Skincare routines have officially become the stuff of obsession — you can spend hours falling down the internet rabbit hole of natural products, cutting-edge skin science and 15-step skincare routines. But no matter how packed your medicine cabinet is with serums, moisturizers and every variety of face oils, there is one major area of your skin you are likely neglecting: your scalp.
“A healthy scalp is as important for healthy hair as healthy gums are for healthy teeth,” says David Kingsley, Ph.D., a board-certified trichologist (aka a scalp care specialist) and member of the World Trichology Society.
“A healthy scalp is as important for healthy hair as healthy gums are
for healthy teeth.”
Just like the skin on your face, neglecting your scalp can have unwanted consequences — think dandruff, clogged pores and infections. “This can have a very big impact on the hair follicle,” says Penny James, founder of Penny James Salon and a member of the International Association of Trichology. “It can become clogged and this can cause hair loss. [Aside from that], your hair will start to look limp, may be clumpy and dull-looking,” she says.
Preventing these sad scalp effects is not just about making sure you wash your hair regularly. “There are many things that can cause scalp problems: Stress levels, diet, beauty routine,” James explains. Even the sun. “Just like your facial skin, your scalp needs protection from harmful UV rays,” says Kerry Yates, a trichologist and founder of Colour Collective. “Women especially will experience some level of burning — especially on the part-line. This leads to inflammation and follicle challenges.”
So how can you avoid scalp issues? Showing your scalp some extra love isn’t complicated, according to the trichology experts.
It starts with using scalp friendly products daily, such as the right shampoo and conditioner for your specific scalp and hair conditions or soothing leave-on treatments like the Oribe one. “If you know you are prone to dandruff, using a salicylic acid-based shampoo is helpful to stop the redness and itchiness,” James explains. If your scalp is dry, look for products that “add moisture, suppleness and nourishment to the scalp and hair,” she says. For scalps that tend to get oily quickly (or if you notice blocked hair follicles, similar to blackheads), Yates recommends using a clarifying shampoo to massage the scalp “for a full five minutes” in the shower.
On top of your daily care, there are a lot of scalp “detox” products out there, which can be useful to add to your weekly routine like Sunday Riley’s Clean Rinse Clarifying Scalp Serum. James recommends doing a scalp detox treatment twice a week if you are having scalp issues (if not, you can roll it back to once a month) “to help with the balance of nutrients, hygiene, repairing damaged skin tissue, and in restoring needed moisture on the scalp,” she says.
Just don’t go overboard with harsh “detoxification” ingredients like charcoals, adds Yates — even some natural exfoliants like sugar scrubs can be too harsh if you have sensitive skin. “Just like your facial skin your scalp can be quite sensitive,” she says. “Harsh ingredients can strip the scalp of its natural oils and good bacteria and leave it quite irritated.” A good rule of thumb: if you tend to stay away from harsh skincare products, use caution around harsh scalp-care products as well. Once your scalp is in balance (meaning you are keeping up with a regular scalp routine), James recommends using treatments with a blend of extracts from two types of algae and other botanical growth-stimulating ingredients. ”It’s used to heal, repair and regenerate scalp tissue.”
Finally, beware of dry shampoo, which is a recipe for clogged hair follicles. “If you use dry shampoo to stop your hair from looking oily, make sure you are still washing your hair at least four times per week to stop the powder build-up on the scalp,” James says.
So, when your scalp needs a little extra TLC (like when you’re in the midst of a days’ long affair with that bottle of dry shampoo), trichologists recommend some specific scalp-care products. Here are some of their favorites designed to troubleshoot your trickiest scalp issues.
1. Instant Scalp Soother
“To prevent your scalp from getting ‘tight,’ try using a soft brush to help stimulate and gently massage the scalp,” Yates says. She loves the hand-crafted natural bristle brushes from Raincry. “The flexible cushion of natural bristles gently massages the scalp and move the scalp’s natural oils from the roots to the mid-lengths and ends.” Just don’t brush too hard, she says. “Think gentle sweeps vs. rough and aggressive.”
2. Exfoliating Scalp Mask
When it’s time for a scalp treatment mask, “I recommend using a scalp mask such as British Science Formulations Scalp Mask, a trichology scalp treatment that helps exfoliate the scalp, removes any follicle clogging, and feels refreshing for the scalp,” Kingsley says.
3. Dandruff Soother
For full on dandruff, the pros reach for a scalp toner in addition to an anti-dandruff shampoo. “I like Philip Kingsley’s Flaky Itchy Scalp Toner. “The leave-in anti-microbial solution mixed with aloe vera instantly treats and soothes an itchy, irritated scalp,” she says.
4. Leave-in Moisture Booster
“We are coming onto the winter season, which means drier climates and drier scalps,” Yates says. To keep your scalp in balance, she loves Living Proof Restore Dry Scalp Treatment, which is infused with hyaluronic acid. “This super hydrating scalp treatment reverses the effects of a dry, itchy scalp after a few uses,” Yates says.
5. Scalp Sun Protector
As Yates pointed out, UV damage can aggravate your scalp — just like you protect your face, be sure to protect the skin on your scalp as well. Yates recommends Coola Organic SPF 30 Scalp and Hair Mist.
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Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publication in December 2018.