A big part of our hygiene is keeping our hair looking shiny and healthy. When it becomes a little less than squeaky clean, we’re overcome by an incessant urge to purge all signs of dirt. After all, who likes dirty hair?
Many hair products claim to understand this need. Head and Shoulders, for one, claims to be one with us in the fight against dirt and dandruff for decades. And the brand has reigned the anti-dandruff shampoo aisle for a long time.
While it is touted as the popular answer to dandruff, concerns regarding the adverse effects of the brand’s shampoos have been bobbing to the surface over the years.
And the issue is not limited to Head and Shoulders shampoos. Anti-dandruff shampoos have earned a bad reputation for causing adverse side effects after long-term use.
Chemicals like zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, and selenium sulfide are key in the shampoo’s cleaning power. Unfortunately, our bodies can have a negative reaction to the ingredients that make anti-dandruff products so effective.
Because of the potential downsides of its star ingredients, is Head and Shoulders really bad for your hair?
Procter and Gamble’s solution to dandruff has been around since 1961. On its website, Head and Shoulders claims that it developed its anti-dandruff shampoo based on its understanding of how dandruff develops.
The Malassezia globosa treats our head as its home. These yeasts feed on the oil found on our scalp. But they have leftovers because they don’t consume every kind of oil. What’s left of the Malassezia’s meal triggers our body to respond. Later, we start to itch.
Our body tries to repair the damaged cells by producing new ones. But when we keep scratching our itchy scalp, the replacement layers don’t form well. Instead, we see them as white flakes or dandruff.
Head and Shoulders shampoos don’t only control the yeasts. It also cleanses dirt and sweat from our hair. With regular use, dandruff is usually well-managed. So, the brand’s anti-dandruff shampoo is good for you in that respect.
But is our quest for cleanliness damaging our hair?
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Anti-dandruff shampoos rely on strong and effective chemicals to remove dirt from our hair. Common anti-dandruff ingredients include pyrithione zinc, salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, and coal tar.
Among these chemicals, Head and Shoulders uses zinc pyrithione and selenium sulfide as active ingredients in the brand’s anti-dandruff shampoos. The latter is reserved for worse cases of dandruff as it is very potent.
Shampoos for less severe dandruff problem are formulated with zinc pyrithione. This chemical has antifungal properties making it effective at controlling the growth of yeast. By managing the fungal buildup, zinc pyrithione also reduces itchiness and inflammation.
Selenium sulfide works similarly, but it has been considered more effective than zinc pyrithione.
Knowing how dandruff is formed, we can see why these two chemicals have been the favorite active ingredients for anti-dandruff shampoos.
However, using shampoos containing these active ingredients can have a negative effect on your mane. They can take away much of the moisture from your hair. In effect, your hair strands would become brittle and damaged.
Another problem is that you only thought you had dandruff. While it might be tempting to jump to what seems like the obvious conclusion, Malassezia is not the only suspect when you notice flakes on your hair.
You would also notice flakes on your hair when you have dry scalp, when you’re not using enough shampoo, or when you have a medical condition. And unlike with dandruff flakes, you’re not dealing with yeast and oil buildup.
Immediately resorting to a powerful anti-dandruff shampoo only exacerbates the problem. Since it can affect the microorganisms on your scalp, you would also be changing what is considered a healthy microbiome for your head. This exposes you to other hair and scalp problems.
Overall, Head and Shoulders anti-dandruff shampoos are effective hair cleansers. But you shouldn’t use them when you don’t have dandruff. These shampoos are medicated to address yeast build-up. If you use them just because, your hair would be adversely affected.
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Dandruff is an itchy issue. While the flakes don’t cause hair loss, the persistent irritation that comes with having dandruff can keep you scratching for days. Not only would your scalp feel red and raw, but you may also injure your scalp. And any open wound would be an invitation for infection. These infections can contribute to weak and thin hair growth.
By controlling the root cause of the itch, you can avoid having to deal with hair loss brought about by dandruff. And aside from controlling the build up of dandruff, anti-dandruff shampoos can clear the dirt and grime that would have otherwise been in the way of your hair follicles. This makes hair grow better.
But does using Head and Shoulders conjure a similar problem of hair loss? No, using the brand’s shampoos doesn’t result in hair loss. There are no reliable studies yet that show causation between its shampoos and hair loss.
So, the powerful ingredients in anti-dandruff shampoos are helpful for your hair. They clean your scalp and make room for healthy new hair growth.
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Sulfates are added to your shampoo for extra cleansing power. You might have already read them off product labels: sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and ammonium laureth sulfate. They remove grease and dirt from our hair.
If you have especially greasy hair, you will benefit from welcoming sulfates in your shampoo. The downside is that if your hair is already dry, sulfates can only make it more brittle and frizzy.
So, does Head and Shoulders have sulfates?
Head and Shoulders does not deny its inclusion of sulfates in the shampoos, particularly sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. According to its website, sulfates are just cleansers. And if a shampoo claims that it’s sulfate-free, it is only using a different type of cleanser which has the same function as sulfates.
This does not mean you can’t use Head and Shoulders shampoo when your hair is dyed.
Contrary to widely held belief, sulfates aren’t necessarily to blame for color fading. It’s good to remember that when you dye your hair, it sustains damage.
Whether such damage is substantial and noticeable depends on your hair and the entire dyeing process. Still, the damage can worsen as you go through your daily activities. This is especially true when you don’t properly care for your hair.
And the more you wash your damaged hair, the more likely the dye gets exposed and removed. As sulfates are notably good at stripping things off your hair, the color also gets removed. But, normal shampoos can also do the same.
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We can attach different faces for “damaged hair”. Often, we think of dry and frizzy hair. If your hair is damaged in this manner, your best bet would be on moisturizing or hydrating shampoos.
Fragile strands and thinning hair also signify damage. Your shampoo would have to be specifically formulated to work on this kind of hair.
So, there is no categorical answer to the question of whether or not the Head and Shoulders brand is good. Some of its products may be bad for your hair, but only because it doesn’t match your hair’s needs. The brand may also have products that are responsive to your problems.
The brand is not entirely good or bad because it offers so many choices. And each choice can have a different effect on your hair. This is where understanding your hair and what it needs comes into play.
If you worry about the effects of Head and Shoulders shampoo but also want to get rid of dandruff, you can explore alternatives. Head and Shoulders doesn’t have a monopoly on the solutions to dandruff and other hair problems. While this brand is not all bad, your hair might be looking for answers in another.