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Avoid these 5 foods to help your dry, flaky scalp

Written by Robbie Salter

Reviewed by Julie Karen, M.D.

If you’re struggling with dandruff, you may feel like you’ve tried everything - washing less, washing more, changing up your pillowcase, using different hair care products, and so on. But it might surprise you to learn that diet is intimately related to scalp health. That means some foods can trigger or worsen dandruff, while some can help alleviate it.

We’ve rounded up the five worst offenders - foods you should avoid to help your dry, flaky scalp. Before we get into that, however, let's review exactly why diet is so crucial for supporting your scalp and hair health - and how it can affect conditions like dermatitis and psoriasis.

The happy hair diet

It’s a cliche, but you really are what you eat. Poor nutrition can cause problems like dry skin, hair loss, and dandruff. More importantly, while products like coconut oil can help revitalize your skin, they're not a substitute for a proper diet (even if they do feel nice when you're itchy).

Healthy hair requires fatty acids like those found in fish and almonds, as well as specific vitamins and protein. Many people follow diets that lack certain essential nutrients like Vitamin B6 and B12, and this can lead to poor hair health over time.

Fortunately, eating a nutrient-rich, whole food diet with added nutritional supplements can offset the worst impacts of diet, while products like dandruff shampoo can deliver essential nutrients straight to your hair and scalp. The best dandruff shampoo choices complement a proper diet but don't replace it.

So what about the foods that are actively bad for you and can worsen problems like dandruff? Let's take a closer look at these.

Problem Food #1: High-Mercury Fish

Normally, fish is good for your skin and hair. With a delicate dressing of apple cider vinegar and plenty of essential fatty acids, fish is often thought of as a healthy, nutrient-rich food to consume weekly. But is it?

High-mercury fish can actually lead to hair loss over time as the mercury moves throughout your body - and this is especially common among people who eat a lot of sushi. Fish to be cautious of include mackerel, swordfish, and certain types of tuna.

As alternatives, look for shrimp, salmon, and canned light tuna. These all tend to be low in mercury, so eating them can help you improve your hair and scalp. Also, these three types of seafood are widely available in supermarkets and stores, which makes them easy to add to a diet on practically any budget.

Problem Food #2: Sugar

We all know that too much sugar is bad, although it can be delicious, and that it can lead to (or worsen) problems like seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis. If you want to get rid of dandruff, you'll need to address your scalp health from both inside and outside your body.

Sugar can cause flaky skin, itching, and damage to your hair follicles because it encourages the production of androgen, a hormone that shrinks hair follicle sizes. That means you could quickly develop dandruff, and many medicated shampoo options won't treat the source of this issue. If you want healthy hair, limit your intake of sugar.

Healthy hair requires fatty acids like those found in fish and almonds, as well as specific vitamins and protein.

Problem Food #3: Excessively Low-Protein Foods

Hair is made of protein, so if you eat low-protein foods all the time, you might damage your hair and worsen problems like dandruff. When most people think of protein, they think of meat. However, many plant foods are incredibly rich in protein - so don’t worry if you’re vegan or eating a plant-based diet. Just get some protein-rich foods like tofu, lentils, and beans. These might minimize dandruff, provide the fundamental nutrition your hair needs, and even make it easier to remove dead skin cells that linger on your scalp.

Problem Food #4: Vitamin A Supplements

All right, we're cheating a little for this one. Supplements aren't exactly food, but many people take them with food, and vitamin-specific supplements could be a problem for your hair and skin cells. Within the supplement industry, you usually have multivitamins that have small amounts of many different vitamins and minerals, then specific supplements that have a lot of a single nutrient.

This can be a problem with Vitamin A which, when taken in excess, may cause hair loss in ways that hair products can't mitigate. If you have other conditions like atopic dermatitis, oily scalp, or itchy skin, excessive vitamin A could also contribute to those issues.

Problem Food #5: Alcohol

Okay, we're cheating again - alcohol is a drink. Too much alcohol can lead to itchy skin because it reduces the overall levels of zinc in your body. Zinc is fundamental to healthy hair growth, so over time, too much alcohol is bad. Alcohol is still fine for your hair in small amounts, so you don't have to completely avoid it when trying to get your dandruff under control.

Alcohol can also dehydrate your body, which could affect conditions like dermatitis and dandruff. Make sure you stay hydrated while drinking alcohol to mitigate the worst of these conditions.

What other foods may impact your scalp?

In addition to the foods listed above, some people can experience dandruff as a result of eating foods to which they have allergies or intolerances. For example, people with dairy or gluten intolerances may suffer from dandruff as a result of those foods causing inflammation in the body. Also, spicy foods may trigger dandruff as they can cause the body temperature to rise, leading some people to sweat near the temple or scalp.

Can shampoos help?

A healthy diet is fundamental to maintaining your hair's health - but using the right type of shampoo is fundamental. It's important to use a proven dandruff shampoo formulated with the active ingredient Zinc Pyrithione to truly treat dandruff. With the right products and a healthy diet, your scalp can maintain its natural, lustrous health, and your hair will appear strengthened and moisturized.

Balancing Shampoo

Meet our medicated head honcho. This soothing multi-tasking cleanser gets to the root of flaking and irritation every time you wash, thanks to our star active ingredient, Zinc Pyrithione. Backed by a lush aroma of mint, vanilla, rosemary, sage, tangerine, and lavender, it’s bound to elevate your mood, and your shower.

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The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have about the information contained herein, as well as the risks or benefits of any treatment.

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