- The list of scalp-scrub benefits includes helping with hair growth and addressing dandruff.
- If you're still wondering if scalp scrubs are good, two experts answer that.
- The best scalp scrubs on the market are available for all hair types.
Scalp scrubs have really blown up over the last few years. Sure, they existed before that, but most people didn't really use them, at least not at home — they were reserved for professional treatments at the salon and felt like a luxury. Fast-forward to today, and scalp scrubs are everywhere, with no shortage of products on the market.
Whenever a new category of products pops up, many people are understandably skeptical at first. They find themselves wondering: is this really necessary? And if you're new to using a scrub on your head in the shower — or just new to scalp care in general — you can probably relate. In recent years, there's been a big push for the skinification of hair care, where skin-care brands are expanding into the hair industry, and scalp products are frequently involved.
Many people swear by scalp scrubs for dandruff and hair growth, but if you're still unclear on the benefits of scalp scrubs, we have you covered. Keep reading to learn more about why you should use one in your shower routine and get product recommendations for the best options on the market.
Because scalp scrubs are a relatively new product category, they haven't undergone rigorous testing in a clinical setting. That said, many experts do still recommend them for improving and maintaining the skin on your scalp, similar to the skin on your face.
"Scalp scrubs help remove sebum and dead skin cells while cleansing, balancing, and purifying the scalp," David Adams, consulting trichologist for Thicker Fuller Hair, tells POPSUGAR. "This is essential to maintain a healthy scalp, which in turn promotes a healthy head of hair."
It's widely known that exfoliation is key to healthy, clear skin on your face and body, and the same principle applies to your scalp. "There are anecdotal reports that scalp scrubs may improve scalp health through a couple of mechanisms," says Spencer Hawkins, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in East Greenwich, RI, and the editor of HairMedicine.org. "First, they may promote exfoliation, removing excess scale, dirt, oil, product buildup, and other debris present on the scalp. Second, they may improve [the] absorption of active ingredients on the scalp for hair growth or dandruff."
If you're someone who likes to push the limits on how often you wash your hair and frequently rely on dry shampoo and other styling products, scalp scrubs can be beneficial for removing product residue on the scalp. If left untreated, this buildup can lead to itchy, dry skin and even clogged hair follicles.
How Do Scalp Scrubs Work?
There are two different types of scalp scrubs on the market, just as there are two different forms of facial scrubs: physical and chemical. "Physical scalp scrubs use tiny gritty particles (such as salt, sugar, or [jojoba] microbeads) to physically help remove dead skin cells, dirt, and oil on the scalp," Dr. Hawkins says. "Chemical scalp scrubs rely on diluted alpha and beta hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid to help remove excess scale."
Using these kinds of active ingredients in hair-care products isn't completely novel. "Active ingredients commonly found in chemical scalp scrubs (such as salicylic acid) have been used in shampoos designed to remove excess scale," Dr. Hawkins adds. "These shampoos have been studied and found to be effective in improving scalp health. Scalp scrubs may have similar benefits as they often share active ingredients." But just like any form of exfoliation, you don't want to overdo it. "Once a week would be ideal, but realistically, once a month would still provide great results," Adams says.
Do Scalp Scrubs Contribute to Hair Loss?
When you first start using a scalp scrub, you may notice a bit more hair falling out when you rinse, but Adams confirms it's nothing to be worried about. "Hair fall is a natural part of the hair lifecycle," he says. "Using a scalp scrub may dislodge or loosen hairs that are ready to fall anyway, making it appear like there is more hair collected in your drain." In other words, scalp exfoliators aren't causing healthy hair to fall out but rather shedding dead, loose hair that was going to anyway. "It is normal to lose around 50 to 100 strands per day, and some of your loose hair strands tend to get held in place by styling products, so when you exfoliate the scalp, your loose hairs will fall out," Adams says. He related it to the hair loss you see with regularly brushing your hair. "If you brush your hair every day, you do not notice hair fall as much as you would if you are only brushing every two to three days."
An exception to this, however, is if you're using a scalp scrub that's too rough. "It is important to look at the ingredients of the scalp scrub and make sure it is not abrasive and unhealthy for the scalp," Adams says.
Best Scalp Scrubs on the Market
Some of the most common exfoliating ingredients in physical scalp scrubs are salt, sugar, and coffee, and there is a difference between each one.
"Salt can be very abrasive to the scalp and can actually alter the pH," Adams says. That's not to say all salt-based scrubs are bad, but you'll want to be gentle when using one of these — no need to rigorously massage it in. Sugar — Adams's go-to exfoliator — is a nondrying exfoliant and natural humectant that helps seal in moisture while gently buffing away dead skin cells and product buildup from your scalp.
Dr. Hawkins also recommends exercising caution when it comes to scrubs containing natural oils. "For patients with a history of contact allergies, please read the label to avoid any potential allergens," he says. "Many scalp scrubs have natural oils that can cause contact dermatitis in susceptible patients."
Ready to add this new step to your shower routine? Keep scrolling for the best scalp scrubs on the market.
— Additional reporting by Balim Tezel