Scalp Care 101: Understanding the Scalp as Skincare Trend

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Stocksy / Design by Tiana Crispino

The "skin-ification" of scalp and hair is a thing right now, and rightly so. While we've all been obsessed with masking and jade rolling and exfoliating the skin on our faces, our strands have been watching and patiently waiting for their time in the sun. Well, that time has arrived, thanks to haircare products that take inspiration from the advancements in the skincare world. No longer are sheet masks, jade tools or AHAs reserved only for beautifying our complexions. Yes, you can do a whole lot more with your hair than that regular shampoo and conditioner and occasional mask. 

Haircare formulations, much like the skincare products that have gone before, are more sophisticated than ever. Our skin naturally extends up from our forehead to become our scalp, so it makes sense that a lot of these new products focus on scalp health. It's a little like a garden, in that if you plow and feed the soil, the plants will grow stronger and healthier. And to keep your strands in tip-top condition for longer, ingredients previously reserved for skincare (think AHAs, hyaluronic acid and vitamin C), are also being utilized in abundance. 

Want to jump on the skincare-as-haircare bandwagon? We thought so. Keep reading for everything you need to know.

The Scalp Care as Skincare Trend

By now, most of us are pretty familiar with the basic building blocks of an effective skincare routine. But very few people carry that knowledge beyond the skin on their faces. And the reality is, your scalp is skin too—and it could probably use some TLC. Just as people are starting to bring their skincare routines down to their body skin, we're also seeing an increased interest in bringing a thorough skincare routine to the scalp. More and more haircare products are being specifically formulated to remove scalp buildup, exfoliate dead skin and hair cells, and hydrate the scalp to make a strong base for healthy hair.

Why Do You Need to Care for Your Scalp?

Just like the face on your skin, ignoring (or over-treating) your scalp can lead to a slew of issues that ultimately manifest themselves as hair concerns (think: overly-oily scalp, dry ends, or dull hair).

  • Dry Hair: While it might sound counterintuitive, under-washing and under-exfoliating can contribute to dry hair. That's because as product builds up on the scalp and hair, the moisturizing and styling products you use aren't able to penetrate as effectively.
  • Greasy Roots: On the opposite end of the spectrum, ignoring your scalp can also contribute to hair that feels overly oily and greasy. Regularly massaging shampoo into the scalp will make for a clean canvas and roots that feel fresh and clean.
  • Lackluster Hair: When you don't exfoliate your scalp, product and mineral buildup (which is common if you have a showerhead without a filter) can create a casing on the hair, which makes it less light-reflective and, consequently, duller and brassier in appearance.
  • Damaged Curl Pattern: Once again, improper scalp exfoliation can lead to product buildup (are you noticing a pattern?) that can weigh down your hair. This can lead to stretched, less-defined curls for those who are naturally curly.

Basic Scalp Care Routine

Shampoo (Specific to Your Needs)

Damage Repair: Much like the "skin-identical" ingredients found in moisturizers (think ceramides and urea), many shampoos contain "hair identical" ingredients like keratin, which is used to resurface and refill the cracks in the cuticle to bolster the integrity of the hair. This ultimately prevents moisture loss that can prematurely age the hair. If general strength and health of the hair is a concern for you, a keratin-containing shampoo is a great product to add to your routine 2-4 nights a week, depending on your hair texture.

Dry or Itchy Scalp: Meanwhile, if you deal with dandruff or an itchy, flakey scalp, you may want to consider a shampoo with ingredients like zinc pyrithione, which regulates oil production and flakiness by targeting the yeast that causes dandruff.

Oily Scalp: And if oily roots are your biggest concern, look for a shampoo that contains a chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid, a miracle worker when it comes to regulating sebum production and cutting through tough product buildup on the scalp (think: all of that dry shampoo you layer on after a workout).

Weekly Deep Cleanse

Just like you might use a chemical peel or clay mask once a week to give your skin a deep cleanse, your scalp can benefit from the same ideology. About once a week, apply an AHA serum to your scalp and leave it on for 20 minutes. During that time, it gets to work breaking down product buildup while delivering much-needed vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to the hair follicles.

Biweekly Scalp Scrub

Every other week, swap your chemical exfoliant for a physical scalp scrub to maximize the (gentle) exfoliation. This sturdy Ouai scrub can be used to exfoliate the scalp and body, and it's packed with probiotics to balance the bacteria levels on the skin and scalp, while coconut oil leaves the skin, scalp, and hair soft. Just use concentric circles right on the scalp and hairline—then shampoo and condition as normal.

Daily: SPF

Yep—your scalp needs sunscreen too. Just as you would apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher to your face, neck, hands—and any other skin that isn't protected by clothing, you'll want to do the same for your scalp. And while you can certainly use the same sunscreen you use for your face, we love how this Sueprgoop! option goes on like dry shampoo for easy application that doesn't make your roots feel greasy.

Your Complete Guide to Scalp Care

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