Hair care is a part of just about everyone's daily routine — but many of neglect scalp care, which is equally important. In fact, taking care of the scalp is key to healthy hair, says Michele Burgess, director of product development for Oribe. "If you don't have a healthy scalp, you can't have healthy hair."
Other experts agree, saying that poor scalp care can have myriad effects. "Short-term, poor scalp health can lead to visible signs including buildup, flaking, and irritation," adds Biologique Recherche co-owner and head of creation Philippe Allouche, MD. "Over time, poor scalp health can weaken and damage the hair follicle, which leads to breakage and fallout, as well as unhealthy hair regrowth."
Meet the Expert
- Philippe Allouche, MD, is co-owner and head of creation at Biologique Recherche.
- Michele Burgess is director of product development for Oribe.
- Michelle Henry, MD, is a hair expert at Cantu.
So what products can help ease the symptoms of an unhealthy scalp? We rounded up a handful of options.
Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub With Sea Salt
A scrub for your scalp is the product you didn't know you needed to have in your life. The sea salt removes product and sebum buildup, and it soothes any itchiness you have at the top of your head.
Dove DermaCare Scalp Dryness & Itch Relief Anti Dandruff Shampoo
Apart from the annoying flakes that trickle down onto your clothing, a dry and itchy scalp causes discomfort. This shampoo from Dove not only reduces the amount of flaking but also packs your hair and scalp with hydration.
Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo
"The Oribe Serene Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo is a luxurious formula that uses salicylic acid to deeply cleanse the scalp, eliminate dandruff flakes, and alleviate itchiness and irritation," says Burgess. "In addition to eliminating dandruff, salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, which also helps to soften hair and improve shine. The formula also contains caffeine to energize the scalp and rejuvenate hair follicles and is enriched with our beloved signature fragrance."
Philip B. Anti-Flake II Relief Shampoo
This reformulation of the original anti-flake shampoo uses eco-friendlier ingredients such as tea tree oil and chamomile extract to soothe the scalp and help relieve any dryness or itchiness.
Bumble and bumble Bb. Scalp Detox
While not technically a shampoo, this detoxifying foam removes any product buildup, oil, and impurities with its microbubbles. Made with micellar water, it thoroughly cleanses the scalp without stripping away moisture. Use this before your shampoo and conditioner for a refreshed scalp.
Hair Rituel by Sisley Revitalizing Fortifying Serum
If serums are the powerhouse products that deliver the ingredients we need for a healthy face, it makes sense that scalp serums do the same for the top of our heads. This one from Sisley contains minerals, vitamins, plant extracts, and proteins meant to encourage microcirculation in the scalp and promote the growth of healthy hair. It's non-greasy and super lightweight enough to be used on damp or dry hair.
Txtr by Cantu Oil + Vitamins Scalp Saver
"It's a great scalp treatment that uses a targeted blend of vitamins, extracts, and essential and natural oils," says Cantu hair expert Michelle Henry, MD. "The ingredients not only soothe and moisturize the scalp but also help to fight free radicals, add shine, and promote the growth of hair. If you are prone to scalp irritation, it's a great product to make sure you are caring for your scalp."
Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 Capillaire
"Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 Capillaire helps restore hair strength and vitality starting at the root," says Allouche. "It treats hair, gently purifies the scalp, balances pH, and regulates sebum secretion. The treatment also helps to increase hair fiber resistance, hair texture, and strength as well as shine and manageability."
Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment
Do you know that instant relief you get when you apply something cooling to an itchy area? That's the same feeling you get with this treatment. It uses peppermint and spearmint oils meant to reduce itchiness and tea tree oil meant to reduce inflammation. It also contains witch hazel water meant to control oil production to prevent any grease.
Goop G.Tox Himalayan Scalp Scrub
According to Allouche, there are several general signs to indicate if your scalp is in poor health, including dryness, excess sebum, flaking, inflammation, and hair breakage.
"Once hair grows out of the follicle, it is dead. However, the bulb in the follicle is not and can be negatively influenced by everything from sun exposure, to diet, stress, pollution, and the products we use such as hair dye, styling products, shampoos/conditioners, heat from hair dryers, etc." Allouche says. A salt scrub can help remove residue and dryness and help stimulate growth.
Sunday Riley Clean Rinse Clarifying Scalp Serum
This scalp rinse is infused with AHA/BHA-heavy serum to get rid of product buildup and excess oil. "To maintain a healthy scalp, it is important to keep the moisture levels balanced," says Davide Marinelli, Oribe educator, and owner of Davide Hair Studio. "For example, if you have an overly oily scalp, you will want to use a more cleansing shampoo and lightweight conditioner. If you have a dry scalp, you will want to use a more hydrating shampoo and conditioner. It is also important to eliminate any buildup of dirt, oil, and product with a clarifying shampoo."
Oribe Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub
As Allouche explains, a lot of our everyday routine contributes to an unhealthy scalp. "Overuse of products can cause buildup that can clog the follicle (with silicone-based products being the worst culprit), which can impact healthy growth and lead to breakage," says Allouche. "This is especially true with styling products and the use of dry shampoo that build up on the scalp." One way to remedy the problem is to try a scalp scrub about once a week.
Rene Furterer Scalp Oil
To best maintain hair and scalp health, Allouche suggests looking for products such as purifying and exfoliating hair treatments, as well as those that can balance pH levels and contain ingredients that can strengthen strands. This soothing scalp oil hits all the marks and includes a targeted scalp massager tip, to help increase microcirculation in the scalp.
Alterna Caviar Exfoliating Scalp Facial
Henry suggests that those prone to buildup switch to hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products, which won't cause as much irritation and can reduce the risk of follicle-damaging inflammation. Alterna's scalp facial is one example, plus it includes a built-in brush to cleanse deeply.
NatureLab Tokyo Perfect Shine Clarifying Scalp Scrub
This product offers a host of good-for-you ingredients—like probiotic-rich sake water, which works to remove product buildup and environmental impurities. Plus, there's hyaluronic acid to absorb excess water and secure moisture to the hair (all while adding fullness, to boot).
Anomaly Hair and Scalp Oil
This affordable hair and scalp oil coats strands and skin with nourishing ingredients. And that's key, say the experts, who add that scalp oils can be especially beneficial post-styling. "Skip the dry shampoo and heavy styling products that are known to cause excess buildup and coat strands, leaving them prone to breakage and can weaken the follicle," says Allouche.
Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo
A quality shampoo is key, but just remember that washing the hair every day can also cause damage. "It can strip the scalp of natural oils and impact the scalp's pH, which can dry out the scalp, lead to irritation and cause unsightly flaking," Allouche says. "Alternatively, not washing hair enough allows products and natural oils to build up, leaving hair greasy." We love Sachajuan's Scalp Shampoo, which is formulated specifically for a healthy scalp
Phyto Phytopolléine Botanical Scalp Treatment
Both Allouche and Henry warn against using products with harsh ingredients, which only dry and irritate the scalp more and can slow down hair growth. "Ingredients like soap can strip the scalp of moisture and cause irritation, raising the pH of the scalp and impairing the barrier function of the scalp's epidermis," says Allouche. "It's also important to avoid products containing parabens, glycols, and many other harsh molecules. What you might not realize is that a part of the ingredients in your hair care products can be absorbed into your hair follicle, or through the epidermis, if the scalp is irritated." This scalp treatment eschews harmful ingredients in favor of botanicals and is sulfate-, paraben-, and gluten-free.
Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Green Tea Clarifying Shampoo
Allouche recommends using clarifying shampoos weekly, depending on how healthy your hair and scalp are. He also emphasizes the importance of keeping the scalp revitalized with ingredients like caffeine to energize the scalp and rejuvenate hair follicles. Other factors he points out that contribute to poor scalp health include stress, pollution, and poor diet.
Living Proof Perfect hair Day (PhD) Advanced Clean Dry Shampoo
Scalp health is all about finding your balance, and Henry says that infrequent washing can be just as harmful as over-washing. "Washing hair too infrequently can cause inflammation causing debris to build up on the scalp," she says. Stick to a "clean" product like Perfect hair Day, which won't strip the hair with continued use.
Leonor Greyl Paris Huile Apaisante Soothing Treatment for Sensitive Scalp
For those with naturally curly and coily hair, it's about changing styling practices. "Include tension-free hairstyles and investing in products that nourish the hair but are safe for sensitive scalps," says Henry. "I love products that avoid ingredients like mineral oil and silicone, which can coat the hair and scalp, making them impervious to moisturization."
JVN Pre-Wash Scalp Oil
Designed to be used pre-wash, this oil is full of nutrients to hydrate and cleanse the scalp. Rosemary extract helps promote hair growth (a bonus for many with sensitive or unhealthy scalps) and ingredients like bisabolol calm the skin.
Vitagoods Scalp Vibrating Massaging Shampoo Brush
This vibrating scalp brush works to massage the scalp and stimulate the skin. As a result, it can help remove dandruff and exfoliate, but it also feels really good on those with sensitive scalps, as it releases tension.
Divi Scalp Serum
This product is lightweight, which those with sensitive scalps will appreciate, as it doesn't promote buildup. A blend of amino acids and peptides does help to detox the hair, however, encouraging overall scalp health in the process.
Fromm The Intuition Glosser Boar Bristle Brush
There's a reason this brush tops our list of the best hair brushes on the market. It offers a wide paddle with real boar bristles, massaging pins, and a sturdy handle. So it's easy to use and helps stimulate the hair (and doesn't tug at the hair, damaging the scalp in the process).
Act + Acre Cold Processed Scalp Detox
This product can be used on a dry scalp, pre-shower. Just place a few small drops on the scalp. massage it in, and let it sit for 20 minutes before cleansing. We especially love this on coiled hair, which requires more attention that straight hair. "It's quite fragile, and [people] should avoid styling the hair with high-tension or high-manipulation techniques to avoid traction alopecia," or gradual hair loss, says Henry. "Because coily hair is dry, moisturizing the scalp is key to keeping it healthy and promoting robust hair growth."
Nutrafol Hair Growth Supplement
While it's not a topical treatment, Nutrafol's daily hair growth supplement is aimed at improving the health of the scalp and hair. The brand claims that daily use can result in visibly thicker, stronger hair growth and less shedding.
How should you take care of your scalp?
Taking care of your scalp involves ensuring you don't over-wash, using products that won't create residue or strip the scalp, and keeping the hair and scalp well-moisturized.
What's the best way to clean your scalp?
The best way to cleanse your scalp is to wash it properly. That means refraining from scrubbing your scalp with your fingers (use a salt scrub instead, as the fingers can tear the hair or create micro-injuries in the skin) and applying conditioner only to the ends, to avoid oiliness on the scalp.
Can you exfoliate your scalp?
Your scalp can be exfoliated with a scrub (there are a handful on our list, above), which will help remove debris and residue from the skin without stripping it of needed moisture.