If you’re trying to update your hair-cleansing regimen, you’ll want to know how to exfoliate your scalp. In reality, routinely exfoliating your scalp may help control minor dandruff, successfully eliminate product buildup, and even help your hair seem fuller and thicker without that stuff holding it down. But scalp exfoliation isn’t something that many of us do routinely.
“People do not consider the health of their scalp until there is an issue,” David Adams, cofounder, and colorist of FourteenJay salon, tells us. But exfoliating the scalp frequently helps keep it healthy in the long run, preventing concerns from coming up and boosting the appearance of hair. “Our skin and scalp are part of the same ecosystem. So as we would exfoliate, wash, and moisturize our face, we should do the same with our scalp.”
Below, discover more about how to exfoliate your scalp, why you might want to do it more often, and how to get started—without discomfort.
What precisely is scalp exfoliation?
Exfoliation on your scalp works the same way on other sections of your body. Essentially, it helps speed up the natural process of eliminating dry, dead skin cells from the surface of your skin so that the newer, smoother cells below may be visible.
This may be done with physical exfoliants, tools like scrubs, or brushes that physically peel away those older cells. Or this may be done using creams containing chemical exfoliants, such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid. These acids dissolve the connections between skin cells, allowing them to be removed more readily.
For many people, exfoliating your scalp isn’t needed. But it may help eliminate extra debris, oil, and dead skin cells that could form on your scalp, thereby helping to manage concerns like dandruff and product buildup, which otherwise contributes to dullness.
Why should you attempt exfoliating your scalp?
Exfoliating may seem like an unwanted extra step in your hair routine. But it may have some significant advantages, especially for people prone to dandruff, product buildup, and thinning hair.
Dandruff: Like the skin on your face, your scalp includes sebaceous glands that generate oil (sebum) (sebum). In the appropriate amount, sebum helps make your hair silky and lustrous. But an overproduction of sebum, or deposit of oil on the scalp, can feed the Malassezia furfur yeast that leads to dandruff. An oily scalp can also contribute to flare-ups of seborrheic dermatitis, a chronic skin disorder defined by red, greasy spots, itching or burning, and dandruff flakes. Occasional exfoliation might help control the flakes.
Applying an exfoliating scalp mask once or twice a week might help reduce or avoid dandruff flare-ups; Anabel Kingsley, a trichologist at Philip Kinglsey Trichological Clinic, previously told us. “Exfoliating masks gently pull away flakes and helps to reestablish the rate of skin cell turnover on the scalp to a normal, healthy level.” However, Kingsley warns that the brush approach might be too abrasive for certain scalps.
Thinning hair: Over time, the development of dandruff and sebum can clog hair follicles, which can contribute to hair loss and thinning. “In most cases, the follicle has two or more hairs sprouting from it,” Adams explains. “When it’s blocked, the follicle shrinks and so the amount of hairs sprouting from it are reduced.” Exfoliating the scalp can relieve these blockages, which will help hair grow healthier and seem fuller.
Product buildup and dullness: Hairstyling products can also pile up along the scalp and block hair shafts, especially fan-favorite dry shampoo. Even if you shampoo many times a week, you may still desire that extra cleaning power from exfoliation. “There is a tremendous difference between washing the hair and exfoliating the scalp,” adds Adams.
However, certain persons should not try scalp exfoliation.
The scalp exfoliating procedure might be a little intense, especially for people who already have sensitive scalps. That includes people with psoriasis or eczema affecting their scalps. Psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder that develops areas of thickened skin or scales that often itch or feel painful. Although it’s more frequent in regions like the elbows and knees, it may appear on the scalp too. Eczema is a skin disorder that results in dry, itchy, red areas of skin that may peel off. People with these disorders, wounds, lesions, or infections on their scalps should forgo exfoliation.
Instead, anyone coping with such conditions should adhere to shampooing softly, without rubbing or scrubbing, dermatologist Janet Prystowsky, M.D., tells us: “If you have a psoriasis predisposition, then cleaning the scalp forcefully will actually increase risk of scalp flake formation.”
How to exfoliate your scalp:
Adams suggests a good scalp exfoliation at least once a month. If you have a persistent condition like dandruff, he suggests 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 go to a dermatologist.
An exfoliating scalp treatment starts by polishing the scalp with a teasing brush or scalp massager brush. “This loosens the debris on the scalp,” adds Adams. Make careful to use moderate strokes because brushing too hard will cause discomfort. After brushing, massage a scalp treatment into a dry scalp and hair for around 10 minutes. You want to seek a treatment that is lightweight so that it will rinse away easily. Once properly rubbed into the scalp, you go through your typical wash, condition, and style procedure.
If you don’t have time for all these processes (which can add 20 minutes to your shampoo regimen), you can wash with a shampoo that has an exfoliate built in, such as a scalp scrub shampoo or a shampoo with a chemical exfoliant.