If you're looking to upgrade your hair-cleansing routine, you'll want to know how to exfoliate your scalp. In fact, regularly exfoliating your scalp can help manage mild dandruff, effectively get rid of product buildup, and even help your hair look fuller and thicker without that stuff weighing it down. But scalp exfoliation isn't something that many of us are doing regularly.
“People do not think about the health of their scalp until there is an issue,” David Adams, cofounder and colorist of FourteenJay salon, tells SELF. But exfoliating the scalp regularly can keep it healthier in the long run, preventing issues from cropping up and improving the look of hair. “Our skin and scalp are part of the same ecosystem. As we would exfoliate, cleanse, and moisturize our skin, we should do the same with our scalp.”
Below, learn more about how to exfoliate your scalp, why you might want to do it more regularly, and how to get started—without irritation.
What exactly is scalp exfoliation?
Exfoliation on your scalp works the same way it does on other parts of your body. Essentially, it helps speed up the natural process of removing dry, dead skin cells from the surface of your skin so that the newer, smoother cells underneath can be revealed.
This can be done with physical exfoliants, which are products like scrubs or brushes that manually flake away those older cells. Or this can be done with products containing chemical exfoliants, which are ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid. These acids break down the bonds between skin cells, allowing them to be removed more easily.
For many people, exfoliating your scalp isn’t essential. But it can help remove excess dirt, oil, and dead skin cells that might accumulate on your scalp, thus helping to manage issues like dandruff and product buildup, which otherwise leads to dullness.
Why should you try exfoliating your scalp?
Exfoliating may seem like an unnecessary extra step to your hair routine. But it may have some real benefits, especially for those who are prone to dandruff, product buildup, and thinning hair.
Dandruff: Just like the skin on your face, your scalp contains sebaceous glands that produce oil (sebum). In the right amount, sebum helps make your hair soft and shiny. But an overproduction of sebum, or buildup of oil on the scalp, can feed the malassezia furfur yeast that leads to dandruff. An oily scalp can also lead to flare-ups of seborrheic dermatitis, a chronic skin condition marked by red, greasy patches, itching or burning, and dandruff flakes. Occasional exfoliating can help manage the flakes.
Applying an exfoliating scalp mask once or twice a week can help quell or prevent dandruff flare-ups, Anabel Kingsley, a trichologist at Philip Kinglsey Trichological Clinic, previously told SELF. “Exfoliating masks gently lift away flakes and helps to return the rate of skin cell turnover on the scalp to a normal, healthy level.” However, Kingsley notes that the brush method can be too irritating for some scalps.
Thinning hair: Over time the buildup of dandruff and sebum can clog hair follicles, which can lead to hair loss and hair thinning. “In most cases, the follicle has two or more hairs growing from it,” Adams says. “When it’s clogged, the follicle shrinks and therefore the number of hairs growing from it are reduced.” Exfoliating the scalp can clear these blockages, which will help hair grow in better and appear fuller.
Product buildup and dullness: Hairstyling products can also pile up along the scalp and clog hair follicles, especially fan-favourite dry shampoo. Even if you shampoo multiple times a week, you may still want that extra cleansing power from exfoliating. “There is a big difference between shampooing the hair and exfoliating the scalp,” says Adams.
However, some people should not try scalp exfoliation.
The scalp exfoliation process can be a little intense, especially for those who already have sensitive scalps. That includes those with psoriasis or eczema affecting their scalps. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes patches of thickened skin or scales that often itch or feel sore. Although it's most common on areas like the elbows and knees, it can occur on the scalp too. Eczema is a skin condition that results in dry, itchy, red patches of skin that may flake off. People with these conditions or cuts, sores, or infections on their scalps should skip exfoliation.
Instead, people dealing with those issues should stick to shampooing gently, without rubbing or scrubbing, dermatologist Janet Prystowsky, M.D., tells SELF: “If you have a psoriasis tendency, then scrubbing the scalp vigorously will actually increase risk of scalp flake formation.”
How to exfoliate your scalp:
Adams recommends a proper scalp exfoliation at least once a month. If you have a recurring issue like dandruff, he recommends exfoliating once every two weeks until it’s under control. But if your dandruff is more severe, especially if it causes you to itch so much that you’re bleeding, you should avoid scalp exfoliation and talk to a dermatologist.
An exfoliating scalp treatment starts by buffing the scalp with a teasing brush or scalp massager brush. “This loosens the debris on the scalp,” says Adams. Make sure to use gentle strokes because brushing too hard can cause irritation. After brushing, massage a scalp treatment into a dry scalp and hair for about 10 minutes. You want to look for a treatment that is lightweight so it will rinse away easily. Once it’s thoroughly worked into the scalp, you just go through your normal wash, condition, and styling process.
If you don't have time for all these steps (which can add 20 minutes to your shampoo routine), you can wash with a shampoo that has an exfoliator built in, like a scalp scrub shampoo or a shampoo containing a chemical exfoliant.
This originally appeared on SELF US | Author: Emily Rekstis and Sarah Jacoby