When it comes to caring for our skin, I group scalp, hair and nails in that category too. Whilst on the surface it might not seem as though skin, hair and nails have much in common, they in fact share a protein called 'Keratin'. Whatever we do to nourish our complexion is directly reflected in our hair and nails too. Although living Keratin cells are primarily produced inside the body and then push out towards the surface.
Whether you struggle with problematic dandruff, scalp or nail psoriasis, or indeed any other skin condition that subsequently impacts your hair and nails, it's important to know that repairing the damage can not be done overnight. It’s a process, as it takes time for healthy keratin cells to begin generating and migrating outwards. But that's not to say there aren't immediate changes you make to improve things internally right away!
My strongest protocol for healthy hair is a multi-prong approach;
- Look to make changes to your diet specifically focused on healthy hair
- Replace existing shampoos with a non-toxic brand
- Offer your scalp extra nourishment with an intensive oil
- Reduce styling that might be making the problem of dry hair & scalp worse
- Colour your hair considerately using gentle dyes
Hair, Skin and Nails Nutrition
When it comes to a diet for healthy hair and scalp, the foods I recommend consuming more of are much the same as those for our skin. If you're up for an intensive cleanse you might like to check out the 28 day plan in my book Radiant. If you prefer to make step-by-step changes, here are just some of the foods which can directly impact hair and scalp health. These are what I'd recommend including more of in your daily diet.
Berries are loaded with antioxidants, which can help to protect hair follicles against damage from harmful molecules called 'free radicals'. These molecules exist naturally in the body and the environment, so adding lots more blueberries, blackberries and raspberries into your daily diet would be a great move.
Upping your vitamin C intake is also recommended as our body's use vitamin C to produce collagen - a protein that helps strengthen hair to prevent it from becoming brittle and breaking. Berries, along with lots of other fruit, contain heaps of vitamin C.
You might have heard haircare brands talk about Vitamin A as important for healthy looking hair. Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, this results in thicker, healthier hair growth. What's more, research has shown that vitamin A promotes the production of sebum, which helps to keep hair healthy.
As well as being completely delicious, avocado's contain a fantastic amount of Vitamin E. This is another vitamin our hair relies upon. In fact in one study, people with hair loss experienced 34.5% more hair growth after taking a vitamin E supplement for eight months. Vitamin E also protects areas of the skin, such as the scalp, from oxidative stress and damage.
Nuts and seeds are another fantastic source of vitamin E. A handful of sunflower seeds for example provides an impressive 50% of our recommended daily vitamin E intake. Nuts also offer a wide variety of B vitamins, zinc and essential fatty acids and a deficiency in any of these nutrients has been linked to hair loss. What’s more, certain seeds such as flaxseeds and chia seeds provide Omega 3 which nourishes hair at the follicles to boost strength, lustre and thickness while soothing dry, flaky scalps and inhibiting the inflammation that can result in hair loss.
Switch Your Shampoo
You might wonder how much difference your brand of shampoo can really make to your hair and scalp - well not all haircare products are created equal. Switching to a kind and gentle, 100% botanical brand such as my Hanna Sillitoe Shampoo can help not only to nourish hair, but to ease scalp irritation and flakes too.
Lots of the biggest commercially available brands contain problem ingredients such as SLS and parabens, both of which can be incredibly irritating, especially for those of us struggling with sensitive scalps.
Parabens are a chemical form of preservative used in many cosmetic hair and skin care products. In serious cases, parabens have been known to cause allergic reactions. Studies show they can exacerbate a number of skin problems and further irritate dry scalps, fade hair colour, or in some cases even cause premature hair loss. Paraben preservatives typically all end in the word 'paraben' making them easy to spot on an ingredients label. Look for butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben, propylparaben or isobutylparaben and avoid!
While Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is a key ingredient in industrial detergents and cleaning agents - worryingly including engine degreasers - it is also astonishingly found in a high number of leading shampoos. There's a massive list of healthcare issues associated with exposure to this deadly chemical, the least concerning of which is the severe damage it does by drying out the hair and scalp. Avoid products which list SLS or Sodium Lauryl Sulfate in their ingredients list.
NOTE: Despite sounding similar, sodium laureth sulfate is NOT the same as sodium lauryl sulfate. Mostly derived from coconuts, it’s considered a gentle, effective and much healthier alternative.
Just as our face loves a hydrating mud mask, our hair and scalp are also crying out for a little extra TLC. My haircare routine involves an overnight Intensive Scalp Oil mask usually two or three times a week. I love the intense hydration my oil mask provides. It's been specifically formulated using a nourishing blend of Argan, Grape Seed, Black Cumin and Coconut Oils to help rehydrate tired, flaky scalps.
To apply this oil treatment, first wash your hair using my Shampoo. Then massage the Intensive Oil into your scalp and hair. Take extra care to concentrate on follicles and dry ends. Wrap damp hair in a towel and leave in overnight. You might prefer to place a towel on your pillow rather than sleep with hair wrapped - either is fine. The following morning, use my shampoo to wash the oil out. It might take a couple of rinses. If you're working from home through Corona Lockdown, there's no reason why you can't leave the oil in throughout the day.
Limit Heat Styling
We all know that intense heat can be damaging for our hair, but using hairdryers, straighteners and curling tongs seems somehow unavoidable. Whist these hot tools are great, the problem is that when they become overused they can cause major damage to our hair.
The reason heat damage occurs is because the protein bonds in our hair become permanently altered to the point that the hair struggles to retain moisture. That isn't to say we can't ever use our beloved GHD's ever again, there are just certain steps we should take to ensure our locks stay healthy and are better able to embrace the heat.
If you hair is heat damaged you might notice split ends, your hair might more easily pull out or break at times. Rather than feeling smooth and nourished, the texture can become dry, coarse or stringy.
Heat damage can be treated but the damage can never be completely undone, so prevention is always better than repair. Consider embracing your natural curls / waves or straight strands a few days a week. We always seem to want what we can't have. My best friend at school had these beautiful, bouncy red curls, which I thought were just magnificent. But she was desperate for poker straight blonde locks, so as soon as highlights and straighteners became a thing she never looked back.
There are plenty of on-trend looks you can try without using heat on your hair. Loose plaits, a half-up ponytail, messy bun, or a natural wave all look great for those Skype conference calls and Lockdown Facetime catch ups! I probably curl my hair two or three times a week, but on the in-between days I'll quite often plait it and embrace the natural waves the day after.
Finally, if your hair is already suffering from heat damage, avoid further stressing it by minimising vigorous towel-drying. This can cause extra damage to the hair cuticle, so instead loosely wrap your hair in a towel and then leave it to dry naturally.
Colouring Your Hair Considerately
I am often asked which brand of hair colouring I use on my own hair. The truth is, I haven't dyed my hair since using Sun-In back in my early twenties. Jeez that stuff was lethal! It used to create these bright blonde highlights, but smelled like spraying bleach directly onto my scalp. I can't even imagine the damage it did.
These days, besides my hair often going a few shade lighter thanks to extra sunshine, it's a multitude of natural colours. I never liked the strawberry blonde look in my twenties and forever craved platinum blonde shades. But over the past decade, I've really grown to love my hair and can't ever imagine changing its natural colour.
Hair dye can definitely dry out our hair, but worse still it can also cause hair to become brittle and break if we over-use it. To keep hair from breaking off, we should condition regularly, using a natural conditioner - this is especially important before and after colouring.
If you suffer from scalp psoriasis and can't avoid using hair dye altogether, it's vital you switch to a brand free from the following, most toxic ingredients;
- paraphenylenediamine (PPD)
These ingredients raise the PH level of your hair beyond the norm and ammonia can irreparably damage it. Ammonia is also highly toxic in nature and studies have linked this chemical to skin and eye irritations and in extreme cases respiratory problems.
Semi-Permanent dyes can sometimes be a better option because they don't contain as many strong pigments. But this only works if you're prepared to go darker - semi-permanent colours are unable to lighten hair. They also only offer minimal grey coverage as they work on the outside of the hair strand.
Don't be afraid to ask your salon about the ingredients in their hair dye, and insist on colour brands that are cruelty-free.
If you absolutely can not go without colouring your hair, focus on clean, nontoxic, extra-gentle, daily hair care treatments - just as you would with your skin. My Hair Care Bundle is available here. Featuring a natural shampoo, conditioner and intensive scalp oil.