Essex skin expert blows myths on hair care out of the water

Woman cratches her scalp. Dry hair and an itchy scalp? Ask our Essex skin expert, Sue Ibrahim at Elan Medical Skin Clinic in Rayleigh, Essex for help.

Dry hair and an itchy scalp? Ask our Essex skin expert, Sue Ibrahim at Elan Medical Skin Clinic in Rayleigh, Essex for help.

There are all sorts of myths surrounding good hair care and in this blog Elan Medical Skin Clinic’s resident skin expert and nurse consultant in dermatology, Sue Ibrahim takes a look at what’s true and what’s not.

From rinsing and repeating when shampooing, using conditioner and intense conditioning cures for split ends, to what causes an itchy scalp, we are bombarded with advice. But how much of it should we pay any attention to?

Lather, rinse, repeat

We’ve all heard this advice and just about every bottle of shampoo used to recommend that this was the best way to wash our hair – many still do. However, the science just does not add up.

Shampoo, washing detergent and washing up liquid all work in the same way, as science experts explain:

“Surfactants surround and enclose a drop of oil or speck of dirt to form a sphere called a micelle. The micelles attach to the water to form an emulsion and the emulsified oil and dirt is carried away with the final rinse.”

At this stage, very little lather is created. That’s because lather forms when surfactants form micelles around air. So, once you’ve created lather, your hair is clean and free from oil and dirt. At this stage there is no science to back up the need for applying more shampoo, especially as excess surfactant may actually strip and damage our hair.

There is also no evidence to suggest that washing our hair everyday is necessary for most people either. When stripped of oil, our bodies produce more natural oil – to maintain a healthy pH level – so over-washing may exacerbate the problem of greasy hair.


If you are someone who doesn’t wash their hair very often, uses loads of hair products or is exposed to high levels of pollution, it may be better to wash your hair twice to ensure it is clean and completely free from oil, dirt or pollutants. Use the lather tip above as a guide.

Do we need to use conditioner?

The answer to this question is a bit trickier and depends on why you are using conditioner in the first place. If it is because your scalp feels tight and itchy, then probably not.

Over the many years Sue has worked in dermatology one of the most common complaints she hears is “I have very sensitive skin”. When she asks which products they use to wash their face, body and hair with she tends to find there is a common ingredient that features in all of these products, one that is now widely accepted as common cause of skin irritation and dermatitis. This ingredient is called sodium laureth sulphate, commonly referred to as SLS or SLES.

What is SLS?

Sodium laureth sulphate or sodium laurel ether sulphate is a cheap detergent and surfactant that is widely used in a variety of skin care products. It is found in over 90% of shampoos, skin cleansers, shower gels, bubble baths and shaving creams. It is even found in baby skin care products and toothpastes.

To find out if you have an intolerance, buy a SLS-free shampoo and see how your scalp feels after a few weeks.

If you’re looking for silky soft hair, then conditioner does work. Here’s the science

“Under the microscope, hair strands are flaky-looking. These “flakes” are dead skin cells overlapping to form a cuticle layer that protects the fragile inner layers of a hair strand. Light reflects off this cuticle layer, giving hair its natural shine. The average person has between 120,000-150,000 hair strands and they look their best when the overlying cuticle flakes lay tightly against one another. When hair begins to look frizzy or limp, it means the cuticle layer is being worn down and the overlapping cells are no longer lying snugly flat.”

Read our next blog for more skin and hair care myth debunking…