After living with a flaky scalp for as long as I could remember, I recently figured out what it was—seborrheic dermatitis ("sebo" for short) many thanks to Alan Dattner, M.D.'s, OG skin care book Radiant Skin. It was the only beauty book I could find with extensive information—an entire chapter!—dedicated to the condition. Also known as "adult cradle cap," sebo is a type of eczema triggered by stress, hormone imbalance, chemical irritants in shampoos, and extremely dry or cold weather. According to Cybele Fishman, M.D., sebo could also be a sign that your skin's microbiome is out of balance.
I knew it wasn't "normal" dandruff because my flakes were thick, sometimes yellow, and clustered. Although many hairstylists insisted that it was product buildup and the unfortunate result of too much hair washing, I tried clarifying shampoo, dandruff shampoo, low-poo, no-poo, apple cider vinegar rinse, and everything in between—all of which made it worse. When home remedies fail, especially when they're made by trusted experts, it's frustrating to say the least!
I had to experiment (for what would be more than a decade) to find products and ingredients that would work through trial and error. A three-pronged approach of stress management, finding the right, safe topicals, and weekly treatment rituals became the winning combination for me. Familiarizing myself with triggers that made it worse and products that soothed was key. For example, I know now to expect a flare-up when I'm really stressed, and the reverse is true: Typically on vacation I'm less likely to experience flaking.
Here is the winning routine and process that finally worked for me—hopefully it helps some of you as well: