Hair and skin have a “skin.” It’s called the mantle, and it’s made of oils the body excretes. It protects against the elements, slowing the erosion of skin and hair. The body constantly works to rebuild it. Some of us have strong oil production, others maybe not so much. In its absence, we are susceptible to faster erosion, sun damage, and hair color fade (natural color and artificial). Sulfates and alkaline detergents strip the mantle. It is important to wash our hair for a variety of health issues, but too often can have a negative impact as well. When dried out, our individual bodies respond, but not all the same. Some of us over-produce oil, which looks greasy, feels heavy, can be itchy, and/or can present with flaking. Some of us under-produce, which can also result in itchiness and flakiness. Some of us don’t have issues at all, like the mantle is self-adjusting.
“Skin types” are often thought of as oily, normal or combination, and dry.
“Oily.” What does that mean? Products notoriously label oil-free formulas for “oily” skin. The logic seems simple: don’t add oil to oil. But oils are hugely beneficial to the skin, scalp, and hair, and they can help the mantle find balance so it stops over-producing oil, builds on under-produced mantles, or can nourish and/or tone the skin, scalp, and hair (see Oil Theory). If the oiliness is the body’s response to being too dry already, then the mindset of avoiding oils could be exacerbating the problem. In other words, if a person is oily because they are dry, then they really belong in the dry category.
“Dry” is dry. Products for dry skin can stabilize oiliness or reinforce a weak mantle if it has oils.
Normal/combination skin is the gray area. The reality is, there are a lot of skin types. Our bodies respond to external forces in different ways, and on top of that, there are our individual preferences as to what we like to see and feel when it comes to our skin, scalp, and hair. Many products talk about balance like it’s a destination, but we are ever-changing creatures on an ever-changing planet. Balance must have to do with more than some ideal condition.
Generally, discomfort is how our bodies tell us something needs to be addressed. In regards to the mantle, sustainable comfort appears to be a solid goal. If so, balance is not a destination, but our response, how we adjust to suit the body when we experience discomfort. Experimenting with shampoos (see Shampoo), shampooing less frequently, and/or adding oils to a daily or so regimen should elicit a response. The general rule of thumb as to how long it can take the mantle to adjust to a change seems to stand at two weeks. Seeking medical evaluation might be necessary if symptoms are more than uncomfortable or if symptoms persist regardless any changes.
Endeavoring to create a balance with the mantle can take time, and it can be frustrating. Body changes, climate changes, medications, diet and fluid intake variations can all work against our efforts. Even the waiting period for the mantle to adjust can be discouraging. It’s like getting to know a co-worker, whether they’re likable or not. Either way, we have to work with them.