Beautiful hair begins where everything starts—the scalp. But, when your scalp is itchy, dry, or flaky, it can be hard to feel like you have healthy, strong locks. We talked to Dr. Iris Rubin, dermatologist and co-founder of SEEN Hair Care, and she shared some of her best tips for keeping your scalp (and strands) healthy. "The scalp, specifically the hair follicles, are the manufacturing plant for your hair," she says. "It is best to keep the scalp happy and healthy to optimize hair health."
So if you're wondering how to moisturize your scalp and say so long to dryness, irritation, and dandruff for good, Dr. Rubin has helped us lay out the most important steps to integrate into your hair routine. From the shampoo formula to choose to wash your mane to getting serious with an at-home spa treatment designed with your scalp in mind, these strategies promise to hydrate your scalp and leave you with healthy-looking hair.
Head below to learn how to moisturize your scalp in a few easy steps.
Find the Root of the Issue
While dry scalp could be caused from dry skin, just like anywhere else on your body, it could also be a sign of something else. "Other common causes of a dry scalp include an irritation or allergy from a hair care product, and seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), which may be related to a yeast called malassezia that lives on the skin," she says.
Plus, a dry scalp could even affect how your hair grows. The flakier your scalp is, the more likely it is that dead skin cells will mix with sebum (the natural oils from your skin) and cause clogged pores.
"We don’t know for sure how clogged pores on the scalp affect the hair, though some believe it can negatively impact hair health. And significant inflammation on the scalp in some cases can certainly contribute to hair loss," she says.
To be on the safe side, it's always good to check with a dermatologist to see what's really up. Different causes need different treatments, even if dry skin is the common factor.
Choose a Shampoo for Scalp Health
Some shampoos and conditioners can strip the scalp of its natural oils, leaving it dry and irritated. "Consider avoiding sulfates in shampoo which tend to be more harsh cleansers that can strip the skin of its natural oils," Dr. Rubin says. If scalp dryness is a problem, consider switching to shampoos and conditioners specially formulated to suit the scalp.
But, again, make sure to contact a professional as to how you should alter your haircare routine. Dr. Rubin suggests more frequent washings for those with seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff) with a medicated shampoo, which will help more than just a moisturizing product on its own.
Apply a Hair Oil
If dandruff isn't your main issue, "There are scalp serums, lotions, and oils that can moisturize the scalp just like you would moisturize other skin areas," Dr. Rubin says. Replenish moisture directly to the scalp with an oil specifically intended for the scalp and hair. If you're doing it at the start of your day, wet hair first to avoid too much of the oil being picked up by the strands, and use a Q-Tip to apply the oil directly to the scalp.
At night you can be more generous with how much oil you use, massaging it into the scalp and even running it through your strands.
Use Astringent Ingredients
Applying oils directly to the scalp has the potential to leave hair looking and feeling greasy. Offset this with naturally astringent ingredients like tea tree oil and chamomile infused in scalp-friendly formulas.
If you're noticing a lot of product or skin buildup, you can also exfoliate similar to how you would the rest of your skin. But, make sure you're not overdoing it. "Avoid exfoliating too often so you don’t irritate your skin. And it’s best to avoid exfoliating if you have eczema or psoriasis on your scalp, since the skin is already inflamed," she says.
Try a Scalp-Targeting Treatment
If your scalp is particularly problematic, use a haircare treatment that targets the scalp. The most important thing? "Make sure your hair care products agree with your skin and are not the cause of the dryness," she says. From exfoliating scalp "facials" to masks to anti-aging serums, there are plenty of scalp-focused products on the market ready to soothe, moisturize, and revive dry, irritated scalps.
Cut Back on the Number of Products You Use
While all of these previous steps require adopting new products into your haircare regimen, one of the most important steps to having a healthy moisturized scalp is cutting back on the number of products you use. As much as possible, keep your haircare routine relatively simple, nixing harsh ingredients and chemicals and opting for a streamlined approach that makes use of natural formulas that won't irritate your scalp or strip it of oils. It's important to remember that styling products can also react to your skin, so make sure to check into those ingredients, too. Look for products that have non-comedogenic ingredients, meaning it won't clog the pores on your scalp or on your face.