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A Real Head-Scratcher: The Trouble With Irritating Shampoos

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This column features weekly tips and advice from a revolving cast of industry leaders on hand to discuss your beauty dilemmas, from blemishes to Botox. To submit a question, e-mail celia_ellenberg@condenast.com.

I started using a special curl-specific shampoo and conditioner and have developed a form of eczema from it. I’ve stopped using it since but still have an itchy scalp. What could have possibly caused this reaction, and is there anything I can do to relieve my scalp?”

“Several things could have brought on the problem. While you may have discontinued using the product, your replacement product, or even other items you are using, may still be feeding the issue.

“First, eliminate all of your haircare products that contain harsh chemicals, such as sodium and ammonium lauryl sulfates and sodium and ammonium laureth sulfates. Find one that uses only gentle cleansing agents that are often found in products that are ‘safe for chemically treated hair’ (while yours may not be chemically treated, the labeling is a good indicator that the product is more gentle.) Next, look for products that are ‘synthetic fragrance-free.’ I am not saying eliminate nice-smelling products, but the word fragrance has a legal definition that allows cosmetic companies to incorporate any chemical—including harsh chemicals and solvents—as part of the ‘smell,’ without listing it on the label. I suggest finding products that use essential oils or natural extracts to provide the enticing aroma instead. Your new product should also be designed to help with an itchy scalp, containing an active ingredient such as coal tar, salicylic acid, or pyrithione zinc; you may find one active works better than another. Use it for a few days, then a few times a month to help keep things under control. Follow it with a rich hair conditioner, which you should leave on your scalp, as part of a regular hydrating treatment. You may also want to take a couple drops of olive oil and massage it into your scalp at night before going to bed. It will mess up your hair for the night, but it will nourish your scalp and you can shampoo it out in the morning.

“Take a look at your diet, too. Incorporating different foods that can deliver essential fatty acids 3, 6, 9—such as salmon, flaxseed oil, olive oil, walnuts, broccoli, spinach, and eggs—will help by working from the inside out.”

With over twenty years of experience developing products for some of the most recognized brands in the skincare industry, David Pollock has become a strong voice in the “safe beauty” movement. Speaking out and educating consumers on the potentially harmful ingredients in personal-care products via his own Web site, frequent radio appearances, and the informative book Just Stop The Lies, Pollock launched his first product line, PUR Attitude, this month.

Photo: Photo: Courtesy of FDA.gov

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