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Why Exactly Does My Hair Hurt? Experts Share How to Help Scalp Pain

If you’ve found yourself asking the somewhat surreal question, “Why does my hair hurt?” you are neither foolish nor alone. Think back to that classic Sex and the City episode in which a hungover Charlotte complains of the condition. While her mane’s pain was a metaphor for too much partying and the exhausting nature of the Manhattan dating scene, your’s is likely due to factors including super-sleek styling, a lack of daily scalp care, or general stress. Failure to pay attention to scalp tenderness and the conditions that cause it can result in general discomfort and even hair loss—as such, it’s an issue best addressed rather than simply lamented. Fortunately, the first step toward a pain-free scalp is easy: wash your hair. 

Why Does My Scalp Hurt?

While stretched periods between shampoos may be effective for some, for others, the breaks result in a scalp disarray. The oils that your scalp produces naturally can accumulate around your hair shaft, promoting the overgrowth of yeast on your scalp. “It’s not actually your hair that hurts, but the skin and perifollicular area of the scalp—the region around each hair, pore, or follicle—hurts,” explains Manhattan-based dermatologist Francesca Fusco. “The scalp is incredibly rich in blood supply, nerve endings, and oil glands. Additionally, this yeast (pityrosporum) builds up, leading to dandruff. The combination of these factors can cause inflammation, which translates to sensitivity that can make it feel like your hair is hurting.” 

Celebrity hairstylist Harry Josh chalks up the hair pain induced by a lack of washing to a simple analogy. “It’s like not working out for a week!” he says. “If you don’t wash your hair and keep it in the same style, it feels sore because it’s lacking hair and scalp stimulation.” So, how often should we be shampooing? “It all depends on what you’re starting off with,” says Josh. “Finer hair can’t go multiple days, because it produces more oil,” says Josh. “But curly or gray hair can, as it produces less.” As a rule of thumb, he says people with oily hair should shampoo every day or every other day. Dry or coarser hair should do every three to four days. 

Should your hair mandate multiple days between washings, stimulating your scalp with the help of a brush is a crucial addition to your routine. “The brush is back!” says Josh. Though the method is simple, investing in a high-quality brush is something of a necessity for desired results. “I’ll go to these gorgeous apartments, with marble bathroom floors, and clients are using some cheap brush that’s a dollar from the drugstore,” says Josh, laughing. A brush made of boar’s hair and nylon can help you to distribute oils from scalp to ends, all while increasing scalp circulation and loosening any existing flakes. 

Styling and Skin Conditions

The fact that greasy hair is often put up in a tight ponytail—and sometimes swept up in a bun for sleeping—doesn’t help matters. Rocking a snatched high ponytail, cornrows, top knots, or braids for days at a time can contribute to scalp sensitivity, irritation, and pain. Add to that the recent want of sleek styles, ample hair product, and even more hair accessories, and you have a collection of looks that, while stylish on the surface, also require you to keep mane maintenance at top of mind. 

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