American Beauty is a series written by an American beauty writer temporarily marooned in Japan, where it snows all year round if you’ve got the right yeast imbalance.

Did I tell you I started seeing somebody? He’s sweet, a great cook, and ripped in a terrifying and Spartan kind of way. His love languages are making me delicious food and commenting neutrally on my weight gain, like he is my very jacked grandmother. I don’t think this is so much a Japanese cultural thing as it is very much an American cultural thing to avoid the topic of weight by any means necessary. Something something billion-dollar wellness economy – let’s talk about it in another blog or never again.

The point is that I give him a lot of material to work with. Let’s start at the top: A few weeks after arriving to Japan, and a few months before we started dating, I began to experience an apocalyptic bout of dandruff.

Historically speaking, dandruff has not been a great concern of mine, mostly because it has been the goal of my life to eliminate the calculus of hair care altogether. If my hair grows, so does a maladaptive fixation with it—this is just the sort of guy I am (Leo Rising). I had hoped that by maintaining a buzz cut, I could free myself to worry about other things, like my clothes and scent. Then, over a matter of days, it got out of control. How do I explain it without making you want to plunge your face through your computer screen? I had to sweep my floors every day.

Why the sudden flurries? The current research regarding immigration’s effect on scalp health is limited. Online forums suggest that this has to do with a sudden change in diet, and Vogue India gestures vaguely at humidity, but the issue persisted. On Reddit’s recommendation, I bought REDACTED dandruff shampoo that did nothing! It was my lover who suggested, with all of the confidence of his advanced age, that it was related to stress, and this seems to bear true: Apparently, the stress of moving to a new archipelago nation can cause an immune response that worsens situations like eczema and dandruff. (PopSugar helpfully suggests “tuning out social media.”)

I believe that stress can manifest in many horrifying biological ways. I am also a little exhausted by how much it is used as an X-factor symptom in everything from scalp flakes to gastrointestinal health. Here we have an untenable feedback loop: An ouroboros created by a particular event, or a stomach virus, or a reaction to a moisturizer that is allowed to eat its own ass to infinity. Permanent inflammation cascade. Should I take a nap, or tune out social media?

Before dinner one night, we went to a surgically-lit drug store beneath a train station in east Osaka looking for the strongest moisture-related marketing copy available, and ended up with a set called Curél Intensive Moisture Care — the shampoo has a thin jelly consistency, the conditioner creamier, and both serenely free of fragrance. Curél, an American cosmeceutical brand from the 70s, sold to a Japanese beauty conglomerate in the 90s, who infused the product range with a new shelf life and several technologies for moisturization. This sort of market necromancy is a well-documented phenomenon, and is why you can shop at Tower Records, Dean and Deluca, and Barneys New York stores across Japan. Anyway, my scalp began to drink up the ceramides et al.l, and along with daily vigorous scalp massage, the dandruff situation got marginally better.

It costs about 15 bucks at my local barber for a scalp cleanse, where they boar bristle brush my head like a dog and then let me nap under a hot towel for a handful of minutes. My heart rate slows to the pace of a waltz. After a cleanse, my dandruff abates for a few days before it comes back. It always comes back. But such is life, so full of stress and suffering, but also full of naps under hot towels. Sweet relief, if only for a little.


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