The connection between stress and dandruff, according to experts

TThere’s nothing like a full-body anxiety attack to remind you that your psychology and physiology are really intertwined. You already know the scenario: something has you stressed, causing you to sweat, itch or ache, causing plus anxiety, leading to plus physical discomfort.

Examples of this “stress loop” are wide-ranging, from indigestion to insomnia. A surprising common culprit? It’s dandruff, which can flare up when you feel tense. While there are a host of factors that can cause both stress and dry scalp, their symptoms exacerbate each other, and that cycle can feel frustratingly unbreakable.

Spoiler alert: It isn’t. According to psychologist Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, reducing stress can help improve a dry scalp. And according to dermatologist Jenny Liu, MD, FAAD, taking care of dandruff (with the help of proven products you can buy at Walgreens, like Head & Shoulders) can help reduce stress by increasing your sense of well-being. confidence and self-esteem.

Dr. Hafeez and Dr. Liu share the inside scoop on what starts this whole cycle of stress and how managing one condition can help alleviate the other and ultimately break that frustrating cycle.

Read on to learn about the stress-dandruff cycle and how to break out of it.

Shop for dandruff solutions at Walgreens

The connection between stress and dandruff, explained

Okay, so how does this chicken-or-egg case actually play out? To take a step back, here’s a quick refresher on the basics of dandruff and stress.

“Dandruff—or [its] medical term seborrheic dermatitis: is a common inflammatory rash that can have a wide range of presentations: from simple peeling to extensive redness, itching, or yellow greasy scaling,” says Dr. Liu. “In addition to physical appearance and effects on mental health and physical well-being (self-image, self-esteem, etc.), there have been reports that stress can trigger seborrheic dermatitis, as cortisol can fuel an inflammatory response.”

Yes, studies have shown that stress can induce inflammation in the body, and dandruff is an example of an inflammatory response.

On the other hand, the physical discomfort and emotional insecurity of a flaky scalp can be downright stressful. “The anxious state of mind can increase the production of stress hormones,” says Dr. Hafeez. “Your emotional state can make physical problems you already have worse.” And so, the stress-dandruff cycle begins.

The bottom line? “Stress and anxiety are correlated with skin conditions, but some skin conditions are exacerbated by stress and anxiety,” says Dr. Hafeez. “This is a vicious cycle where the more someone has a particular skin condition, the more stressed they become.” the more stressed you are, the worse your skin conditions can become, she says.

How to break the cycle

So how do you end it? The first step, according to Dr. Hafeez, is to look for the source of the symptoms.

“The first step is recognition,” she says. “Identifying patterns of what triggers stress is the key to managing it.” Then you can challenge her thinking about that trigger, she says, since often our anticipation of a situation is more stress-inducing than the situation itself. “We often create our own trap by worrying about the weather [or] traffic, over which we have no control,” continues Dr. Hafeez. “Taking control of what we can and accepting what we can’t will lower our stress levels.”

One thing that definitely they can control? How do you remedy your scalp? To relieve scaling and itching, Dr. Liu opts for products with key anti-inflammatory ingredients, like selenium sulfide, which he can find in Head & Shoulders’ Clinical Strength Dandruff Defense collection.

The line of shampoos, conditioners and scalp-specific treatments are based on selenium sulfide for a clinical-grade formula that fights flakes and is gentle enough for daily use, no matter your hair type.

If clinical strength isn’t your speed, Head & Shoulders Classic Clean and Dry Scalp Care Collections are formulated with Pyrithione Zinc (another reference ingredient on Dr. Liu’s list). The antibacterial and antifungal properties of the ingredient fight the growth of yeast, which is a main factor in dandruff. Try Classic Clean for a fresh scent and soothed scalp, or opt for Dry Scalp Care if you’re looking for extra moisture (hello, almond oil).

To give your scalp more love, lather up your shampoo of choice and pause for five minutes before rinsing, says Dr. Liu. This gives the ingredients time to activate. And during those extra moments? Try addressing your stress with meditation or a gratitude practice…or singing a shower tune or two.

Want to learn more about loving your scalp? Get the scoop on Head & Shoulders and stock up on products at Walgreens.

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