We scrub our bodies smooth with sugar and salt, take rotating brushes to our faces and buff our feet to silky softness… but what about the skin on top of our head?
Yes, the scalp is skin. And while you give it a seeing-to every time you shampoo, it needs extra love if you want hair that’s smooth, strong, glossy and flake-free.
Skipping this one simple step, on the other hand, may leave you with weak, stressed or clogged hair follicles (cue: lack of glossiness, flakes, thinning strands and excessive hair loss).
So… let’s talk scalp exfoliation, shall we?
Why do you need a scalp scrub?
Most of us put loads of effort into our haircare and wonder why it’s not making a difference. The truth, according to hair experts, is that healthy hair can only exist on a healthy scalp. Simple.
Shampooing, conditioning, masking and glossing the external hair strands can only do so much, since they have already reached peak growth. What’s important is to cleanse and nourish them at the very source — the hair follicles, which are rooted in the scalp.
And like all other skin on our body, the scalp also needs help. It needs oxygen, moisture and nutrients. And since our hair is rooted in the scalp, it is kind of important!
Tackles excessive greasiness: You know how the sebaceous glands on our face keep skin moisturised and protected but sometimes go into overdrive, leading to an oil slick and clogged pores? The same thing happens with our scalp. Enter scalp exfoliation to gently lift away these excess oils, unclogging har follicles and bringing the skin back into balance.
And also balances out dryness: A scalp that’s too dry and tight, on the other hand, will slow down hair growth and cause excessive breakage. A good scalp scrub re-balances the natural oil distribution, thereby creating a nourishing environment for hair growth.
Removes product build-up: Like with the rest of our body, scalp exfoliation helps remove product build-up from hair spray, gels, dry shampoos and the gazillion other things that can clog follicles and stop hair from growing properly.
Keeps yeast in check: A scrub also goes a long way in controlling the scalp’s Malassezia levels. Malassezia is a type of yeast that damages hair follicles (leading to hair loss), while also causing dandruff.
Busts dead cells and boosts cellular turnover: Scalp scrubs remove follicle-clogging dead cells, thereby saying buh-bye to scalp acne (gross but it exists!). This also helps make way for fresh, healthy new cells to surface.
Combats free radical damage: Our scalp is as susceptible to environmental damage (sun, cigarette smoke, pollution, airborne chemicals!) as the rest of our skin. And this environmental damage triggers the formation of free radicals, which affects the proteins responsible for hair growth. An effective way of neutralising them to prevent hair loss? Scalp exfoliation, which draws out the molecules before they can do damage.
Improves circulation: Plus, the extra stimulation helps boost blood circulation to the hair follicles, which ensures an optimal supply of nutrients to nourish the scalp and ensure healthy hair growth.
What are scalp scrubs?
They’re exactly what they sound like: Scrubs or exfoliators for your scalp.
And given the accelerated growth in hair technology nowadays — you have almost as many options for your strands as you have for your skin! —there is a choice between chemical and physical formulations.
Physical scalp scrubs: These contain ingredients to manually scrub the scalp. Think: Salt, sugar, charcoal, clay, nuts and fruit pits. They are particularly efficient in controlling excess oils, handling dandruff and promoting circulation.
When going with a physical exfoliator, look for one with smaller grains and massage it in gently to avoid the risk of causing micro-tears in the skin.
Chemical scalp exfoliators: Chemical exfoliants, on the other hand, contain active ingredients like alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy-acids (BHAs) to chemically lift away dead cells and other buildup.
You leave them on for a while (usually 5-10 minutes, depending on the formula) and then shampoo them away — no massage required. They work brilliantly for unclogging the pores, busting dead cells and boosting cellular turnover. Think: Glycolic acid, lactic acid and salicylic acid.
How often do you need scalp exfoliation?
The general rule of thumb is every 7-10 shampoo cycles — which usually equates to twice a month for most people. If you use a lot of hair styling products or have oily roots, aim for the lower end of the scale.
Over-exfoliation, as with any other area of the body, is as bad as not exfoliating at all. It can over-sensitise the scalp, cause it to produce excessive oils or dry it out to the point of tightness and undernourishment.
In short: Scalp scrubs, like most things in life, work best in moderation!
The best scalp scrubs
Now that we know why we need scalp scrubs, let’s go shopping?
Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub
This “exfoliating shampoo” contains sea salt crystals to remove buildup from sensitive or oily scalps, alongside sweet almond oil and Bisabolol extract to soothe alongside sweet almond oil to soothe and hydrate. No additional shampoo required!
Another scrub-and-shampoo blend — this one unclogs pores, boosts micro-circulation, promotes cellular turnover with a physical action. Also contains vitamin B-5 to nourish the scalp, prevent dryness and promote hair growth.
Sunday Riley Clean Rinse Clarifying Scalp Serum
In this chemical scalp exfoliator, a blend of AHAs and BHAs (glycolic and salicylic acid) reduces product buildup and excessive oils, while niacinamide and essential fatty acids soothe, nourish and rehydrate.
Philip Kingsley Exfoliating Scalp Mask
Salicylic acid cuts through grease slicks, unclogs hair follicles from all debris (including dead cells and product build-up), while zinc helps target excessive oil production and soothes any inflammation. Perfect for oily scalps!
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro Exfoliating Shampoo
Have an itchy, flaky scalp? Charcoal and vegetable-derived micro-exfoliators physically scrub away dead skin cells and product build-up, while peppermint and spearmint oils reduce itchiness, and antiseptic tea tree oil soothes inflammation. AND you don’t need a separate shampoo!
R+Co Crown Scalp Scrub
Dealing with a sensitive scalp? Ultra-fine Ecuadorian ivory palm seed powder physically scrubs away debris, while salicylic acid unclogs hair follicles from deep within.
Ouai Scalp & Body Scrub
Prefer products that multi-task? This physical scrub contains sugar crystals that are equally detoxifying for both scalp and body skin, along with coconut and sweet almond oils for peak hydration.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub
A chemical scalp exfoliator that breaks down dead skin cells and product build-up, while a blend of Marula and Mongongo oils combat free radical damage, add shine and smooth the hair shaft.
DIY scalp scrub
Looking for a homemade scalp exfoliator? Blend 3 tablespoons of sugar with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and few drops of an essential oil like tea tree, jasmine or lavender. Wet your scalp and then massage it in gentle, circular movements with this mixture for a couple of minutes. Shampoo and condition your hair normally.