Scalp care is all the rage right now, with tons of trendy treatments and products claiming to help us exfoliate, detoxify and moisturize our way to healthy follicles. The truth is, our scalps go through a lot, so they do deserve a proper amount of TLC.
Studies have shown that there’s a direct correlation between scalp health and hair health and retention. Product buildup, tension from hairstyles and the physical effects of stress can all cause some serious damage.
According to celebrity hair stylist Nick Stenson, all these factors can eventually lead to hair loss. “One of the reasons we lose hair is because we don’t protect our scalp,” Stenson told HuffPost. “We have clogged follicles ― maybe because we’re using products that ... add buildup to the scalp. The scalp can’t breathe and the hydration doesn’t get to the scalp, so therefore it clogs your pores and then the follicle dies.”
So it makes sense to invest in scalp maintenance, but trendy in-salon services aren’t always necessary or within our budgets. For example, it’ll cost you $150 to purify, moisturize and lightly exfoliate the scalp with a Biologique Recherche Hair and Scalp Treatment at Paul Labrecque Salon in Palm Beach, Florida ― blowout not included. If you aren’t splurging on fancy treatments, experts suggest showing our heads some love with the help of more affordable over-the-counter products designed to help our scalps.
Stylist Camille Janae, who runs a textured hair salon in Sacramento called Mahogany and Rose, believes proper care starts with a good shampoo. “The primary step that is going to be most beneficial to the scalp is the shampooing step.” She says there’s no one-size-fits-all formula, but consumers should “make sure that their shampoo is hydrating enough and cleansing enough so that your hair and scalp is clean, but also not going to be left feeling dried out.”
Stenson is a fan of Biolage’s All-in-One Shampoo and Scrub, a cleanser that claims to exfoliate, detoxify and cleanse for a healthy scalp. According to Stenson, “This is perfect for those who work out, spend a lot of time outside in the elements or just love a super refreshed feeling for their scalp occasionally.” For best results, he says to emulsify the product into your scalp the way you would use a scrub on your face, as that process will “remove any buildup that you have on the hair and help basically open up the glands so that you can allow that natural oil to distribute throughout the hair.”
When your scalp’s natural oils don’t provide enough moisture, experts recommend mixing a few drops of lavender, tea tree or rosemary oil with a carrier oil, such as castor, olive or coconut, and applying to your scalp in moderation ― once a week for fine hair and two to three times a week if your hair is very thick. Though many people like to use oil throughout their strands, board-certified dermatologist Kassahun Bilcha said to keep them concentrated on the scalp: “Oils should be placed on the scalp ― they’re meant for the scalp more than the hair.”
Bridgette Hill, a certified trichologist and founder of Root Cause Scalp Analysis, recommends Rene Furterer Complex 5 Stimulating Plant Concentrate as a pre-shampoo treatment. She says this oil works to “detoxify the scalp by removing product buildup while encouraging circulation and cellular turnover.” Not to mention, it’s got an intoxicating citrus scent.
Stenson recommends tea tree oil as a more affordable option ― it can be found at any health store, and is great to “open up and detox your follicle, which is gonna help it breathe.”
Proper scalp care isn’t limited to products ― experts agree that certain tools might also be worth the money. Hill is a fan of Tangle Teezer’s Scalp Exfoliator and Massager, which is marketed as a multi-tasking marvel with dual teeth that help to detox the scalp and clear product build-up. She says the design of the brush’s teeth “aid in assisting the active ingredients found in scalp treatments to penetrate deeper” and “the dual teeth also allow for stimulating massage and soothing capabilities.”
If you’re going to incorporate tools like a scalp massager into your routine, Stenson suggested using them in tandem with your favorite oils. “Put the essential oils on the scalp first and then massage it in,” as the tool will “help penetrate the oil into the scalp a little bit deeper and allow that product to really move through the hair.”
As helpful as adding all these products to your arsenal may be, experts caution consumers not to overdo it, as too much of a good thing might backfire. When it comes to exfoliating products, Bilcha warned, “Scratching the scalp and irritating the scalp daily or or being very aggressive could damage and sometimes result in hair loss.”
Too much oil might also work against you ― remember the guidance of once a week for fine hair and two to three times a week for thicker hair. Janae said that layering oils repels water and can lead to excessive dryness. She shared that in the long run, oils can “actually prevent water from being able to reach the scalp and the hair, and water is really the main thing that our hair and scalp needs in order to be hydrated.”
While selecting the best products and tools on the market is crucial, knowing what you’re doing is equally important to any at-home maintenance routine. Janae said, “The key is quality products paired with proper technique and application. You can go out and purchase a product that a hairstylist recommends, but until you know how to use it, you’re still not going to get the same benefits.”