Seborrheic dermatitis. Even more painful than trying to spell the chronic scalp condition from memory is, well, living with it. While a speedy Google of the term might tell you that the problem is an 'itchy, flaky scalp', rest assured that these innocuous descriptors don't quite tell the story of how hard it is to manage.
Thought to affect about 4% of the adult population, the issue is understood to be triggered by an overgrowth of a type of yeast that lives on the skin's surface, or by your immune system overreacting to said yeast. Stress and tiredness can fire up the problem, and it's more common when the weather is cold.
So, how is it treated? Much of the scalp-care advice aimed at people with Seborrheic Dermatitis is geared around managing the inflammation, itching and scaling it causes with frequent washing, using medicated shampoos. But for people who have natural hair and wear long-term protective styles such as braids or twists, like me, this advice neglects to acknowledge that daily washes can lead to dry, brittle hair, and a messy hairstyle – negating the latter's long-term, protective purpose.
Having been scared away from wearing my beloved braids for this very reason, I’m always on the lookout for a leave-in product that can soothe the symptoms of my irritable scalp, minus repeatedly lathering up. So when I heard that The Body Shop had launched a new Ginger Scalp Serum – the leave-on version of their cult favourite, calming Ginger shampoo – I was excited to find out if this hailed the arrival of a miracle elixir I’ve been longing for.
The Body Shop Ginger Scalp Serum: what's the deal?
The serum claims to rebalance and nourish your scalp, soothing dryness between washes. Ginger may be a centuries-old cornerstone of therapeutic medicine, but how does the humble root measure up against ingredients like zinc pyrithione and coal tar, which are more commonly found in anti-itch, anti-flake products?
According to Dr. Sharon Wong, Consultant Dermatologist at London Bridge Hospital, it doesn't. She says: 'Whilst there may be some anti-inflammatory properties with ginger there is no medical evidence to support its use as an effective treatment for Seborrheic Dermatitis.'
For fail-safe scalp saviours, she suggests sticking to active ingredients, explaining that: 'Coal tar and salicylic acid-based products are long established, proven treatments that help with the scaling found in this condition.'
Aesthetic doctor Dr. Lucy Glancey, however, is an advocate of the ingredient. 'Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger can help soothe the scalp conditions such as Seborrheic Dermatitis, which is caused by a flare up of yeast which feeds on the oil that your skin produces. Ginger oil will help to get rid of unwanted bacteria and lessen the itchiness associated.'
Given the mixed bag of opinion, I was more than willing to give the treatment a go.
Testing The Body Shop Ginger Scalp Serum
The serum’s instructions specify a few drops to be massaged into a freshly-washed, dry scalp. To avoid washing my braided hair and creating unnecessary frizz, I mimicked a freshly cleansed scalp by running over my partings with a flannel dipped in warm water.
Keeping my hair in sections, I applied a few drops of the serum directly to my scalp, massaged it in, and experienced instant relief.
If my struggle with Seborrheic Dermatitis has taught me one thing though, it’s that applying anything cool directly to an irritated scalp is immediately soothing, whether it works long after the calming coolness has worn off is another question.
I repeated my warm flannel, cool serum routine every four days over a twelve day period and although I still had some itchiness, it wasn’t nearly as incessant as it’s previously been Plus, because I wasn’t raking my hands over my angry scalp as often as I usually do, I didn’t experience as much flaking.
The Body Shop Ginger Scalp Serum: my verdict
Unlike the oils and pomades that comprise most of the leave-in products designed to help braid-lovers combat itchy, flaky scalps, this serum is lightweight, water-based and a breeze to apply in comparison.
It is supposed to be used on a cleansed scalp, so if your wash days are infrequent, I’d definitely recommend taking the extra step of running a warm flannel over your scalp before use – to give your scalp’s microbiome the serum’s full rebalancing benefits.
At £15, the serum is twice the price of its namesake shampoo and conditioner, but considering how convenient it is to use, and the long-lasting calming effect it’s had on my usually volatile scalp, I think it’s a genius way to top up your scalp care outside of washdays. I'm sold.
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