I’ve been trying to hide my seborrheic dermatitis, an irritating skin condition that can affect your face and scalp, for about six years. It started to flare up during my senior year of college, after I’d come down from lots of too-strong antibiotics to treat my acne, resulting in an explosion of pimples and patches of eczema that wreaked havoc across my face. My seborrheic dermatitis is most noticeable on my temples and my hairline, where large, scaly patches of loose skin get caught in my hair. I constantly pick at this area of my scalp, especially when it gets so bad that I have to run to the bathroom midday to comb out scales I can’t grasp with my fingers. When my dermatologist recommended I try a ketoconazole shampoo for the flakes, I was awash with relief. Although the prescription-only shampoo does help most of the time, my dermatitis sometimes creeps up on me whenever the seasons change. So I decided to visit a trichologist, or a doctor who specializes in hair and scalp issues.
When I was offered a consultation and scalp treatment at the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic in NYC, I ran there as fast as my little legs could. My consultation began in Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips’ office, a trichologist with Philip Kingsley. Cunnane-Phillips explains to me the consultation process and how all the treatments at Philip Kingsley are different, since no one’s scalp is the same. Patients at Philip Kingsley often come in with hair loss or scalp discomfort issues, and many end up getting blood work done to catch any vitamin deficiencies that might be contributing to their hair and scalp problems. Cunnane-Phillips asks every patient about their lifestyle, and how much sleep they’re getting or stress their enduring on a day-to-day basis, as both can contribute to hair loss. She tells me that since my issue is dermatitis-related, it can be treated more quickly than someone suffering from hair loss, which might take longer to treat.
Once Cunnane-Phillips gave me the run-through, she took out her magnifying glass and ran a comb along my scalp to explain the damage. “Yep, you definitely have seborrheic dermatitis,” she told me, “but I think this can be treated with our scalp treatment and the products we’ll send you home with afterward.”
Next, she led me to a room that looked like a salon, but there were no hot tools in sight — only mirrors, salon chairs, and hair-washing basins. Stephen Pullan, a consultant trichologist at Philip Kingsley, went right to work on my scalp, explaining what I was about to embark on while he draped a black cape over my shoulders.
Pullan started by applying a thick, white cream to my dry scalp. “The mask we applied assisted in removing the dead skin cells that were building up and adhering to your scalp, helping to exfoliate and moisturize,” Cunnane-Phillips later tells me. “Formulated with anti-fungal piroctone olamine, exfoliating salicylic acid, and antioxidant-rich green tea extract, [the ingredients] all aimed at creating the optimal scalp environment to keep the scalp clear and healthy, which are all necessary for a healthy growth cycle.”
I'll admit I looked pretty funny with my scalp mask, but I trusted Pullan and the process. He continued with the treatment, wrapping my mane up in a bun with a hair claw clip and having me sit under a steamer to help open up my scalp’s pores and let the mask penetrate deeper.
After about 10 to 15 minutes, Pullan moved my hair out of the steamer, removed the claw, and started to apply an elasticizer to the rest of my locks. Then, he put my head under a heated lamp. “The infra-red heat lamps, in combination with the scalp massage, assist with the absorption of the therapeutic mask to the scalp, and the elasticizer to the hair,” explains Cunnane-Phillips.
Pullan worked his magical fingers along my scalp, giving me the most thorough scalp massage I’ve ever had. The heavenly experience continued at the washing basin, when my scalp was massaged again with shampoo and conditioner. After the wash, Pullan and his assistant parted my hair and claimed which side of my head they wanted to untangle. Two people tending to my hair? I’d reached celebrity status.
The finale arrived when Pullan brought out a few hairbrushes and a blow dryer, placing them delicately on the shelf in front of my mirror. Rather than Pullan or his assistant offering a blowout, I was instructed to dry my own hair, and I was left pretty impressed with my own work. I was shocked by how soft my hair felt post-treatment, and was relieved when Liz handed me multiple Philip Kingsley products to use once I got home. “These will help prolong the treatment and continue toward a healthy scalp,” she tells me with a smile.
They sent me home with about a million products, but the most important included a cleansing shampoo, a moisturizing shampoo, a moisturizing conditioner, a Flaky Scalp Toner ($15, philipkingsley.com) and the Elasticizer ($28, philipkingsley.com). I was instructed to change out the two shampoos every other day and to use the moisturizing conditioner every day as well. The Flaky Scalp Toner was to be used multiple times a week on a freshly washed, damp scalp, and the Elasticizer could be used as a pre-wash hair mask when needed.
After stepping out of the clinic, I went on with my day of deskside appointments, beauty events, and dinner with a publicist — this was the day I received the most compliments on my hair that I’ve ever gotten. It left me in shock, especially considering I was the one who blow-dried my own hair. Since that day, I haven’t strayed away from using the various products Cunnane-Phillips prescribed me, but I’ve yet to be complimented as thoroughly... I think I’ll have to go back for another stellar scalp treatment with Pullan.
Four weeks post-treatment, and after regularly using my prescribed Philip Kingsley products, my seborrheic dermatitis was nowhere to be found. In fact, I actually forgot about it until I sat down to write this piece. The real test will be whether my continued use of the products prevents the dermatitis from creeping up again once the weather gets cooler and the season starts to change again.
My appointment at the Philip Kingsley Trichological Clinic made me realize just how much we actually neglect our scalp, and how I want to invest more time and money into treating my scalp with more care and specialized treatments in the future. Not only was my experience a delight, but it also felt like I walked away from a relaxing facial or massage — I was thoroughly zenned out and at ease for the rest of the day. You know, I think Pullan really might have that magical touch.