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scalp scrub: woman washing hair

Scalp Scrubs Are A Thing—Should You Be Using One?

You shampoo and condition your hair regularly, and may even take supplements for healthy, shiny locks. Still, your hair-care routine might be missing a step that dermatologists say can contribute to healthier hair: an occasional scalp scrub.

You see, over time your scalp can get gunked up with oily residue and product build-up from hair sprays, dry shampoos, heat protectants, and any other lotions, potions, and sprays you use. And while that dollop of shampoo can certainly cleanse and clarify your hair, it doesn’t have the exfoliating powers that scalp scrubs or treatments do. 

“Exfoliating or treating this build-up can help return hair’s natural luster and make the scalp less ‘flaky’ or dry,” says Dr. Erum N. Ilyas, M.D., M.B.E., F.A.A.D., a dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group in Pennsylvania.

Intrigued? Here’s what you need to know about incorporating a scalp scrub into your hair-care regimen.

How Scalp Scrubs Work

Unlike shampoo and conditioners, scalp scrubs have a granular consistency, which is what’s responsible for their ability to gently exfoliate your scalp, says Dr. Anna Chacon, M.D., a Florida-based board-certified dermatologist. These scrubs help to remove product build-up, dirt, excess oil, and dead skin cells that inevitably gather at the root of your hair and make your locks look dull and difficult to style.

Read More: I Tried The Viral Trend Of Putting Hyaluronic Acid Serum On My Hair

They can be particularly helpful if you regularly use dry shampoo, which absorbs oil in between washes but can also dry out your scalp, Chacon says. They’re also handy if you have an itchy scalp, the discomfort of which is often caused by the accumulation of dead skin cells, oils, and product buildup. (Excess head-scratching can then cause flakes and even hair breakage.)

While some suggest that exfoliating your scalp promotes longer, stronger locks, there’s a bit of debate there. “Some people believe by removing dead skin cells and dirt from the scalp, exfoliation can help promote healthy hair growth,” says Dr. Paula Morgan, M.D., P.h.D., F.R.C.P.C., F.A.A.D., board-certified dermatologist and medical advisor for BetterGoods.org, an independent organization that audits the safety of ingredients in beauty and personal care products. “Others claim that the scrubbing motion can irritate the scalp and actually slow down hair growth.” 

Still, there’s no doubt that scalp scrubs go the extra mile for tackling product build-up, dandruff, and dry skin, Morgan says.

Who Should Use Scalp Scrubs?

Since fine hair is more easily damaged by excessive scrubbing, scalp scrubs are usually recommended for people with thicker or curlier hair types, Morgan says. (Talk to a dermatologist if you have a delicate mane but still want to get your scrub on.)

Also important to note: Scrubs are not recommended for use by those who have recently had a chemical service, such as a relaxer or dye treatment, because they can irritate the scalp. 

Tips For Using Scalp Scrubs

If you would like to try a scalp scrub, start off using it every other week and never more than once a week, suggests Ilyas. “Excess use may strip your scalp of natural oils and even strip away some hair color if you are coloring your hair,” she says.

Read More: 5 Possible Reasons Your Scalp Is Flaky

When you do incorporate a scrub, it’s best used on wet hair after shampooing, Chacon suggests. After combing through and separating sections of the hair, apply the scrub with your fingertips and rub it into your scalp. Follow it up with a leave-in or regular conditioner to moisturize your scalp and hair.

“It is also important to note that they are not meant to be used as a substitute for regular shampooing,” she says. So don’t go slacking on those regular washes because you know you can scrub-a-dub-dub.

Product Picks

Many scalp scrubs contain ingredients like salicylic acid, which breaks down dead skin cells and help exfoliate your scalp, Chacon says. We like this Restore & Reclaim Scalp Scrub, which uses ingredients like activated charcoal to help detoxify and cleanse the scalp.

You can also DIY a scalp scrub at home. One easy recipe Chacon loves:

Gently massage the mixture into your scalp, then condition your hair as normal.

In addition to the healthy hair benefits, using a scalp scrub at home can feel almost as good as the scalp massage you get when having your hair shampooed at the salon. Now, if you could just learn to perfect the salon blow-out at home.

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