My mother has always told me that I had very bad “cradle cap” as an infant. This extensive peeling of skin from the scalp is not uncommon in newborns and eventually subsided. Later on, I had terrible dandruff and have always wondered if these were related. To be sure, the dandruff was no doubt related to the high-stress environment of living in a family controlled by a paranoid-schizophrenic (my dad) and possibly the poor bathing I was taught at the time. (As a young child and teenager, I never had a bath more often than once a week, on Saturday night.) I am sure that, by the time I was in High School, I was clinically depressed, which didn’t help the stress or the dandruff situation.
However, the dandruff was obvious, more obvious than the depression, so my mother and her mother (my grandmother) determined to do something about it. During my Junior High School years (now called Middle School), I was sent to Henrietta Keating. She was the family “hair specialist” and had worked with five generations of my family. (I was the 5th and last generation to visit her.)
At the outset, there was some conversation within the family about how old Henrietta was. Nobody, including my grandmother, knew when she was born. This is the kind of problem that I relished, even then. I simply asked her on one visit how old she was when she began working. The answer was 16. On the next visit, I ask what year she had begun working. The answer was 1910. So it was a simple matter to calculate that she was born in the year 1894, and was four years younger than my grandmother.
When Henrietta looked at my scalp, and my dandruff problem, she instantly knew what to do. She would take this viscous material, which she called “pomade”, and rub it into my scalp. Even though she was around 71 at the time, her fingers were like iron. She would dab a small amount on one of her iron fingers are rub it vigorously into my scap.
There were really only two problems with this solution. First was the fact that it smelled like coal tar (and most likely was coal tar). The second problem was that, after application, I was required not to wash my hair for 24 hours. If my visit to her office in the 450 Sutter Building was in the middle of the week, this meant I would go to school for one day smelling like coal tar with very greasy hair, not a great help to someone already depressed with low self-esteem. I tried to get those appointments on a Friday, so that I could spend a quiet day in my room on the weekend until I could wash my hair.
Henrietta never explained what she was doing or why, but only recently have I come up with a theory. The photo below shows a human hair mite. (Demodex folliculorum.) These microscopic creatues live in human hair follicles, as can be seen in the picture. They eat dead skin and oil. There is a theory that they are the main cause of dandruff
There are two ways to kill (i.e. control) these mites. One is to use a shampoo which is toxic to them. One of the most effective toxins is zinc. And every dandruff shampoo has some kind of zinc compound (such as pyrithione zinc) to control these mites. The other way to kill or control them is to cover them with a substance through which they cannot breathe. Leaving it on for 24-hours assures maximum efficacy. Hence my theory of Henrietta’s “pomade” and what it was intended to do.
However, you also pick up hair mites from bedding, towels and furniture. So being free of them is probably impossible. The other amazing thing I have leared about hair mites is that they only live for 15-20 days. The reason is they have no anus, and so collect waste products in their bodies from eating our dead skin until they die of ‘blood poisoning’. In the meanwhile, they eat, they reproduce and lay thousands of eggs deep in our pores (to avoid having them washed away).
While the “pomade” might have been temporarily effective, Henrietta soon retired and my dandruff continued. I washed my hair every Saturday night. (Washing hair in a bathtub is one complicated affair.) My mother only bought Breck shampoo, one of the major brands. It came in three formulas, dry, oily or normal, depending on your scalp and hair. I tried all three and none had any effect on my dandruff. I stared at the three bottles D-O-N, wondering if some magic combination might help the situation.
And then one day, as I went grocery shopping with my mother, I saw Breck had brought out a new shampoo, Breck One, a dandruff shampoo. Since it was part of the Breck line, she couldn’t say ‘no’. To say this transformed my life is an understatement. My dandruff was immediately a thing of the past. And when Breck was acquired in 1963, I simply moved to Head & Shoulders where I am to this very day. With no hint of dandruff, I even take Head & Shoulders shampoo with me when I travel around the world.
Recently, my skin doctor, Michael Burns, advised me to buy Selsyn Blue, another dandruff shampoo, and to occasionally use it. Selsyn Blue contains another active ingredient besides zinc and this is selynium, as indicated by the product name. Both zinc and selynium are toxic to hair mites, and these metals also reduce inflammation of the scalp, another reason for dandruff.
I began buying large bottles (40 oz.) of Head & Shoulders from Cosco. One day I noticed the bottle I had bought said 2-for-1. It didn’t take me long to figure out that they had mixed the expensive pyrithione zinc with hair conditioner, thus dramatically increasing their profit margin. I remember seeing customers at Costco with shopping carts filled with “Classic Clean” Head & Shoulders (the original formula). I should have been one of them. Now, when I go to Costco, they have palats full of 2-in-1 and not a single bottle of :classic clean” anywhere to be found.
I contacted Head & Shoulder (phone number on the bottle) and asked them about “Classic Clean”, the original formula. They insisted it should be easy to find. In fact, they said there were two stores in my area that should carry it. One turned out to be in San Leandro (and hour trip from San Francisco). The other was in an iffy part of town, but I drove there anyway. Walking in, I found a huge display of Head & Shoulders products, with space for easily 500 bottles. It contains maybe five bottles, none of them Classic Clean. So I gave up on brick and mortar stores and started buying it online. First I bought a half-dozen of the 40 ounces bottles. But the next time, I was told that this size was “no longer available” and I was down to 33 ounce bottles. I fully expect there to be no more ‘regular’ Head & Shoulders and may have to switch, permanently, to Selsyn Blue. That will be a sad day.