The Best Facial I've Ever Gotten Was on My Scalp

POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

Anyone who says the best things in life are free has clearly never experienced the utter euphoria that is a spa facial-with-complimentary head massage. Forget hugs; forget sleep. For me, the only thing better than having a stranger perform a series of hand aerobics from the neck up while Enya hums quietly in the background is the part where the technician gets to your scalp.

That, my friends, is when the magic happens.

And now, the treatment that was once considered an add-on is getting its own spot on U.S. hair salon menus — results from the service are going viral on TikTok. Widely popular in Japan, the "head spa" is exactly what it sounds like: the experience of a facial, but for your noggin. Brilliant. With the exception of Barack and Michelle Obama, I couldn't think of a more perfect marriage of my two favorite things.

I've also needed help in the scalp department since the beginning of dry shampoo. My head, like my combination skin, is a walking contradiction — equal parts oily and dry, with flecks of dandruff sprinkled atop like cornflakes. Needless to say, I immediately booked an appointment with stylist Ritsuko Borges at Masa Kanai.

What came next? There's only one word for it: priceless.

What Is a Head Spa?
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

What Is a Head Spa?

When I arrived at the salon, I was greeted like you would be at any top-tier spa: with warm tea and a consultation. Borges was quick to explain that — like the skin on your face — scalps are like fingerprints: no two people's are exactly the same. "The scalp produces a lot more oil than the face," she says. "It's also forgotten about a lot."

This is why it makes sense that the popular Japanese treatment has migrated to the States: to fully cleanse, exfoliate, and boost the circulation of this oft-forgotten area. (At Masa Kanai, you can book a 60-minute service for $250.)

Step 1: Identify the Problem
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

Step 1: Identify the Problem

Before you're taken to the treatment room, you must first assess the damage. To do so, Borges brought out a portable microscope and placed the magnifying device on different areas of my head to reveal my scalp covered in flaky, dried oil — primarily built up at the hair follicle. It was revolting, and yet I couldn't look away.

Contrary to what I've always believed, my dandruff is not, in fact, due to dryness. Instead, Borges explained that when you use too much product like dry shampoo (of which I am 100 percent guilty), that's what leads to flakes.

Immediately after our analysis, Borges tempered my disgust with a 10-minute back rub that combined reiki, Japanese shiatsu, and the Indian head massage technique champissage, and I was left wondering how I hadn't fallen asleep yet.

Step 2: Choose the Just-Right Treatment
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

Step 2: Choose the Just-Right Treatment

After I was quickly diagnosed with an "oily" and "dandruff-prone" scalp, Borges decided to concoct a special hair mask of thyme and botanical ingredients from the all-natural Dr. Amikole line.


Step 3: Take a Seat
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

Step 3: Take a Seat

Like most hair salons, there is a reclining chair and white porcelain bowl for you to place your head into, where the stylist traditionally shampoos. Only at Masa Kanai, this service is juiced up to the umpteenth degree: you get your own designated room, decorated with relaxing blue walls, an extracomfy chair, and a playlist of waterfall sounds. Plus, if the snuggly plush blanket on top of you doesn't keep you warm, the heated pillow placed under your neck sure as hell will.

Step 4: Lean Back and Relax
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

Step 4: Lean Back and Relax

The best way to describe what goes on in that magical, scalp-massaging oasis is to compare it to a facial treatment. First, you cleanse the skin, kneading it gently in a shiatsu-style therapy. Then, you rinse — with carbonated water, mind you, which they use throughout the service because studies show carbon-dioxide-infused H2O boosts circulation — steam, apply a mask, and then condition.

I will admit: I only remember these motions in bursts. Because, like only the best of massages, the moment she went to work on my scalp, I drifted off to sleep, in full REM.

A Closer Look at the Steamer
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

A Closer Look at the Steamer

It's the equivalent of a steam you get before facial extractions, but at head spas, technicians call it a "spa mist" — in which technicians wrap your hair up in a ziplock bag with a fanny-pack-like material and blast it with botanical-infused steam.

This, Borges told me, helps soften the debris on your scalp to prime it for treatment.

Step 5: Marvel at the Difference
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

Step 5: Marvel at the Difference

Once I emerged from the treatment room, both disoriented and blissfully happy, Borges blow-dried my hair — a complimentary add-on with purchase. Out of sheer curiosity, I asked if we could see what my scalp looked like immediately after the treatment. And the proof was in the pudding: all layers of buildup and gunk had been effectively removed. Freedom at last.

The Results: 3 Days Later
POPSUGAR Photography | Kelsey Castañon

The Results: 3 Days Later

Normally, I'll wash my hair every other day, if not to rinse away flakes then to at least inject some volume back at the roots. Borges says the excess product I'd been using actually weighs down the hair follicle, which might be why mine looks so lifeless by the next day.

Not the case this time. Even three days later, my head remained free of dandruff — and, in comparison to what it normally looks like at this point, I was able to walk away from the dry shampoo bottle. For now, at least.


Kelsey Castañon is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and content strategist with more than 13 years of experience in publishing. She is currently the senior content director at PS, where you can find her stockpiling (and reporting on) everything from skin care to wine.