Common hair and skin problems and how to treat them



Your skin and hair are two vital aspect of your physical body that protect your body from harsh elements in the external environment. They also signal features of your health and wellbeing. As both are vulnerable to a large number of outside elements, the need to invest time in taking good care of them cannot be exaggerated.

This article highlights common hair and skin problems in the African population and their treatment. It also offers some tips for maintaining a flawless and healthy skin and hair.



Common hair and skin problems

Over the years, hair and skin problems have grown exponentially. As per the American Academy of Dermatology's reports and additional statistics, nearly 47.6% of African-American women reported hair loss due to repeated styling practices that increase the risk of traction alopecia and are also prevalent in Africa (for example, braiding, weaving and chemical relaxing). 

In African countries as well as worldwide, many individuals report affliction with one or more common hair and skin issues in their lifespan. These issues might seem harmless, but can impact health and wellbeing in the long term.


Basic hair and skin problems and ways to treat them

  1. Dandruff
  2. Hair loss
  3. Oily and greasy hair 
  4. Acne
  5. Eczema




Dandruff is a common and oftentimes embarrassing condition in both men and women that causes flakes to appear on the skin. It is often accompanied by itching. Although its actual cause is unknown, dandruff can develop because of various factors like fungal infection environmental pollution, lack of fresh air, undue stress and use of inappropriate hair products. 


The best way to cure chronic and severe dandruff is by consulting your doctor so as to get the right advice and treatment. 

Mild dandruff can be treated with home-remedies including daily washing and brushing of hair with good quality shampoo and conditioners until the condition is under control. After this, shampoo use may be less frequent. The use of vinegar to kill simple dandruff-causing yeasts, and use of warm coconut or olive oil to rub down the scalp in order to moisten it are also helpful. Additional home remedies for dandruff include, managing stress and regular exposure of hair and scalp to some sunlight. 



Tip: Use of mild shampoo with conditioner commonly available in pharmacies offers best results. These off-the-shelf anti-dandruff or anti-fungal shampoos contain one or more of the following ingredients; ketaconazole (an anti-fungal medication), Selenium sulfide (inhibits production of natural oils in scalp glands), Zinc pyrithione (inhibits yeast growth), Coal tar (a natural anti-fungal product in Tar soap), Salicylic acids (helps to get rid of skin cells).



Hair loss

Hair loss occurs commonly in men. It may be age related or caused by other factors. Female hair loss or baldness is less common but does occur. Female hair loss mostly occurs because of hormonal change, stress, and menopause. Certain repeated hair styling practices like braiding, weaving and chemical relaxing also contribute to hair loss in women.

A very common disorder associated with hair loss in black women is a condition referred to as Central Centrifugal Cicatricial Alopecia (CCCA). This is a disorder in which destruction of hair follicles cause scarring and permanent hair loss.

Treatment: You can regularly use castor, olive, and pure coconut oil to keep your scalp moisturized at all times. In case you plan to use a hair styling product, thoroughly apply a heat protector beforehand to shield your hair from extreme heat. You can also try a hair loss shampoo to clean out the dirt and oil that accumulates within your hair.


Oily and Greasy Hair

An adequate amount of oil is essential for hair but, if the oil glands start producing too much oil, it gets hard. Oily hair often results due to over-productive sebaceous glands and might lead to the production of bad hair odor or in some cases thinning of hair.


For oily hair, wash your hair with cold water and use the mildest shampoo. Be gentle with scrubbing your scalp. 

Additional ways to reduce or cure greasy hair issues, is through dietary management like cutting down on carbohydrates, eggs, nuts, and alcohol. Eating more vegetables, freshly cut fruits and increase water intake.



Acne is the most common skin disorder diagnosed by dermatologists and other healthcare providers worldwide. It mostly affects adolescents within ages 13 - 19 years. The worldwide occurrence of acne is about 9.4%. In adolescents, the rate is 65 - 75%. Adults can also have acne. Although acne is commonly triggered especially in teenagers by hormonal imbalance, it can also occur due to excess production of sebum (a type of oil in the skin glands), presence of dead skin cells or bacteria.

A 2017 study of acne in black South Africans found acne to be the second most common skin disease in the country with higher impact on females. 

 Scarring and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) are the main complications of acne seen in black people. Many patients indeed seek therapy for PIH even after the active lesions have resolved.

The presence of acne, particularly in adolescents, can negatively affect the quality of life, self-esteem and mood. Suicidal ideation has been documented in ~7.1% of affected individuals. Such report strongly supports the importance of early and aggressive treatment of acne especially in tenagers. 


Consult your doctor or a dermatologist for the right diagnosis before undertaking any treatment. Simple acne may be treated with simple home remedies and or medications that do not need a doctor’s prescription (i.e., over the counter medications). More severe and chronic acne may require stronger medications prescribed by your doctor. 


Over the counter treatments

  • Use of face wash: For mild acne, start first with washing your face daily and gently with such over-the-counter products that contain salicylic acid that removes greasy oils and clears the pores. . This does not need a prescription. Acne face washes often contain salicylic acid, which removes oil and clears your pores. 
  • Use of retinoids: Retinoids are a group of topical medicines derived from vitamin A. This medicine affects the way skin cells grow and helps prevent clogged pores.
  • Use of Benzoyl peroxide: This treatment is usually sold in pharmacies in gels or lotions. It unclogs pores, dries out pimples, and kills bacteria. It prevents new acne. Benzoyl peroxide and a retinoid like Adapalene can be used together for initial non-prescription treatment of acne. Results may take between 2 - 3 months to be evident. So give the treatment sometime to take effect before switching to other modes.
  • Use of exfoliating agents: Moisturizing your skin with Aloe Vera, exfoliating regularly and applying antioxidants to the skin can also produce desirable containing of acne. 


Prescription based treatments

  • Use of Tretinoin: This more powerful retinoid is available as a topical cream. It is especially useful for some special types of acne called comedonal acne (clogged pores and blackheads). The cream  sloughs dead skin cells so they don’t stick together and clog your pore openings. 
  • Use of antibiotics: Oral antibiotics like doxycycline and erythromycin may be needed to treat your acne especially when associated with pain, redness and swelling (inflammation).  These antibiotics kill bacteria and contain inflammation. Unregulated and widespread use of antibiotics especially in many African countries for treating acne has raised concerns regarding antibiotics resistance. If indicated, oral antibiotics should only be used at the beginning of treatment, for as short a time as possible, in combination with non-antibiotic topical agents.
  • Use of oral contraceptives: In women, the use of birth control pills containing estrogen and progesterone helps clear skin of acne and may be prescribed by your doctor.
  • Use of other medications: Spironolactone is a blood pressure medication that stops hormones from inducing oily production in the skin of women. It is another drug that may be prescribed with or without  oral contraceptives by your doctor to treat acne. 
  • Use of Isotretinoin: This is another retinoid (i.e. vitamin A related) drug used primarily in the treatment of severe cystic acne (also known as acne vulgaris) and any other acne that is resistant to other treatments. It is also used in the treatment of skin and other cancers. This drug has serious adverse effects. Common ones include transient worsening of acne (lasting 1 - 4 months), anemia, dry lips, dry and fragile skin and increase risk of sunburn. Uncommon adverse effects include muscle aches and pains, headaches, allergic skin reactions and various psychiatric and neurologic problems.

Isotretinoin should not be used to treat acne appearing before puberty and in any case it should not be used for children under 12 years of age.

Since the drug is known to cause birth defects, it is not to be prescribed to pregnant women or women who have the potential to be pregnant while using the drug.




Eczema affects people of all ages from babies, young kids, teenagers and adults. It is three to seven times more common in children than adults. 

It is this response that produces most of the symptoms of eczema. 

Eczema is common in families with a history of asthma and allergic reactions.

The excat cause of eczema is unknown. However, it is thought to be associated with an overactive response of the body's immune response to an irritant.

Some eczema sufferers may have "flare-ups" of itchy rash in response to exposure to certain substances or conditions. For others, coming into contact with rough or coarse materials may cause the skin to become itchy. Yet for others, exposure to animal dander, or extremes of cold or hot conditions or exposure to household products like soaps and detergents may cause an outbreak of itchiness and rash. Upper respiratory infections or the common cold  may also be triggers. Stress may worsen the symptoms of eczema..

The most common signs of eczema include dry, itchy skin with a burning sensation and redness. Often times, a rash appears soon after the itching starts and common sites of appearance of eczema rash  include the face, back of the knees, wrists, hands, or feet. It may also affect other areas as well..In severe cases, the itching in eczema leads to patches of dried yellowish ooze that signals an infection.



If you suspect you suffer from eczema, consult early with your doctor or a dermatologist for comprehensive evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. 

The goals of treatment of eczema are twofold; one is to relieve and prevent itching and second is to treat and prevent infections. Towards these ends, the approaches to the treatment of eczema falls under two broad categories; (i) palliative treatment with use of over-the-counter medications and other support treatments and (ii) specific treatment with prescription medications. 


Over the counter treatments

  • Use of moisturisers: As eczema makes the skin dry and itchy, over the counter moisturising lotions and creams are recommended for use to help moisten the skin. These products are best applied soon after bathing. 
  • Use of steroids: Hydrocortisone1% cream, when applied to the skin in eczema, helps to reduce inflammation. 
  • Use of anti-itch medications: Creams containing antihistamines are helpful in relieving Itching.


Prescription based treatments

  • Use of steroids: Prescription grade corticosteroid creams and lotions may be prescribed by your doctor to contain the inflammation seen in eczema. 
  • Use of antibiotics: Antibiotics are prescribed to treat infection complicating eczema whenever it occurs.
  • Use of phototherapy: Phototherapy (use of ultraviolet light applied to the skin), as well as the use of cyclosporine may help alleviate itching in those eczema sufferers who do not respond to other treatments.
  • Use of topical immunomodulators: Topical immunomodulators are skin creams that work by altering the immune system to prevent eczema flare-ups. The two approved creams in this category are recommended for use in the treatment of mild to moderate eczema in adults and children over age 2 years only when all other eczema treatments have failed. There are concerns that the immunomodulator creams may have cancer risks.


Prevention of Eczema flare-ups

Eczema flare-ups can frequently be avoided or the severity lessened by following these simple tips:

  • Moisturise affected areas of the skin frequently.
  • Avoid sudden changes in temperature or humidity.
  • Avoid warm environment or sweating.
  • Minimise stress.
  • Avoid scratchy materials, such as wool.
  • Avoid the use of harsh soaps, detergents, and solvents.
  • Note and avoid any foods that may cause a flare-up.
  • Humidify the room you sleep in.



Some Additional Tips

Dry hair and skin speak millions about your internal health and how well you take care of them. Follow these 3 basic tips regularly to keep your hair and skin nourished at all times.:


1. Your diet matters

You must ensure that your food contains more vitamins A, C, D, and zinc. These are great antioxidants and act to protect  your hair and skin.

In addition, add the following food items food items to your diet to get the right nutrients:

  • Spinach - rich in Vitamin A, C and Iron
  • Salmon or other varieties of fish that is rich in Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Eggs - rich in Vitamin B and contains enough protein and iron

Tip: Avoid dairy products and wheat as they are inflammatory foods (one that triggers skin diseases).


2. Keep yourself hydrated 

You must keep yourself hydrated at all times to avoid getting dry and itchy skin. The best way to hydrate is by consuming lots of water. You can also try lemon water or fruit infused water for a change.


3. Manage your stress level productively

Stress is one of the most common causes of hair and skin issues in an individual. It triggers acne, psoriasis and multiple other skin related diseases. If you suffer from chronic stress, it’s time you seek help to de-stress.

You may consider meditation and yoga to bring your mind at peace. Also, get yourself more involved in sports and other recreational activities. Spend time with nature and pets to cut down undue stress.  




Maintaining your hair and skin properly contributes to improved self-esteem and radiation of confidence. So, if you want to look the best, start caring for you hair and skin right from today.




1. American Academy of Dermatology. "Survey: Almost half of African-American women have experienced hair loss." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2016. 

2. Zulu, T.P., Mosam, A., Balakrishna, Y., Dlova,N.C.: Acne in South African black adults: A retrospective  study in the private sector. S Afr Med J 2017;107(12):1106-1109.

3. Hanna, S., Sharma, J., and Klotz, J., Acne vulgaris: More than skin deep. Dermatology Online Journal. 2003, 9(3): 8



Published: Nov. 18, 2019

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