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You likely scrub your face and probably your body, but what about your scalp? Well, add it to the list of places that can benefit from a good sloughing session. After all, your scalp is just like the rest of your skin—dead cells can pile up, pores can get clogged. Plus, there’s also tons of residue that builds up from the styling products we use day in and day out.
And here’s the thing: Not addressing these issues can quickly start to impact your hair. Strong, healthy hair can only grow in a healthy environment. Regularly shampooing is important for sure, but don’t forget that shampoo is meant for your hair and not the scalp. “The skin on the scalp needs some dedicated TLC. Regular exfoliation can help remove product residue and environmental pollutants that can build up and potentially even affect how well your hair is growing,” explains Shelly Aguirre, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. The easiest way to exfoliate your scalp? A scalp scrub, of course. It doesn’t have to be a complicated process; simply use one once or twice per week, massaging it into your scalp for a few minutes before shampooing and conditioning as usual. It’s a quick and easy shower routine add-on, but one that will pay off in droves when it comes to how your scalp feels and how your hair looks.
Try any one of these best scalp scrubs on the market and see for yourself.
Best Overall: Christophe Robin Purifying Scalp Scrub with Sea Salt
Byrdie Editorial Director Faith Xue stashes this in her shower, a formula that actually pulls double-duty as both a scrub and shampoo. Ideal for all scalp concerns—from flakes to oiliness to dryness—this also works on all hair types and textures, a universally foolproof pick. Sea salt gently scrubs off impurities and product build-up, while sweet almond oil soothes the skin.
Best Overall, Runner-Up: Philip B. Peppermint Avocado Scalp Scrub
Yes, this is pricey, but even the teeniest amount works wonders, meaning you’ll get plenty of use out of the one (big) jar. The sea salt granules are a great size, not too big that they’re scratchy but still enough that you can feel them doing their thing. The same thing goes for the peppermint and eucalyptus oils in the mix; it’s enough to give it that refreshing, spa-like feel without being too tingly or overpowering. Also nice: The witch hazel water in the formula further helps to balance out the skin on your scalp, great if you tend to skew oily.
Best Drugstore: Nexxus Clean & Pure Scalp Scrub
A little bit of this formula goes a long way, exfoliating and breaking down any product build-up. It’s free of parabens, dyes, and sulfates, a great pick for those with sensitive scalps since all of the above can potentially be irritating. Plus, you only have to use it once a week to reap the benefits.
Best Dual Exfoliant: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub
This option, from the beloved skincare brand’s first foray into haircare, uses both chemical and mechanical ingredients to really up the exfoliating power. There are alpha- and beta-hydroxy acids, plus a unique type of plant-based exfoliating beads; they’re gentler than the often-used crushed nuts and seeds but way more environmentally friendly than synthetic microbeads. Not to mention that it’s also specially formulated at an optimum pH of 3.7 to help keep your scalp healthy.
Best Splurge: Oribe Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub
It’s worth shelling out the pennies for this guy, trust. It boasts two both chemical and physical exfoliating ingredients—alpha-hydroxy acids to dissolve dead skin and soft polymer beads to slough them off. Plus, it also contains a litany of different plant-based extracts that offer antioxidant protection and soothe the scalp. Byrdie contributing writer Kaleigh Fasanella is a fan, calling it, “a critical part of her routine,” and pointing out that it works especially well on thin and fine hair. Aguirre, who’s also a fan, agrees, saying it’s her go-to recommendation for clients, a powerful formula that’s still gentle on the hair and works for all hair types.
Best for Dry Scalps: TPH by Taraji Never Salty Sugar Hair & Scalp Scrub
This aptly-named product relies on sugar crystals to do the exfoliating duties, a naturally more moisturizing option than the salt found in many other scrubs. Plus, it also contains coconut oil to keep the formula nice and hydrating. Still, it goes to town buffing off dead, dry skin and flakes; bonus points for the duo-tubed applicator that helps you ensure the formula is targeted straight onto the scalp. Happy shoppers—with all hair types and textures—repeatedly rave about how well it works.
Best for Oily Scalps: Philip Kingsley Exfoliating Weekly Scalp Mask
Aguirre lauds this pick for containing zinc, a mineral that helps to both deep clean the scalp and reduce excess sebum, she says. There are also oil-dissolving beta hydroxy acids in the mix for an added boost, though it’s never overly-drying or stripping; the olive oil in the formula helps to balance the moisture levels in both the hair and scalp, explains Aguirre. And true to the name, you only need to use it once per week to see the results.
Best for Sensitive Scalps: R+Co Crown Scalp Scrub
Just like you would if you have sensitive skin on your face, you’ll want to proceed with caution when it comes to exfoliating a sensitive scalp. Choosing a gentle formula is paramount; according to Aguirre, this one fits the bill. “It relies on an ultra-fine ivory palm seed powder that helps exfoliate build-up, gently,” she says. It also contains kaolin, a mineral-rich clay that further helps pure out impurities without ever being too aggressive, she adds.
Best for Curly Hair: Ouidad Heavy Lifting Bubbling Scalp Mask
Since curly hair is more prone to dryness, you want to ensure any product you’re using isn’t going to be too stripping; this newbie fits the bill. Different than the straightforward scrubs, this transforms from a gel to foam as you work it into your scalp. Let it bubble up for two minutes before rinsing, allowing pineapple extract and white charcoal to deeply cleanse and get rid of impurities that can lead to flakes and dryness. Hydrating hyaluronic acid and vitamin E ensure it doesn’t dry out your curls.
Best for Easy Application: Jupiter Purifying Mask
Scalp scrubs can be notoriously tough to apply—and messy, too. That’s why we appreciate this super easy-to-use, foam formula. It’s called a mask because you use it as such; simply squirt out a dollop of the mousse-like texture and leave it on damp or dry hair for up to five minutes. Volcanic ash naturally exfoliates the skin and pulls out impurities and product residue, leaving both your scalp and hair feeling totally fresh and clean.
Best Shampoo: Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
For those girls who like combining multiple steps of their beauty routine in one, this cleanser-scrub hybrid is ideal. Binchotan charcoal (a very high-quality type of charcoal) pulls out impurities, while peppermint, spearmint, and tea tree oils tamp down itchiness and irritation. Also nice: The addition of strand-strengthening panthenol. Use it as you would any shampoo, making sure to really work it into your scalp, then follow with conditioner.
Best Shampoo, Runner-Up: Davines SOLU Sea Salt Scrub
Another two-in-one, consider swapping out your standard sudser for this formula. The salt-based shampoo not only deeply cleanses and purifies your hair but also has the added benefit of thoroughly removing residue and dead skin. It’s a great choice for those with fine hair, as it adds a beautiful texture and volume in the process, too.
What Our Editors Say
"I use this salt scrub from Davines whenever my scalp needs a really deep cleaning, and it never lets me down. It leaves my scalp feeling squeaky clean and my hair looking fuller and bouncier every time.” — Karli Bendlin, Associate Editor
Best Multi-Tasker: Ouai Scalp & Body Scrub
Not totally sold on buying a separate scalp scrub? We hear you and present you with this one-stop-scrub-shop instead, a go-to for Byrdie Associate Editor Holly Rhue. You can, quite literally, use it from head to toe. Credit exfoliating sugar crystals coupled with hydrating coconut oil, which come together in a formula that works just as well on your scalp as it does on dry elbows and knees. And in true Ouai fashion, the sophisticated scent (a mix of rose, cedarwood, and musk) is obviously totally satisfying.
Best Tool: ColorProof Evolved Color Care Scalp Cleansing Brush
If you thought using a scrub was satisfying, just wait until you try this specially made brush. The long, flexible bristles work to exfoliate, boost circulation, and deep clean your scalp; use it to comb through your hair after applying shampoo and/or conditioner. As an added benefit, it feels like you’re getting the most amazing scalp massage.
If you haven’t yet tried a scalp scrub, get on it, stat. The Christophe Robin Purifying Scalp Scrub with Sea Salt and Philip B. Peppermint Avocado Scalp Scrub (view at Dermstore) have tied for our first place favorite, both effective and invigorating sea salt formulas. If you’re looking to streamline your routine, consider using a shampoo-scrub hybrid once a week instead of your standard sudser; both the Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo (view at Dermstore) and Davines SOLU Sea Salt Scrub (view at Amazon) fit the bill. (Just make sure to use a good conditioner after the fact.) And while technically not a scrub, we also love the ColorProof Evolved Color Care Scalp Cleansing Brush (view at Amazon) as an alternate method of (mess-free) scalp exfoliation that also generally feels delightful.
What to Look for in a Scalp Scrub
The Type of Exfoliant
Most formulas rely on mechanical exfoliating ingredients, such as salt or sugar, that physically buff off the dead skin. Some may pair these with chemical exfoliants, such as alpha-hydroxy acids, to further up the effect.
Aguirre points out that it’s important not to overdo it when it comes to scalp exfoliating. While doing so once a week is a good general rule of thumb, she advises you to always follow the directions of the particular product you’re using when it comes to frequency.
What are the benefits of scalp scrubs?
Scalp scrubs can help alleviate issues such as dryness, flakes, and itching, particularly when they’re caused due to a build-up of dead skin cells and/or product residue. They also help create a healthy environment for hair growth.
Do scalp scrubs promote hair growth?
The short answer is no (because there are very few ways to actually grow new hair). But healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp, and using a scalp scrub can help keep your scalp healthy. So they can be a good way to help make sure the hair you’re growing is healthy.
Are scalp scrubs safe?
Yes, as long as they’re used as directed.
Why Trust Byrdie?
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Plagued with an oily scalp since the beginning of time, she relies on a scalp scrub weekly.
Meet the Expert
Shelly Aguirre is a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. She specializes in precision cuts as well as extensions and is known for helping teach her clients about the best ways to embrace and style their own hair texture.