The scalp is skin, and it too needs to be treated with the right ingredients, like vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, and more, to keep it strong and healthy. Research shows that the scalp ages 20 percent faster than the skin, and perhaps we are unknowingly aging our scalps since most of us follow what we know: wash the scalp and hydrate the ends. With a rising trend in skinification of the scalp and hair (hair and scalp care routines that mimic more of a morning and nighttime skincare regimen), more and more brands are incorporating popular skincare ingredients commonly found in topical products used on the face into products for the scalp. We asked experts what is the best for our scalps.
Is the scalp having a moment?
There is more focus on the scalp than ever before. If you just wash the scalp and hydrate the ends, it completely strips the scalp of all its natural oils and leaves it dry and depleted, says hairstylist and owner of House of Dear Hair Salon and House of Dear Clean Beauty Collection, Holly Dear.
Plus studies show that the current condition of the scalp influences hair growth. To grow long, healthy hair that’s resistant to the age-related changes we all face, it all starts with the scalp. But suppose the scalp faces issues like inflammation, poor circulation, a buildup of dead skin cells, and even clogged follicles. In that case, it can’t stay pliable and create an environment conducive to healthy hair growth. Dealing with scalp issues and hair loss is no longer taboo like in the past.
How actives work
With a rising trend in skinification of the scalp and hair (hair and scalp care routines that mimic more of a morning and nighttime skincare regimen), more and more brands are incorporating popular skincare ingredients commonly found in topical products used on the face into products for the scalp. “What will work for your skin will most often work for your scalp as far as decreasing inflammation, increasing exfoliation, and building collagen,” says William Gaunitz, FWTS, certified trichologist and founder of Advanced Trichology.
The scalp is thick skin that acts as a protective covering for the skeleton and serves as the network of health for the hair. Just like the skin on our faces and bodies, the scalp needs specific vitamins, nutrients, and other actives to function optimally. “The scalp is analogous to the soil in growing plants and crops,” says Dr. William Yates, a board-certified hair transplant surgeon. “The nutrients, blood supply, and factors all interact in the scalp to nourish the hair follicle to allow for maximum hair growth,” he adds. If the scalp isn’t taken care of with the proper active ingredients, it becomes imbalanced and inflamed. “When this happens, it results in a lack of nutrients, which are necessary for healthy hair growth.”
Certain active ingredients commonly used in skincare products, like hyaluronic acid, tea tree oil, rosemary oil, and castor oil, “can encourage a balanced scalp microbiome, decrease inflammation, and increase collagen for a positive influence on encouraging healthy hair,” says Gaunitz.
Best for: Dry scalps
Why it’s beneficial: According to trichologist at Colour Collective Kerry Yates, there are several benefits of using hyaluronic acid on the scalp. Hyaluronic acid is a potent moisturizer for the scalp since it helps to lock in hydration — even on the outer cuticles of the hair, so it’s soft, bouncy, and shiny. “When applied topically, humectants draw moisture back into the area, trapping it and rehydrating the skin,” she says. Maintaining a healthy balance of moisture on the scalp supports proper follicle fitness and helps keep each strand supple and smooth. Another benefit that is unbeknownst to many is that “it also assists in keeping dandruff at bay,” adds Yates. “The ingredient is perfect for all hair types, but usage should vary based on texture.” For example, fine and straight hair should limit using hyaluronic acid-based products to once a week or bi-weekly to prevent hair that looks flat to the head. “Sebum production mixed with overuse of hyaluronic acid can weigh hair down,” she explains. On the other hand, medium and coarse hair can use it as much as desired since moisture always sits at the top of the list.
Best for: An inflamed scalp
Why it’s beneficial: Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3, and the B vitamins are some of the most beneficial ones for the scalp and hair. Yates says niacinamide also makes for an excellent support ingredient for those that suffer from oily scalps. And it also helps to balance hydration for the skin and hair. The powerhouse ingredient also works wonders to boost circulation — proper, healthy circulation is related to improved hair growth (stat).
For the skin, niacinamide ranks as a do-it-all ingredient that brightens, calms problematic complexions, and strengthens the skin barrier — and does all of that for the scalp, too, albeit the brightening properties need not apply. Its anti-inflammatory properties are most beneficial since healthy hair growth and a non-inflamed scalp goes hand and hand.
Best for: Itchy scalps and increasing blood circulation
Why it’s beneficial: A natural antioxidant, Yates says vitamin C can provide a bit of comfort and relief for dry, itchy scalp sufferers. However, the challenge with vitamin C is often its potency level. “When incorporating it within a formula at the time of production, this can negatively impact the ingredient efficacy,” she says. “As a result, pre-blended products do not necessarily achieve the full benefits vitamin C deliver, which is why this ingredient is featured more as a marketing gimmick versus providing any real benefits within a hair serum.”
Best for: Exfoliating the scalp
Why it’s beneficial: Glycolic acid is known for its ability to gently lift away dead skin cells that can clog the hair follicle. Yates explains that this natural alpha hydroxy acid is often found in various specialty scalp treatments to help alleviate dandruff flakes. Since glycolic acid isn’t’ a physical exfoliator (like a scrub), you can use it as often as you need without concern for irritation.
Best for: Comforting dry and oily scalps while lending a dose of moisture
Why it’s beneficial: Nutrient- and vitamin-rich goat milk is like a shot of wheatgrass for the scalp — it intensely nourishes it and makes it strong, healthy, and resistant to damage. In addition, Dear says that its ability to hydrate the scalp and hair makes both less prone to dryness. It’s also beneficial to oily scalps since it’s practical yet lightweight and doesn’t weigh down the hair. “Goat milk purportedly feeds the scalp and is a great conditioning agent to keep it pliable while helping to alleviate any dryness,” adds Yates.
Best for: Defending against environmental damage and moisturizing
Why it’s beneficial: According to Dr. Yates, vitamin E is a well-known oil with antioxidant properties absorbed proportionately by the scalp to fight oxidative stress within the hair follicle. “This allows the damaged hair follicle to proliferate,” he says. Like in topical skincare, the vitamin provides many benefits to the scalp, including free radical protection, reducing UV damage, minimizing the signs of an aging scalp (which usually equates to dryness and stunted hair growth) hydration.
Best for: Anti-aging benefits
Why it’s beneficial: Yes, super-luxe caviar may be on the pricey side when you indulge in it at Sunday brunch or in your favorite skincare products, but Dear says it’s super helpful in strengthening the hair follicle and protecting against the breakdown of collagen. In addition, caviar extract is a good source of both vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which nourish the scalp and, in turn, the hair. Plus, using products rich in caviar will help provide a layer of defense against UV-induced hair damage.
Best for: Hydrating a dry scalp
Why it’s beneficial: Aloe vera is recognized as a super moisturizing agent that is also highly nourishing to the scalp. “It’s a great ingredient for the scalp and carries antioxidants, which helps with the overall health of the scalp while calming inflammation,” Dear says.
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