How to Manage Excess Scalp Sebum and Hard Water Build up Naturally
Have you ever noticed that your hair feels, looks and acts differently based on where you wash it? Everytime I go back to Canada, my hair feels softer and way more manageable than it does here in Milan. The culprit? Hard water. To add insult to injury, I’m prone to excess sebum production, which I’ve managed to keep under control with good dietary habits, yet seasonal changes sometimes exacerbate it and the hard water doesn’t help. After a lot of trial and error and a few conversations with my hair dresser I’ve finally found a DIY solution that works for me, that doesn’t involve going back to commercial harsh chemical laden shampoos, visiting my hair dresser for an expensive albeit enjoyable clarifying hair treatment every week, installing an expensive water softener, or travelling to Canada for a shower.
What is hard water and how does it affect your hair and scalp?
Hard water is water with a high mineral content, much oh which is calcium, which leaves a white residue called limescale all over everything water touches unless you thoroughly dry it immediately. It’s a nightmare.
As it turns out, hard water can also cause calcium build up on your scalp and hair, known as scalp calcification. Apparently, when you shower using hard water, a reaction occurs between the water and your shampoo which creates soap scum that clings to your skin, hair, and scalp. Double nightmare!
The build up of calcium on the scalp also clogs the hair follicle, which may contribute to hair loss and even inhibit hair growth.
What is sebum production on the Scalp?
Sebum is just a fancy term for oil, and your scalp produces it naturally. It’s perfectly healthy, and normal and it’s what keeps your hair soft and shiny when produced in the right amounts. When you have excesss sebum, it can build up and lead to dandruff, clog your pores and even cause hair loss and inhibit hair growth long term.
Because we are all unique, some of us naturally produce more or less sebum than others. For those of us who are prone to producing more sebum, hard water makes it much worse, as the calcium build up and soap scum clog pores and make it more difficult to wash out the oil build up.
If you’ve ever experienced this, you’ll know how frustrating it is to feel like your hair is even more GREASY after you’ve washed it.
All of that said, diet plays an important role in regulating sebum production so it’s crucial to stay hydrated and avoid unhealthy fats and processed foods in favour of a well balanced diet with plenty of fiber and healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids. It may not solve the problem entirely, as environmental insults also play a role, but it will help make things more manageable.
Why your natural shampoo may not be working
When I first moved to Italy, I was still using conventional shampoos. While I noticed a difference in my hair from the hard water, it was still manageable with more frequent hair washes. I convinced myself it was the only way given the hard water conditions.
As time passed and I began my journey towards a more holistic lifestyle, reduced the frequency of my hair washing to once or twice a week, I ditched my conventional shampoo in favour of a more natural alternative and began struggling with my hair. Post partum hormonal changes made things even worse.
I tried every brand of natural shampoo under the sun, or so it seemed, but nothing would leave my hair feeling clean and bouncy. Some would work the first two or three times, but eventually the build up would get out of hand and I’d resort to buying a conventional shampoo to get it out. It was disheartening, and the amount of money I spent accumulating natural shampoo’s was absurd.
I needed a long term solution. While harsh chemical laden shampoos seemed to do the trick at washing away the calcium and sebum build up, I wasn’t keen on using them for several reasons:
They strip your hair of it’s natural oils, irritate your scalp, skin and eyes.
Some of the chemicals used are suspected of being endocrine disruptors (meaning they interfere with your hormones) and carcinogens (cancer causing).
They’re not environmentally friendly, as every time you use them, those harsh chemicals are unleashed into the water supply.
So how did I fix the problem without conventional shampoos?
How to manage excess scalp sebum and hard water build up naturally
Here’s what I use to combat sebum and hard water build up and keep my hair and scalp feeling clean and healthy.
Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera naturally absorbs oil from the skin or scalp, helps reduce excess sebum and balance pH levels without drying the scalp. Aloe vera is a natural humectant, which means that it hydrates the skin from the deepest layer out, helping it to retain moisture, all while absorbing the excess oil.
Rosemary Essential Oil
Rosemary essential oil is an excellent antioxidant and antifungal. It helps regulate sebum production, improves blood circulation in the scalp and keeps dandruff at bay. It may also be helpful in darkening grey hairs, preventing hair thinming and hair loss and promoting hair growth.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar helps remove build up while naturally hydrating your scalp. Its antibacterial and antifungal properties help ward off dandruff and its acidic nature helps rebalance your scalps pH levels which improves your scalps overall health, which in prevents hair loss and promotes hair growth. As an added bonus, it helps you get that shampoo commercial smooth shiny frizz free hair look.
Here’s my step by step process:
Aloe Vera Rosemary Essential oil Scalp Mask
Mix about 1 tablespoon of aloe vera gel and 10 drops of rosemary oil together in a small container (adjust the amounts according to personal preferences and hair length, you can also double or triple the amount and store it in a bottle with a tightly fitted cap). Apply the mask to your scalp and massage it in fully, you can also apply this to the length of the hair. Let it sit for 30 minutes. You can wrap your hair in a hot wet towel if you like.. Then, rinse thoroughly in the shower, while combing through your scalp and hair.
Apple Cider Vinegar Build Up Rinse
Mix apple cider vinegar and water in a small bottle and shake to combine. I use about 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar and 1 cup of water. After you’ve rinsed off the aloe vera rosemary mask, apply half the the apple cider vinegar and water mixture to your scalp in sections. I usually just pour a small amount at a time directly out of the bottle and onto my scalp, as I massage it in. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes then rinse thoroughly while combing through your scalp and hair.
Steps one and two will have washed away a lot of build up, making it easier for your natural shampoo to be more effective. Wash your hair with a natural shampoo, making sure to rinse it out really well.
Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioning Rinse
Use the other half of the apple cider vinegar rinse mixture as a final rinse and conditioner. This will help rinse away any soap scum or build up that may have been created by the shampoo and hard water and will leave your hair feeling soft and shiny.
Dry & Style
Dry and style using your preferred method, but try to avoid using too many (if at all) harsh chemical laden styling products and the hair dryer daily. I only wash my hair once, maybe twice a week, so I prefer to use a blow dryer to style it as it lasts longer and is more manageable that way. I don’t use any hair products, and if I need help managing flyaways and frizz I apply a small amount of pure aloe vera gel with a drop of rosehip oil and it does the trick to smooth out the hair post blow out.