Protective styles are a great way to switch up your look while keeping your strands from chemical and heat exhaustion — and also for cutting your hair routine by half. However, rocking these fly styles can have a drawback. We’re talking about the unfortunate itchy scalp situation that can accompany these otherwise low-maintenance looks. Yeah, patting your head might offer some temporary relief but it doesn’t really get to the root of the problem. So, we asked a few of our favorite hair pros to spill ways on how we can stop the scratching.
Let’s start at the root. Many of us may believe that the tighter the braids, the longer the style will last. However, all of that tension isn’t good for your scalp. It can cause red, inflamed bumps that can contribute to hair loss or thinning. (Not to mention, it’s painful as hell). If you find that your stylist is plaiting your hair too tightly, be vocal and ask him or her to ease up. Your scalp will thank you.
Sometimes, the hair extensions used for protective styles are made of synthetic fibers that can irritate the scalp and cause it to become itchy and inflamed. To avoid an allergic reaction to the faux extensions, have your stylist use 100 percent human hair. Kanekalon hair (a high-quality synthetic) is made partly of modacrylic fibers, to give it the look and feel of natural hair. It has an alkaline-based coating that may cause irritation to some when applied closely to the scalp, according to hairstylist Erica Legagneur of Yeluchi, an at-home professional hairstyling service specializing in textured hair. Human hair extensions don’t have this coating.
But if you must fake it…
Let’s be real, for some, the natural route is not an option. Faux hair extensions are simply much more cost-effective than natural ones. So, to minimize scalp irritation from synthetic extensions, give the faux hair fibers an apple cider vinegar bath. “Immerse the Kanekalon hair in a large basin. Add 3 parts hot water to 1 part apple cider vinegar, and soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and let the hair air dry. This will remove the manufacturer’s coating from the hair as well as soften it,” instructs Legagneur.
Let it hang
“There is already a certain amount of gravity and tension associated with box braids and faux locs, and constantly pulling them up or tightening them can cause a lot of scalp damage. If you are styling an updo, make sure to let it down at the end of the day to help relieve the scalp,” says Evie Johnson, a certified trichologist and Mizani artist and educator.
A dry scalp can be a real problem. “Apply a leave-in [conditioning] treatment daily to keep hair and scalp hydrated,” suggests stylist Diane Bailey. She likes Shea Moisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Leave-In Treatment. “Gently massage the leave-in into your scalp with the pads of your fingers in a circular motion.” The revitalizing treatment acts as a hair fertilizer, hydrating the scalp and opening up the hair follicles. Carol’s Daughter Mimosa Hair Honey Calming Tension Spray is also a great alternative. Its peppermint and orange oils moisturize the hair and scalp while relieving tension. The aloe offers soothing scalp relief.
Oils are essential
For tension bumps and red inflammation, use essential oils such as lavender, peppermint, or castor oil to help ease tightness and calm the aggravated areas. “They carry anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties that will help repair the scalp. Chamomile, coconut, or rosemary oil also contain soothing, invigorating and conditioning properties in their ingredients to help assist the progress of scalp and hair repair,” says Legagneur.
Don’t be afraid to lather up
Balancing a dry scalp with oils and conditioners is necessary, but it can also lead to a nasty buildup of product, upsetting the otherwise oxygenated state of the scalp. “The scalp needs to breathe, so in some cases, blockage of the hair follicles can lead to [increased] scalp dryness and itchiness,” explains Legagneur. A good wash with a mild, sulfate-free cleanser (try Girl + Hair Sulfate-Free Cleanser) or an ACV clarifier (we like Cantu Shea Butter Apple Cider Vinegar Root Rinse ) is needed in this case, but some protective style wearers are afraid that by washing their strands they will loosen their braid or loc extensions and the hair will frizz. Celebrity hairstylist Felicia Leatherwood suggests applying the ‘poo directly to the scalp and gently massaging it in before adding water, to ensure that the scalp is clean and exfoliated while keeping your extensions neat and fuzz-free. Once you are done, rinse thoroughly.
Spot clean when necessary
Spot cleaning is a great way to relieve an itchy scalp without fully immersing your hair in water and compromising the style. Pekela Riley, owner of Salon PK in Jacksonville, Florida, suggests dipping a Q-tip or cotton ball into an apple cider vinegar rinse (she likes Creme of Nature Argan Oil Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying Rinse, but you can concoct your own version), then lightly dab on affected areas to dissolve any buildup and soothe the itchies. “Squeeze the Q-tip between the braids in between the scalp to attract the oil molecules contributing to the buildup. Your hair will also feel really soft because of the low pH of the ACV. Follow up with water to remove,” says Riley. “This can hold you over until you can do a full shampoo,” she adds.
If you have scars or scabs on the scalp because of excessive scratching, Kari Williams, a trichologist and owner of Mahogany Hair Revolution in Los Angeles, recommends incorporating an anti-itch shampoo into your hair-care regimen. Use a medicated shampoo that lists coal tar as the active ingredient to treat the symptoms of the itch. Her go-to favorite is Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Original Formula. “Medicated shampoos can be drying, so make sure you apply the shampoo directly to the scalp, focusing on the areas where you feel the itching. Massage it in and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse completely and follow up with a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner to replace the moisture,” says Williams.
Don’t go past the expiration date
Eight weeks should be the longest you go before removing your box braids or faux locs. “After two months, hair will grow in and may cause tangling and twisting, as well as irritate your scalp,” says Bailey. And, “don’t [get protective styles] back to back, because even when done gently, the accumulative effect of this repetitive style can create [irritation and] thinning,” adds Riley.
When all else fails, take it out
If nothing is working, don’t hesitate — remove the style immediately. “Don’t worry about the loss of money spent because that can always be replaced. Scalp traumas can be irrevocable if left untreated,” warns Legagneur. Consult a trichologist or dermatologist if you think the damage is irreparable. “The sooner you seek professional help, the higher the chance to see some improvement in the condition of your scalp. If the damage is severe, a dermatologist may need to prescribe corticosteroids to treat inflammation in the scalp. Overall, time and patience is the key to seeing results in scalp health and hair growth,” says Williams.
Shea Moisture 100% Virgin Coconut Oil Daily Hydration Leave-In Treatment, $11.49 (Shop Now)
Carol’s Daughter Mimosa Hair Honey Calming Tension Spray, $11.40 (Shop Now)
Girl + Hair Cleanse+ Moisturizing Sulfate-Free Cleanser, $16.99 (Shop Now)
Cantu Refresh Root Rinse with Apple Cider Vinegar and Tea Tree Oil, $4.97 (Shop Now)
Creme Of Nature Apple Cider Vinager Clarifying Rinse $13.95 (Shop Now)
Neutrogena T/Gel Therapeutic Shampoo Original Formula, $7.99 (Shop Now)
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