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How to Exfoliate Your Scalp (and Why You Should)

woman with water falling on her head as she touches her scalp

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Exfoliation is the cornerstone of a gorgeous complexion, but it may also be the root of lustrous, healthy hair. And while it's easy to overlook what you can't see, the health of your scalp can have highly visible results. Neglecting to exfoliate can lead to dull hair, clogged follicles, and itchy, flaky skin. Exfoliating regularly can help hair grow naturally thicker, shinier, and less oily. To experience the cleanest, healthiest scalp—and the stunning hair benefits that come with it—read on to learn how to exfoliate your scalp in just a few simple steps.

Why Exfoliation Matters

According to Lucy Vincent, beauty expert and founder of Sans Ceuticals, "Exfoliation is essential for keeping the hair and scalp in top condition. Exfoliation removes scalp buildup, allowing our natural oils to keep the hair and scalp nourished and healthy. Our natural sebum keeps everything in check, preventing dry scalp. It also allows oils to nourish and protect our hair's mid-lengths and ends. On the flip side, an overproduction or buildup of sebum on the scalp can feed the Malassezia furfur yeast that can lead to dandruff, hence exfoliation is key."

Meet the Expert

Lucy Vincent is a beauty expert and founder of Sans Ceuticals. With over 20 years of experience, Vincent’s fresh approach to hair and beauty has made her an icon in her native New Zealand.

Whether or not dandruff is a concern, exfoliation can still yield powerful results. As Vincent points out, "Removing dead skin cells also encourages cellular turnover on your scalp allowing for fresh, healthy new cells to surface."

Use an Exfoliating Brush

If you have straight or fine hair, adding a scalp exfoliating brush to your arsenal of beauty tools might just be the best decision you ever make. To use, simply massage the bristles on the scalp while the hair is dry. Use circular motions, pressing firmly but gently—too much pressure can irritate the scalp. Cover the full surface area of the scalp, and be sure to use a brush that's specifically intended for the scalp to avoid tangling your hair.

Healing Hydrating Cream
Aveda Pramsana Exfoliating Scalp Brush $21

Use an Exfoliating Cleanser

Using an exfoliating brush should ideally be followed by a scalp treatment or cleanser, such as Sachajuan's Scalp Treatment ($45), but we understand that some people may need to go straight to step two because of their hair type. Treatment products tend to be gentle and restorative and help to clear away any debris loosened by the brush. If you don't have time to exfoliate with a brush, a quick alternative is to opt for a clarifying shampoo like Bumble and Bumble's Sunday Shampoo ($27). You could also use a scalp scrub like Frank Body's Caffeinated Scalp Scrub ($19).

It's best to choose between exfoliating with a brush and using a scalp scrub—using both back-to-back can make the surface of your scalp feel dry or raw.

Women's Scalp Treatment 125 ml
Sachajuan Scalp Treatment $45

Choose (and Use) Your Products Wisely

How often you need to exfoliate will depend on how much product you use and what you're using. As Vincent notes, "Another factor in favor of exfoliation is the removal of product buildup such as hair spray, gel, and other styling products."

For most people, it’s a good idea to exfoliate your scalp about once a month. To get the most out of the process (and to limit the amount of time and energy you’ll need to invest), opt for scalp-friendly products that hinge their formulae on natural ingredients and are as kind to your hair as they are to what’s underneath.

Sans Ceuticals pH + Shine Corrector $32

If you want to make your own exfoliant, try mixing a bit of clarifying shampoo with equal parts of a natural exfoliant like salt. Add a few drops of essential oil to the mix for extra benefits. We like tea tree oil; it's naturally stimulating and fights against dandruff.

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