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Thread: What is this white gunk on my scalp?!

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    Member Fluffy01's Avatar
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    Default What is this white gunk on my scalp?!

    For years no matter what I have done any time I scratch my scalp I get white gunk under my nail. It's not dandruff I presume cause it's only when I scratch my scalp. I'm a curly so even tho I have tried harsh shampoos in the past....I now wash with very gentle shampoos and only a few times a week. But it really doesn't matter what I do. It's always there! It's gross. Anyone know what it could be? Thanks!

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    It's probably sebum. (Only reason to believe it isn't is if you're using lots of products on your scalp and have buildup there.)

    Sebum is supposed to be there. It is an oily wax that your body produces to lubricate and protect your scalp and hair. You can massage your scalp and move it down onto the hair shaft, where it's quite nourishing to the hair. If you can subject your curls to a boar bristle brush ("BBB" around here) or a wood or horn brush or comb, that can also move it down the length. Only do this with dry hair and only if you can without breaking hairs.

    Oh, and if it's white, it means it's quite clean. If your hair and scalp weren't clean it might be yellow or gray.
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    There's also blype in it. If I scratch it the day after hennaing, it's red.

    Does fingercombing move sebum down? What about piling hair atop my head, which I do at night?
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    Obsessive Oilaholic ChloeDharma's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pierre View Post
    There's also blype in it. If I scratch it the day after hennaing, it's red.

    Does fingercombing move sebum down? What about piling hair atop my head, which I do at night?
    I get the same thing after i henna....what's "blype" though?

    I'm not sure finger combing alone would move it down, though i don't fingercomb from the scalp.....maybe you do it differently. What seems to work is more a massage of the scalp then pulling it down that way.

    If it gets built up alot or you want to make sure it's getting washed off then Jojoba oil used to massage the scalp is one of the best to use as it dissolves sebum. I find other oils work too if Jojoba isn't available....sweet almond is quite cleansing.
    Another thing that can cause dry sebum is a lack of essential fatty acids in the diet, so sometimes adding more of those can help.
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    What I do when the white gunk gets to be too much, i.e., I'm getting tons of it whenever I scratch a bit, is I do a Brown Sugar Scrub. Basically, I mix 1-3 tablespoons (depending on what I'm feeling like) of brown sugar (you can also use white sugar) with enough conditioner to make a thick paste, then I massage it into my scalp. I wait a minute, then rinse it out. Be sure to rinse out all the sugar, else you get a "crunchy" spot where you missed it.
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  6. #6

    Default That's Sebum

    That's SEBUM my Dear!

    We all have it and is part of a healthy acid mantle. If you wait longer between hair washes, that is beyond 2-3 days, you're going to have a lot of it, and it may even have a faint odor that most of us recognize as unpleasant or "dirty". Left unwashed too long, this sebum becomes somewhat discolored (yellowy usually), aromatic in an unpleasant way (that's bacteria eating the sebum), and maybe even a bit gritty, and possibly can even get a little dried on, hardish and not the usual white stuff that is mooshy and can be shaped into a ball and rolled around so easily. Left too long it can also feel gritty.

    ACID MANTLE
    http://www.smartskincare.com/skinbiology/sebum.html
    Understanding something about skin biology is important.

    The acid mantle is the balance between sweat and sebum, bacteria that are healthy in presence and numbers all balanced to create a pH.

    Overwashing strips the acid mantle incredibly frequently forcing the glands to produce MORE sebum, FASTER.

    Underwashing means that your sebum rate can build, and then this balance of the acid mantle can get out of whack and the pH can go awry. Indeed, long enough between hair washes means you can end up with some of that bacteria and such getting out of control and actually causing a mini infection of a hair follicle and thus lose a healthy hair strand before it's lifespan is up. (Yes hair follicles have their own lifespan for holding on to a strand, and know when to 'shed'. This explains why you don't go bald with the constant shedding because every hair follicle is on its own timeline.)

    OK, so I would say washing the hair around every third day is about right. The hair for most Average Janes becomes a little greasy or separated by then, but it's not so soon that you can't ever get that acid mantle set. ETA: I would also say that being the one who can go the longest without shampooing is not an award you want to win. Those who claim to go long between hair washes likely have sebacious glands that produce little or slowly (such persons do exist), or they may be elderly, when a lot of things stop working as they seem to have always been! LOL. Wash on a reasonable timeline. At minimum, this would be every other day, the longest being about every third day.

    Shampoos tend to upset the pH, but some products work to reset it via one's conditioner. But for many, this does not work at all, hence the ACV Rinse (or lemon in water -- that's acidic too) to help restore that acid mantle (pH balance of the skin itself, not the hair).

    So, don't fret. All is well up there. If it smells, it's definitely time to wash. If it's yellowish or hard and gritty as opposed to pretty darn white and smooshy (like a waxy substance), then it's fine.

    On occasion, we let this stuff build up too much over & over again, and eventually one's hair wash isn't quite as effective and the hair ends up after a fresh hair wash still kinda smelling, but mostly have a film to it on top, near the hairline, for example. This is a likely indicator to clarify hair wash (to be executed with a strong conditioning session as a companion to the event -- don't skip conditioning) and just start over. Average folks may need to clarify around every 3 months, perhaps...at least those with an active sebacious gland system. (Count me in!)

    Sebum isn't an oil, even though when it builds and the hair becomes stringy looking we call it, name it, label it "greasy". Sebum is actually a waxy ester intended to help keep the acid mantle in shape, to help keep the hair closest to the head in some reasonable "condition" and for the overall benefit of the skin itself so it isn't dry, flaky, and unpleasant. Resists sun a little, that kind of thing. It has its uses even if we have a love-hate relationship with it.

    But basically, you're fine.

    heidi w.
    Last edited by heidi w.; June 23rd, 2008 at 04:22 PM.

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    Member blondecat's Avatar
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    Thank You for the explaination Heidi W,

    I've always wondered about that white stuff too.

    [I'm one of those don't wash my hair more than one a week people, cause my hair just doesn't get the greasies [I do rince it in water daily tho when I shower, so perhaps thats the difference.

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    Heidi W. I always love your posts.

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    LOL, I had to look up "blype."

    But it's true and that was also what I was going to say. Skin cells exfoliate on your head just like everywhere else, but they hang around more because hair is in the way of them falling off. It's likely that dead skin cells are comprising most of the volume of what you are finding. It has to be cleaned off somehow or bacteria will eat those too.
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    ohh i love brown sugar scrubs! i always feel so 'clean' afterwards and my hair loves it too!
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