industry funded body like the Cosmetics Ingredient review is cautious about the use of ethanolamines – they ask users,( i.e., us who love our synthetic shampoos), to use Ethanolamines only briefly, scrub vigorously and to not use it continuously.
Contrast that with the Shampoo industry’s prevalent paradigm: where we are asked to wash frequently, even every single day, and rinse and repeat shampooing to ensure our hair is “clean”.
Ok, its harmful – but I rinse it right off. So there isn’t going to be any long term effect, right?
One of the properties we have come to fear in some of the most toxic chemicals used on the planet, the pesticides / fungicides / herbicides that are sprayed on your food is this: their ability to persist in the atmosphere, long after they have been used.
One never thinks about persistence in the products we use on ourselves.
A recent paper published by researchers at Cornell University attempted to do something utterly fascinating: capture 3D photographs of our microbiome and the chemicals that reside on our skin to understand how the two interact.
As a part of this research, the volunteers were asked to forego shampooing and bathing for a few days and 3D photographs were taken before and after this abstinence.
The results are scary:
In the picture given below, on the male volunteer, SLES persists on the scalp several days after the last shampoo – and we assumed these chemicals would get washed right out.
On the female volunteer, avobenzene lingers on her neck several days after a sunscreen was used and washed off, lingering on despite the shower and the soap.
We’ve said this before: the skin is one of our key organ groups in protecting our body from invasion. Unfortunately, the skin is also extremely susceptible to the synthetic formulations we apply, rub and wash it with. The dermal route is one of the fastest routes of letting synthetic chemicals bypass your powerful intestinal tract (where they would be made less harmful), and directly invade your major internal organs.
Remember what we had to say about Parabens? 60% of breast cancer tumours were found in the area where deodorants are sprayed – and this area represents only 1/5th of the entire armpit area.
Co-incidence? We think not.
How does dandruff caused by aggravated sebaceous glands look?
Dry dandruff – caused by under active / stripped sebaceous glands
Dandruff that is caused by under-active sebaceous glands will have a few tell tale signs: you should begin feeling worse immediately after shampooing – your scalp should feel itchy and dry. The dandruff flakes will be small, light and not clumped together. The problem will worsen as you increase your shampooing frequency. And the rest of your skin will usually be okay – there will be no underlying skin condition like psoriasis, eczema or dermatitis.
Oily dandruff – caused by greasy scalp / over active sebaceous glands
Dandruff caused by over active sebaceous glands is also usually easy to spot – you will find your hair to start secreting oil and look limp, greasy and unwashed one or two days after washing your hair.
The dandruff flakes will be large, heavier & will clump together. This will of course prompt desperate measures on your part like increasing your shampooing – and you will find that the more you shampoo, the more oil and flakes your hair seems to be secreting.
Sometimes this kind of dandruff can lead to a fungal infection. The excessive oil secreted on the scalp can attract fungi which then start to east some of the excessive oil on the scalp, break it down and secrete a hydrolysed oil compound. This compound leads to itching on the scalp and irritates it further.
So the key to controlling this kind of dandruff is to ensure that you do not over wash your hair – if you wash it too aggressively with synthetic products, your sebaceous glands will also respond aggressively.
The second part for this kind of dandruff is to ensure balance: your hair regime must clean without stripping. Your oiling regime must moisturize without loading your hair.
The changing nature of dandruff – from oily to dry as you age
When you are below 30, your sebaceous glands are at their peak – so excessive shampooing triggers a compensatory response from them. You will find your hair looking greasier, as your sebaceous glands work overtime to replace and add more oil to protect your hair and scalp. This response goes down as you age, so in your 20s, excessive shampooing might give you oily dandruff which changes to dry dandruff as you age.
The point of all this is simple
Ketoconazole and such fungicide based anti-dandruff shampoos are not the answer to any hair problems. And neither is washing your hair everyday with a synthetic shampoo.
If you suspect dry or greasy scalp dandruff, start by washing your hair less, moisturize and nourish your scalp more, and oh yes, throw away your chemical shampoo.
It should NOT be used to wash your hair.
A fantastic hair month to you from us at Krya – You deserve the best.
This article is a part of Krya’s series on healthy and happy hair, which we are writing all this September. Through the Krya healthy hair series, we hope to inform, educate and inspire you to restore your hair to its natural state of great health. Synthetic shampoos and hair products contain a huge host of suspect industrial chemicals that are not just toxic for us to use, but are polluting and toxic to the planet as well. The natural world is full of safe, environmentally sustainable, cruelty free options to care for your hair, and our series will try to present atleast a small part of this exciting world to you.
Consumers love our all natural, synthetic free, gentle hair washes- explore more here. We are running an introductory offer on all of our skin and hair care products this month – just subscribe to our newsletter above to get the coupon code in your inbox.
If you would like to explore our series further, here’s what We’ve written about hair health before this piece:
- What goes into your Shampoo – part 1 & part 2
- What’s the deal with SLS and SLES – and why it shouldn’t come anywhere near you or your hair
- What is your hair supposed to be? A trial? A challenge? Or simply, your best friend
- Is beauty external? We think not
- What should you be looking for on that product label?
- Common carcinogens implicated in breast cancer found in your home
- Is it a conspiracy? A pre-planned genetic supremacy race? Or simply misinformation? Some reasons behind common toxics & why they continue to be used
- Are we putting our children at risk by using these products on them? Here are 3 toxins that plague children through the products we use on them.
- Do the products we buy contain toxins? How do we decode what goes into them? Here’s Urban Survival 102 telling you how to decode a cosmetic label