I always thought of scalp scrubs as an unnecessary extra step. I have a lot of hair as it is, and shampooing and conditioning alone take a big chunk of time most mornings. However, once I began to deal with a drier, flakier scalp as the seasons changed, I started wondering if scrubs were the solution. As it turns out, the skin on your scalp is just like the skin on any other part of your body. Doing a haphazard, 30-second routine won't cut—and just like any solid skin care routine, that means exfoliating regularly.
"Keeping the scalp incredibly clean is going to help the hair we have now, it's going to help the hair grow thicker and fuller, and most importantly it's going to help that future hair grow really thicker and fuller," says David Adams, a trichologist (an expert in scalp and hair health) and co-founder of Thicker Fuller Hair. "A clean scalp is one of the most important things we can do to ensure we have healthy growing hair." Read on for more pearls of wisdom from the pro.
Taking care of your hair and taking care of your scalp are two different things.
"It's really important to keep the needs of the scalp and the hair separate," Adams says. If you're the type to use a ton of hairspray for styling your hair that means using a clarifying shampoo on the strands, plus a scalp scrub to get out the rest of the gunk.
Use a scalp scrub once a week.
"I would recommend if you have a very dry or flaky scalp using a scrub once a week, perhaps even once every two weeks," Adams says.
Shop Scalp Scrubs
Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt
Christophe Robin sephora.com
This cult-favorite is the O.G. of scalp scrubs, popular for the way it gives you a really satisfying physical exfoliation with sea salt and a deeply moisturizing finish.
African Black Soap & Bamboo Charcoal Pre-Shampoo Scalp Scrub
This pre-wash treatment helps keep away excess oil and flakes with a purifying combination of tea tree oil, bamboo charcoal, and African black soap.
Low Key Cleansing Walnut Scalp Scrub
You'll feel immediate relief from this soothing, apple cider vinegar-powered scrub.
Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub With Pink Himalayan Sea Salt
This scrub uses a combo of antimicrobial ACV and sea salt to rebalance your scalp and make itching a thing of the past.
Crown Scalp Scrub
Salicylic acid is in this scalp scrub, so it's perfect for minimizing product build up on especially oily scalps. Meanwhile Kaolin absorbs excess oil and Argan oil leaves hair feeling smooth.
Scalp & Body Scrub
This double-duty product can be used both on your scalp and the rest of your body. It smells like rose and uses sugar crystals to get your scalp squeaky clean.
Scalp Scrub Charcoal + Coconut
If you want really clean ingredients, turn to this paraben- and sulfate-free formula for a good scrub that will get rid of dandruff and days' worth of styling products.
Be gentle with your scrubbing.
"You wouldn't rub vigorously on your face, so it's the same with the scalp," Adams suggests. "Do nice and soft, gentle circular movements. That encourages microcirculation or blood to come to the surface of the scalp. And your hair is fed by the bloodstream. So, if we can encourage blood to come to the surface that's going to encourage hair growth as well."
Look for key ingredients like zinc and copper.
Zinc, in particular, is a great ingredient for scalp cleansing—and why it's present in so many dandruff products. "If for some reason you have this over-acceleration of shedding skin cells, the zinc will help remove the skin cells and slow down the rapid turnover," Adams explains.
He also encourages you to look for ingredients like copper, magnesium, organic essential oils, and keratin. Thicker Fuller Hair products include a vegan keratin, which helps hair grow healthier and stronger because keratin is the protein it is made of.
Ease up on the styling products
"Things like dry shampoo and mousse that people keep piling on their hair every day don't help," Adams warns. "The products tend to build up around the opening to the follicle and then what happens over time is if we don't cleanse that scalp you can get what's called miniaturization." He explains, "The follicle becomes smaller. So, instead of having sort of two or three hairs growing out of a follicle, you get one or two hairs growing out. It's one of the causes of thinning hair."
Adams adds this sobering metaphor: "It's like going to work with full makeup on, and then you go home at night and you don't take the makeup off. You go to bed, you wake up the next morning, and then you reapply your makeup. And do that for three more days," he says. Yikes.
Kristina Rodulfo Senior Beauty Editor Kristina Rodulfo is the Senior Beauty Editor of ELLE.com—she oversees beauty across ELLE's digital media platforms and is an expert in product testing, identifying trends, and exploring the intersections of beauty, culture, and identity.