Scalp Serums Are a Must-Have in Your Hair Care Routine—Here's Why

woman playing with curls

Getty Images / Carlo Prearo

Many of us are beginning to understand that healthy hair is intrinsically linked to a healthy scalp. As a result, hair brands now have dedicated scalp care lines, and scalp serums seem to be at the core of these new offerings. But how do you know which serum is best for your scalp, and when should you use them? To help you figure out how to incorporate them into your routine, we turned to the experts. Keep reading for the advice we gathered from a dermatologist and two trichologists about using the ever-popular scalp serum.

Meet the Expert

Why Are Scalp Serums So Popular?

Scalp serums have become popular due to their benefits, and the magic lies in their ingredients. Dr. Collins tells us that many of the scalp serums on the market today are designed with hydrating, calming, anti-inflammatory ingredients such as hyaluronic acid. These ingredients can aid in stimulating blood flow and delivering oxygen and nutrients to our hair follicles. In addition, serums contain ingredients that are rich in antioxidants and have anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.

"These ingredients help combat free radicals and balance the pH of your skin, which can improve certain hair loss conditions," Hallajian says. "With the main goal of providing healthier hair growth, it's easy to understand why there's a growth in scalp serum popularity."

How Do You Know If You Need a Scalp Serum?

The main reasons for using a scalp serum are to improve the quality of your hair and scalp or to help treat hair loss and excessive shedding. According to Mandy, a lack of blood circulation to the scalp can lead to hair loss and thinning. That's where those beneficial scalp serum ingredients kick into gear.

But it's important to remember it takes time to see results. Collins says that recovery from hair loss and shedding issues is a process, mainly due to the phases our follicles need to go through to make a comeback. "The hair follicles cycle through phases of shedding, growth, and stagnation, and it takes time for enough hairs to get through enough growth cycles to show the results. One of the most common reasons people are unsatisfied with scalp serum treatments is because they stop after a month or two— this is simply not long enough to notice a change."

When using scalp serums for hair loss, you can expect noticeable results within six months to one year.

If you want to use a scalp serum because you notice visible flakes and dandruff, consult your dermatologist before picking up something over-the-counter. "What many people think is dry skin is a scalp condition called seborrheic dermatitis," says Collins. While Hallajian tells us that scalp serums are great for scalp conditions like dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, or scalp psoriasis, you may need to reassess your entire care regimen to combat the issue at hand. Your doctor might recommend a prescription, or they might not, but their guidance will help you understand why the flaky skin on your scalp is there in the first place. "The treatment for seborrheic dermatitis would include daily washing, use of antidandruff shampoos, and occasionally, prescription-based topical steroid scalp serums and solutions," says Collins.

How to Use a Scalp Serum

To use a scalp serum, Mandy suggests the steps below:

  • Apply a few drops on your fingertips
  • Rub your fingertips together to warm up the product
  • Massage fingers into the scalp in small circular motions for 1-2 minutes all over
  • Leave on overnight
  • Shampoo the next day
  • Repeat nightly or every other night for the best results.

You can use serums on wet or dry hair, Collins assured us. The steps listed above are excellent if you use your serum as a moisturizing treatment to hydrate and soothe inflammation. If your scalp serum is a prescription, you may be able to use it twice daily, either after washing or without washing at all. "Some people may find that scalp serums are best as a weekly or twice weekly treatment, so it is not so cumbersome," says Collins. But rest assured, each serum will have instructions indicating whether it is designed as a leave-in or rinse-out product.

Can All Hair Types Use Scalp Serums?

Adding these serums to your hair care routine is seamless for any scalp but not necessarily any hair type. "Those with fine, low-density hair already produce excess sebum (oil)," Mandy tells us. "Often, they find that too many products close to the roots or scalp cause them to lose volume and movement in the hair, and see the sebum increase even more."

While these products may not be tolerated well, it doesn't mean you can't use a scalp serum to treat hair loss or conditions. "In these cases, use the serum as an overnight treatment and do a double wash in the morning," Mandy says.

Scalp Serum vs. Scalp Oil

Consistency and performance are the most significant differences between a scalp serum and oil. Scalp serums will absorb into the skin and typically be much lighter, whereas oils are topical treatments that tend to be a bit heavier. Collins explains that a serum's lighter texture helps it absorb into the skin quickly. Collins tells us that topical oils, especially prescription steroid oils, are excellent treatments for inflammatory scalp conditions. Oils are also helpful for hydrating thick or curly strands and individuals prone to dry scalps. "For individuals with finer, thinner hair texture, oils can be way too heavy for use on the scalp," she adds.

Final Thoughts

Over-the-counter scalp serums can help address hair loss and shedding. Prescription-based topical steroid scalp serums can help reduce symptoms associated with dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, or scalp psoriasis. Those with thicker strands or curlier hair types will have the best experience with these serums as their hair is not weighed down as easily; however, anyone can use them. Overall, consistently using a scalp serum will ensure your scalp and hair reaps the maximum benefits of the product.

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