Scalp and Hair Care Basics - Expert Hair Advice - Dr. Nikoleta
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Scalp and Hair Care Basics

Hello again, my beauties! We’re nearly at the end of August – which is Hair Loss Awareness month! In this fully rebranded show, I won’t let the month end without dedicating an episode for the Hair loss Awareness campaign. 

Did-you-know? The American Academy of Dermatology first decided to devote the entire month of August to educating the general public on hair loss way back in 2001. This goes to show how much importance Dermatologists, like me, give on hair health. 

With that, let me remind you to see your dermatologist for any issues on hair such as loss or breakage. It may be often overlooked, but in fact, hair health is a huge aspect to our practice!

So today, we’ll get into the business of keeping your locks healthy. This way, I’ll essentially be teaching you how to keep them. I’ll break our talk down to the basics of pH – which I’ve talked about in Episode 30 (it’s when I asked you, Is It Time to Break Up with your Toner?) and its role in hair health. You’ll learn why pH should affect your decision when it comes to choosing your shampoo, conditioner, and even how to comb or brush your hair.

What Does pH Actually Mean for Your Hair?

First, a short review on pH. The pH indicates the acidity, alkalinity, or neutrality of a given source. It can range from 1 to 14. Remember that solutions with a pH below 7 are considered acidic while those with a pH above 7 are considered alkaline (or more commonly known as “basic”).

The majority of your hair is composed of a protein that enables it to carry a charge. A peek back to General Chemistry reminds us that there are ions, positive and negative. With that, your hair can be positively, neutrally, or negatively charged.

At times, our hair’s charge is pH dependent. That means, pH levels can dictate our hair’s state (whether it’s frizzy, smooth, etc.). Think of it this way, your hair is considered neutrally charged when its pH is approximately around 3.7 to 3.8. When the pH levels stray from those numbers, your hair’s state changes too. 

A disclaimer, I’m referring to natural hair here. Not bleached, damaged, treated, etc. – there’s a difference. For example, when your hair is in bleach, the scalp will have a pH of around 4 to 4.5 and up to around 5 to 5.5 instead of 3.7 to 3.8. 

Shampoo and pH

The integral role of pH in hair quality is why most shampoos aim to be pH balanced. Your typical shampoo products have a pH range of around 4 to 7. So, most of the time, all is well for your hair. 

But what happens when you end up applying shampoo that exceeds the neutral hair pH of 3.76?

When that happens, your hair becomes negatively charged. Here’s where the problem begins; those negative charges from one hair follicle to another leads hair strands to repel each other. This series of repulsion creates more friction within your hair. You’ll notice this increase in friction when your hair becomes more difficult to comb (a.k.a. frizzy hair). 

As you can observe, the shampoo industry leans towards products promoted to have acidic pH levels. Of course, it depends on the brand and why you’re buying the product, but reputable ones have pH levels that keep your hair from getting damaged. These products aim to stay close to the neutral 3.76 – optimizing hair quality through minimizing negative charges. 

Furthermore, pH-balanced shampoos help hair cuticles stay closed. This both tames frizz and helps prevent moisture loss. Plus, it hinders excessive oil production after applying the shampoo. Remember, these approximations to pH levels are applicable for natural hair. For bleached or colored hair, shampoo with a pH greater than 5.5 causes cuticles to open – which often leads to faster color fading.

Conditioner and pH

That whole topic on shampoos and balancing your hair’s pH can get quite complicated. The solution, however, isn’t as complicated as you can imagine – it’s Conditioner! This is why you shouldn’t skip them. 

Conditioners are rich on positive charges; they’re Cationic (positive-charge carriers). These ions in the conditioner bind to the negative charges in your hair. The result – neutrally-charged hair – is frizz-free, smooth, and overall, more comfortable. 

Let’s go back to hair cuticles. Conditioner ensures that your hair cuticles stay closed – locking nutrients in and pollutants out. This works well to strengthen the hair shaft, preventing breakage, split ends, and even hair loss.

Again, these strong reasons are why you shouldn’t skip your conditioner. Shampoo is not enough to keep your locks smooth and strong. Although most shampoo brands aim to keep your hair neutral, they also have to do their main job of cleaning your hair. Bottomline: use conditioner after using shampoo. 

DO’s and DON’Ts for Shampoo, Conditioner, and Brushing & Combing

If you’ve never looked for a shampoo based on its pH levels before, now’s the time to start. Of course, choosing the right products is only the first step to taking care of your hair. Your consistency in proper application and mindfulness is what fulfills your hair goals.

With that, let’s dive into the DO’s and DON’Ts. 


DO make sure to massage shampoo more on your scalp, not on the hair itself – that’s the optimum way to use them. Shampoo does what it does best (clean your hair) when you let it work on its designated target area (your scalp). A word of caution: applying shampoo on the hair strands themselves can lead to that dreadfully-dull and coarse flyaway hair. No one wants that! 

DON’T rub shampoo aggressively on your scalp. Massage the shampoo gently onto all areas of your scalp (again, not on your hair strands themselves). Scrubbing your scalp forcefully – especially with your nails – can cause abrasions and in turn, attract infection. 

Furthermore, applying shampoo with more force than necessary (coupled with several back-and-forth motions) can cause tangles, breakage, or even weaken the follicles. This is why, upon rinsing, it’s best to just let the shampoo flow to the ends of your hair – after all, its work on your scalp is done. You may then gently guide the shampoo down your hair with your fingers.  

DO follow your Dermatologist’s recommendations. This is for those times when we prescribe certain shampoo for specific hair conditions. For example, we may recommend you leave the shampoo on for about 5 minutes (to let the medication work) before washing it off. However, unless your Dermatologist told you otherwise, stick to simply massaging the scalp and then rinsing shampoo off.


DON’T skip your conditioner. That’s right, my first and foremost advice is to consistently use your conditioner after you shampoo. I cannot emphasize this enough. Conditioners don’t just improve your hair’s looks. Of course, when they neutralize those negative charges, they increase the shine and decrease frizz. However, conditioners are also integral in allowing the hair to glide smoothly – preventing tangles and breakage. 

You may use 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioners too. Although I recommend using a shampoo and conditioner separately, using products that clean and condition at the same time is better than not conditioning at all. 

Brushing & Combing

Damage to your hair can come from very subtle actions such as combing. I know, it seems ridiculous (you might think, am I not supposed to comb now?!). Trust me, however, when I tell you that even simple combing could lead to significant changes and modification to the surface of your hair. 

Of course, I’m not telling you to stop combing – I’m here to tell you how to do it right. 

DON’T comb dry hair. Use a conditioning product before brushing or combing. Again, you should use a conditioner when washing your hair. However, do use cream or oil to touch up your hair before combing throughout the day. 

Why? Let’s take a look at Hair Anatomy first. The hair consists of the Central Cortex which composes a major portion of the hair fiber. The Cortex is responsible for the mechanical strength of the hair. When you comb, you’re exerting physical stress on your hair fibers – causing cuticles to flake and string away from the Hair Cortex. 

Many studies show that the main effect of brushing and combing is the gradual wearing down of the cuticle scales. When that happens, your hair starts feeling coarse. Most importantly, that also means your Hair Cortex now has less protection.

DO limit brushing throughout the day. For reasons previously mentioned, we should keep brushing to a minimum. You can try detangling your hair with your fingers – this is a gentler option than using a comb or a brush. Especially when your hair has a curlier texture, “finger-combing” makes for an easier way to untangle your hair. Again, as much as you can, brush and comb less frequently.

DON’T try to dry your hair faster by rubbing it with a towel. Do your best to let your hair air dry or use a blower for drying. After bathing, it’s better to wait until your hair becomes damp before drying it. This is because in general, wet hair is more vulnerable to damage than dry hair.

DO opt for brushes with softer bristles – stiff bristles tend to be more damaging. This is because bristles play a part in the gentleness of brushing; thus, you can minimize breakage by using brushes with softer bristles. 

Remember to incorporate these DO’s and DON’Ts into your daily hair habits. It’s the little things we do every day that contribute to our overall hair health, after all.

From Now On, Look Forward to Better Hair with My Expert Advice 

I mean it – you may not feel like Rapunzel everyday, but trust me (and follow my advice) – and you’ll definitely have the confidence to let your hair down! Give your hair the TLC it needs by taking everything we discuss to heart. Also, be patient when it comes to results – no one becomes a true princess overnight. Above all, remember: as with any beauty routine, hair care doesn’t have to be complicated. We’ll so you can KISS bad hair days goodbye!

Would you love a more in-depth guide on hair care? I’m now accepting waitlist applications for the first round of The Healthy Skin Blueprint where I included a bonus called the Healthy Hair Training Toolkit! 

If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to let me know on Instagram! You can tag me, @drnikoleta, with a screenshot of the episode and your greatest takeaways. I’d also really appreciate it if you would subscribe and leave a five-star rating on Apple Podcasts — that helps us share the podcast with more people like you who are looking to achieve the skin of their dreams! 

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You can also text “PODCAST” to 480-530-8187 to get a weekly skincare routine reminder & affirmation!

Until next time, Step Out with Confidence®, and finally, take action on your hair care habits – it’s the only thing between you and gorgeously smooth & strong locks!

Dr. Nikoleta



I am a board-certified dermatologist, CEO and Founder of Healthy Skin Blueprint, an acclaimed podcast host, best-selling author, and nationally recognized skin, hair, and nails expert. Welcome to the Skin Talk with Dr. Nikoleta blog.


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