Your scalp is more delicate than you might think. "If you have a really expensive silk blouse, you're not going to just throw it in the washing machine with Tide," says Fusco. She recommends looking for shampoos and conditioners with botanical ingredients, like sunflower oil, aloe vera, and vitamin B5, which are gentle and very nourishing.
If you're only conditioning the bottom half of your hair (like I was), you're probably drying out your scalp. About two weeks after I started using conditioner all over, I noticed that my hair looked healthier, and my scalp felt better. Three months later my hair was noticeably thicker.
Even if your scalp is oily, you should still condition it. Celebrity stylist Harry Josh suggests John Frieda Root Awakening Conditioner, $6.49, which contains peppermint and eucalyptus extracts to moisturize your scalp while balancing oil production.
You're Not Massaging Your Scalp
Using the right shampoo is important for your scalp, but how you apply it is equally significant. It might sound indulgent, but you should take the time to give yourself a scalp massage every time you wash your hair. "It boosts circulation," says Fusco. "You're removing dead skin cells and excess oils, and it lets the conditioner absorb better." Fusco emphasizes that proper technique is also key: "You should use the balls of your fingers [not your nails] -- don't scratch your scalp."
You're Heat Styling Too Often
You wouldn't blast your skin with extremely hot air for half an hour, so why do you do it to your scalp? "A lot of the hair tools we use involve excessive heat," says Fusco. "Ideally, you want to hold the blow dryer at least 12 inches from your scalp -- and keep it moving."
In addition to holding the dryer at a safe distance, look for one with a medium or low heat setting. And if you're a flat iron addict, try swapping out your 450-degree tool for one that uses cooler technology. The recently launched Coolway AutoSense Styler, $150, operates at temperatures under 299 degrees and automatically sets itself to the temperature needed to straighten your hair.
You've Got the Wrong Brush
Brushing is important because it distributes oils from your scalp and stimulates circulation -- but you don't want to overdo it, and you want to make sure you're using the right brush. Fusco suggests natural, boar bristle brushes. "They're made of keratin, just like your hair," she says. "When you pull on the hair, you get a little bit of give, which will keep the hair from snapping."
How many times have you heard that you should only put conditioner on the bottom half of your hair? It's a tip that hairstylists often give to those of us with finer hair, and it's one that I used to follow religiously. A few years ago, however, I noticed that my hair was getting thinner and finer. Every time I talked to a hairstylist, I asked him or her what could be causing my hair problems -- and I heard answers that ranged from hormones to pollution.
It wasn't until six months ago when a stylist said my scalp felt incredibly tight and dry that something clicked. I hadn't thought about -- let alone moisturized -- my scalp in years. He suggested I use a moisturizing, botanical-based conditioner to give myself a scalp massage every time I shampoo. I've followed his advice ever since, and my scalp and hair problems are gone.
"Taking care of your scalp is just as important as taking care of your hair," says New York City dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD. "A good analogy for the hair and the scalp is a tree growing out of the ground. If you keep the soil (your scalp) well nourished and moisturized, then the tree (your hair) will be healthier, stronger, and more beautiful."
Unfortunately, many hair habits -- from heat styling to using the wrong kind of brush -- can damage your scalp and lead to hair problems. See the nine most common scalp-care mistakes and how to fix them now.