When it comes to beauty trends, many of our favorites come from Japan, where everyone is one step ahead of the curve on all things skin and hair care. Case in point: The head spa trend combines the two, putting scalp care at the forefront of the hair treatment to achieve strong and healthy locks.
Similar to a facial, a head spa is an individualized multi-step process that deeply cleanses, nourishes and treats the scalp. “Scalps are often neglected in standard hair care routines, but in terms of hair health, scalp care is just as important as, for example, care for the skin of your face,” says Dr. Dominic Burg, chief scientist hair biologist, microbiologist and trichologist for évolis Professional. “Our scalps are often abused with styling heat, clogged with dry shampoo and smothered with silicones [from hair product formulas]. It is quite important to address styling-induced scalp issues and for clogging substances [such as silicones] to be removed on a regular basis, allowing the scalp and follicular pores to breathe,” he adds.
Scalps are often neglected in standard hair care routines.
Head Spa Treatment
“The head spa is a professional technology that is aimed at scalp care, elevating a standard salon treatment above treating the hair fiber alone,” explains Burg. “There are multiple types of head spas and correspondingly different types of treatments, all aimed at ensuring the scalp is cleansed and then treated to improve scalp and hair health.”
While treatment can vary depending on the individual and the salon, it typically consists of gentle steam coupled with a massage and exfoliation to promote rejuvenation and loosen up dead skin buildup. Following the initial steps, a suction-based deep cleanse helps amp up the detox and deep cleansing efforts. In some treatments, a “micro-mist of activator to treat the scalp with [a] botanical blend” is also applied, notes Burg.
Much like going to the salon for regular haircuts and color application, a scalp cleansing treatment is something that might require multiple visits, depending on an individual’s scalp health and the progress made during the treatment. That said, Burg says they can typically “be performed with your regular salon or spa visits, about once a month,” noting that it all depends on your scalp type. “If you have an oily or scaly scalp type, then a more regular cleanse may be useful,” says Burg. “On the other hand, if you have a scalp that is not prone to flakiness or sebum residue build-up, then you may not need treatments at such regular intervals.”
Benefits of a Japanese Scalp Treatment
“Some people produce sticky sebum — the natural wax that is produced by a small gland at the base of each hair shaft [which] gives our hair its natural lubrication and shine — this can be quite thick and sticky, blocking pores,” says Burg. In addition to sticky sebum, an individual might experience a flaky scalp, too.
But the star of the head spa show is exfoliation, as it can help remove an excess buildup of dead skin cells on the scalp, which “can get stuck around the base of the hair shaft, clogging follicular pores, promot[ing] irritation, and harbor[ing] the microorganisms that produce byproducts that promote conditions such as dandruff,” notes Burg. “Gentle exfoliation with a head spa treatment can help remove the buildup of the dead skin cells, sebum and residue such as dry shampoo, improving the overall scalp environment.”
Massage is another key factor as it is “useful in promoting the movement and generation of growth factors around your scalp,” says Burg. “The scalp and follicle environment contains a variety of different growth factors and cell types that diffuse through the tissue and influence follicles as part of normal hair cycling. Massaging can promote an even distribution of these factors, which is important for overall hair health,” he adds. Massaging the scalp is beneficial in two ways. To state the obvious, it is very relaxing, which can help calm the nervous system and reduce stress to promote healthier hair. Secondly, it promotes circulation in the scalp which can stimulate the hair follicles, improving hair health and possibly stimulating growth.
And speaking of hair growth, Burg says regular treatments might help promote healthy scalp conditions and, in turn, help promote hair growth. “If scalp buildup and inflammation is a problem that is exacerbating hair cycle dysfunction, then helping remove that issue may be helpful,” he notes, adding that an occasional head spa treatment is “unlikely to help with hair loss on its own.” To promote hair growth, Burg says other at-home treatments, such as the évolis activator, which uses a powerful botanical blend to stimulate the scalp, will be required.
At-Home Head Spa Treatments
If you can’t make it to the salon for regular head spa treatments, Burg says there are some ways to prolong the effects of the treatment at home. “While no at-home treatment can be as effective as a full head spa treatment, several things such as regular at-home massage and gentle scalp cleansing to remove the buildup of skin cells, sebum and dry shampoo [or other root-focused products] are important for maintaining scalp health,” he explains.
When performing at-home head spa treatments, “It is important not to use too much pressure [while massaging], as this can prematurely dislodge resting hair follicles,” says Burg. Additionally, you will want to choose a cleanser (aka, shampoo) that is gentle and sulfate-free to avoid irritation. You should also stay away from harsh scrubs, as “some scrubs contain harsh detergents and others contain small particles,” explains Burg. “These can actually set up inflammation in the scalp that is not great for scalp and follicle health,” he adds. If you are looking for a scalp scrub that is gentle yet effective, the Caffeinated Scalp Scrub from Frank Body is an excellent choice as it contains all-natural ingredients such as green coffee, eucalyptus, rosemary and peppermint, to stimulate the scalp without excessive scrubbing and irritation. Or you can try Clean Rinse from Sunday Riley. This serum is AHA/BHA-infused and perfect to clarify the scalp of product buildup, excess oil, dead skin, and pollution for a cleaner, healthier-looking scalp and refreshed hair.
To up the ante on your at-home head spa efforts, Burg also recommends adding a scalp and follicle treatment such as the évolis Professional activators which “are gently massaged into the scalp daily, where they target the hair growth cycle, ensuring a long growth phase.” The formula features botanical antioxidants and anti-inflammatory extracts that “support optimum scalp health, remove damaging free radicals, and provide essential vitamins such as C and E [to your scalp and roots].”
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Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publication in August 2019.