Plus everything else you didn't know about your scalp.

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When you think about taking care of the scalp, your mind probably just goes to the basics: cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing. But to fully take care of your scalp, it's necessary to understand how it functions, as well as the factors that could impact the hidden skin. Remember, a healthy scalp equals healthy hair.

As it turns out, the scalp is a very complex part of the body that many people don't fully understand. For instance, did you know that your scalp ages up to six times faster than the rest of your skin? Or that your scalp has smell receptors? In other words, it's aware of scents.

Learning about your scalp and how it works is not only interesting, but it can help give insight on how to properly care for it. Ahead, learn more surprising facts about the scalp you'll be grateful to know.

Your Scalp Ages Faster Than Facial Skin.

"Our scalp ages very quickly due to environmental and lifestyle factors, like diet, smoking, chemicals, and trauma," says Penny James, a certified trichologist and founder of Penny James Salon. According to a study done by the L'Oréal Professional Academy, the scalp ages up to six times faster than facial skin.

"Your scalp is an extension of your face, and as it ages, it loses the ability to hold moisture, which we need for healthy hair growth and can lead to hair thinning," says Helen Reavey, a celebrity hairstylist and founder of the haircare brand Act+Acre.

In addition to thinning, James says aging can cause the hair follicles to shrink and shorten the anagen stage of hair growth, which is the growing stage. The production of melanin (hair color) also slows down because of aging, which causes graying. 

Your Scalp Has Smell Receptors That Can Promote Hair Growth.

Studies show that the scalp has a unique olfactory receptor called OR2AT4, so believe it or not, our hair follicles can sense smells. 

Dr. Richard E. Cytowic, a neurologist, wrote a report in Psychology Today that said when that receptor came into contact with sandalwood scent, it stimulated hair growth.

A team of scientists in the UK originally discovered this after applying synthetic sandalwood (found in beauty products) to samples of scalp tissue and found that the sandalwood bound itself to the receptor, which helped the growing phase of hair cells while also preventing them from dying.

Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you can go and spray a fragrance with sandalwood notes and get a full head of hair. However, the research is very promising, and scientists are exploring ways to use sandalwood as a potential treatment for baldness.

Your Scalp Needs SPF Protection.

Even though your hair can act as a natural barrier against the sun, SPF is still necessary. "Studies show that the hair functions in part to shield the skin from both UVA and UVB radiation," says Afope Atoyebi, a certified trichologist. She explains that the protection occurs from the melanin in the hair. "The type of melanin that makes up the bulk of darker hair (scientifically known as eumelanin) is more effective at UV protection than pheomelanin, which is the predominant form of melanin in blonde and red hair," says Atoyebi.

However, even though those with dark hair may have a natural barrier, protection depends on how much hair you have, which is why SPF protection is necessary to apply, especially on exposed areas on the scalp.

"UV rays penetrate deep into the dermis, and if you have thinning hair on the crown area, your skin is very susceptible to getting burned," James tells InStyle. "I tell all of my clients to apply to an SPF spray onto their scalps if they are going to be out in the sun all day."

Dandruff Isn't a Sign of Dry Scalp.

Despite popular belief, "dandruff is a flaky scalp condition caused excessive oiliness," says Atoyebi.

Dandruff is caused by a fungus called malassezia, which feeds on the oils produced in your scalp, also known as sebum. "As they feed, the malassezia break down the sebum, leaving free fatty acids to break the skin barrier of the scalp," Atoyebi tells InStyle. "So, as a way to rid the skin of this inflammatory substance, the skin sheds its layers, which are the flakes we then see." 

While people often see the flakes and think they have a dry scalp, you can determine whether the flakes are due to dryness or dandruff by looking at their appearance. "Unlike the smaller more powdery flakes associated with dry scalp, flakes from dandruff are often larger and oily," says Atoyebi.

Scalp
Credit: Getty Images

Hair Loss Can Occur Up to Six Months After Something Happened to Your Body.

Whether you experienced a change in diet, excessive stress, switched or tried a new medication, or went through an illness, the impacts of these stressful changes can result in hair loss. However, you won't see the impacts on your hair until about three to six months after these disturbances, says Reavey.

The term for this is telogen effluvium, and it happens when the stress of the event causes the hair follicles into a premature resting phase of hair growth. Within a few months, you may notice the hair coming out in handfuls while brushing or washing, which is what many people are experiencing now as we recover from the peak of the pandemic.

Luckily, this sudden hair loss isn't permanent and can return to normal after the traumatic experiences are over. However, if you're experiencing constant hair loss, it's best to reach out to a doctor to ensure there isn't an underlying medical issue.