In the beauty world, it can be difficult to differentiate between clever marketing and meaningful advances. For example, the past few years have seen a rapid increase in the attention placed on the scalp.
What was once a niche market wholly owned by Head & Shoulders or prescription products — neither of which are very alluring — is now populated by more and more brands selling products designed to create and maintain a healthy scalp. And more and more salons and spas are offering scalp treatments for a myriad of reasons.
But unlike their predecessors, these new scalp products (masks, toners, even scrubs) and services are meant for everyone, not just those who have a problem to correct. Translation: Dandruff isn’t the only reason to give your scalp a little TLC.
But do we really need to think about the skin that’s hidden by our hair? Or is it just one more thing to buy for no reason? We posed this question to two different trichologists (experts who specialize in the hair and scalp) and learned that there are many benefits to a weekly — or even monthly — scalp-care routine. Think: more voluminous hair, less bumps or pimples, more shine, and, in some cases, even faster-growing hair!
Ahead, our doctors break down six common issues that can be corrected and controlled just by adding scalp care to your beauty routine.
Issue: Excess Oil: Skip a day between shampoos? Yeah, right — you can barely go a single day without greasy locks.
Solution: Having excess oil on your scalp can be a drag, but it can often be controlled with scalp care. “Apply a scalp toner containing astringent, such as witch hazel, to your scalp each morning,” Anabel Kingsley, a trichology expert at Philip Kingsley Clinic, told us. “If you’re shampooing less than every other day, shampoo more. If you have fine hair, shampoo daily.” She also notes that products containing zinc can also help, as it can regulate sebum production.
Applying an exfoliating scalp mask can also help to hit reset by cleaning out the oil ducts, says David Kingsley, PhD, a trichologist in New York. (Yes, these two trichology experts have the same last name but are not related. Weird, we know.) “Think of the biology of the scalp: You have sebaceous — or oil — glands, and there are a lot of sweat glands on the scalp as well,” he explains. “A deep cleanser, like a mask, will be cleaning these out, so of course you’re going to get a healthier scalp.”
Just like a face mask, there are no rules for the frequency of use for a scalp mask. In general, use anywhere from twice a week to once a month.
Scalp-Care Routine: Try a shampoo, like John Masters Organics Zinc and Sage Shampoo, a mist, like Philip Kingsley’s Scalp Toner, and a mask, like Dr. Kingsley’s British Science Formulations Stimulant Scalp Mask.
Issue: Poor Growth: You’ve noticed your hair growth has slowed.
Solution: “Scalp health can have huge implications on hair growth,” Anabel Kingsley told us. “It is, after all, the environment from which hair is produced. If the scalp is not cared for properly, flaking and itching are much more likely to occur — and research has proven that a flaky scalp can cause excessive hair fall in certain individuals.”
However, this one comes with a small caveat: Dr. Kingsley reminds us that you cannot actually make your hair grow faster or thicker than it’s genetically capable of doing. However, you can correct issues that are hindering its growth or density. “Could a home treatment increase the speed or growth of your hair? Sure, but there’s only an optimum speed your hair can grow, so you can’t get it any faster than that,” he explained.
Scalp-Care Routine: By correcting any pesky scalp issues (even minor ones) at home, like itching, flaking, or clogged pores, you can often help your hair to grow to its full potential. A healthy scalp creates the best hair. If you don’t have any issues, try adding in a stimulating or exfoliating product weekly to see if that sparks a return to fast growth, like Rene Furterer’s Complexe 5 or Dr. Hauschka’s Revitalizing Hair and Scalp Tonic.
Issue: Itchy Skin: Your scalp is dry and itchy enough to bug you, but not bad enough to see your doctor or create noticeable flakes.
Solution: Just like the skin on your face, the skin on your scalp can become dry, itchy, and just plain uncomfortable due to things like the weather, poor diet, or hormonal changes. Think about what would happen if you stopped moisturizing your face during a particularly dry winter: itch city. Anabel Kingsley suggests the same basic remedy that you would provide for your face or body: exfoliation and hydration.
“Use an exfoliating scalp mask twice weekly to soften the skin and remove dead skin cells,” she says. You can also use a scalp mask that contains soothing, moisturizing, and exfoliating ingredients, such as aloe vera and salicylic acid, she says. You can use the mask anywhere from twice weekly to once monthly (or even just as needed) until the problem subsides.
Scalp-Care Routine: Try Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt or Dr. Kingsley’s British Science Formulations Stimulant Scalp Mask to exfoliate, then add a moisturizing formula, like the brand’s Moisturizing Spray.
Issue: Bumps: You get random bumps on your scalp that can become irritated, or just plain bug you.
Solution: Anyone who has ever had a blemish on their scalp can understand this one all too well: They’re hard to stop touching, and getting rid of them is a mystery. “Your scalp can break out due to hormonal fluctuations and improper hygiene,” Anabel Kingsley says. “If you wash your hair infrequently, oils and sweat simply sit on your scalp and can block the follicle and turn rancid.” To rid your scalp of bumps, she recommends washing with an antibacterial shampoo when a breakout or single blemish occurs, then misting your scalp with a toner daily. “Applying an exfoliating scalp mask twice weekly will also help,” she says.
“You should be able to take care of bumps at home,” Dr. Kingsley says. “You wouldn’t necessarily see a doctor if you have a bit of a breakout every now and again on your face, which is basically what you’re talking about on the scalp.” He also recommends an exfoliating scalp mask to help clear the pores.
Issue: Lackluster Hair: You can remember a time when your hair was shiny and bouncy, with a natural volume. Now? Not so much.
Solution: Similar to how minor scalp issues can affect your hair growth, they can also play into why your hair is lacking shine, volume, or a generally healthy appearance. “If your scalp is flaky, or dirty, or whatever the issue may be, you may not be getting the natural, clean oils your hair needs, so it will be dull and lifeless,” Dr. Kingsley told us.
Sure, no one wants an oily scalp, but when those fresh oils work their way down the hair shaft, you get a healthy mane and a healthy scalp. “If you can get the clean oils…then you get more sheen and potentially more hair body as well. If it’s cleaner at scalp level, then that’s really where you tend to get the body of the hair. Sure, you can put mousse on and other things like that, but a healthier scalp, healthier hair, no question!” he says.
Scalp-Care Routine: Use this guide to correct any minor issues you may have, and brush hair regularly with a natural-bristle brush to distribute the oil from the scalp down the hair shaft. If you don’t have any issues, try a monthly mask or treatment (like the options on slide 2 or Phyto Phytopolléine Botanical Scalp Treatment) to correct a lack of body and shine.
Issue: Flakes: Your itchy or irritated scalp has moved on from pesky to troublesome and is now producing annoying flakes.
Solution: An itchy or irritated scalp can quickly escalate into a flaky scalp, but it’s not always because your scalp is dry. “A lot of people think [having flakes] is a dry-scalp problem, but it’s normally actually an oil problem,” Dr. Kingsley explains. “It’s caused by a lipophilic yeast, which means that it eats oil.” But before you freak out, he assures that “everybody has it on the scalp, but some people seem to be more affected.” The solution? “An exfoliating scalp mask…is designed to get rid of the buildup of flakes and clean the oil glands out.” Translation: Control the oil and you can help control the problem.
Anabel Kingsley adds that flakes can also be caused by cells turning over too quickly. “The best way to return skin cell turnover to normal and to clear a flaky scalp is to use an antibacterial shampoo and scalp toner daily until symptoms subside,” she says. “However, flakes can also form when skin cells are allowed to build up on the scalp. Skin on the rest of your body, such as your arms, legs, and face, is removed when you touch it or it is rubbed off on your clothes. But on your scalp, dead cells simply get trapped near the root of your hair, leading to the appearance of flakes.” The remedy? “Shampoo more often and exfoliate once to twice a week.”
Like this post? There’s more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we’ll see you there!
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?