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Ancient Japanese Head Spas

How to Recreate This Ancient Japanese Head Spa Treatment at Home

Head spas are an Eastern-rooted practice that helps optimize scalp and hair health. Here’s what to know before getting one and ways to recreate it at home.

Between the bustling holidays and winter’s chill, spa treatments are calling our names this time of year—and there’s never been a better time or season to pamper your mane with a Japanese head spa service. Part spa trip, part scalp treatment, head spas are a holistic approach to enhancing your scalp and hair health using personalized hair topicals, deep tissue scalp massages, and relaxation rituals.

Never heard of a head spa? We tapped New York City-based hairstylist and trichologist Shab Reslan, and Ritsuko Borges, a holistic cosmetologist and head spa practitioner at MASA.KANAI, to give us the lowdown on this not-so-new practice and offer advice on replicating its effects at home.

“Although novel in North America, head spas have historically been commonplace in countries like Japan and Korea,” says Reslan.

Adds Borges: “Much like how all salons offer cuts, blowouts, color, and keratin, most Japanese salons include a head spa on their menu as well.”

Keep scrolling to discover whether this ancient practice is what your self-care routine has been missing.

What is a head spa?

The term ‘head spa’ actually refers to a specific kind of over-the-sink Japanese scalp service, but scalp massage and scalp treatments have a deep-rooted history throughout Asia.

“Traditional Eastern remedies and practices have always believed strongly in the emphasis on treating the head and scalp to optimize hair quality and relaxation,” says Reslan.

Similar to how facials manage skin health, a Japanese head spa is an equally pampering session tailor-made to improve your scalp and hair conditions. It involves using various methods of scalp therapy (think: serums, exfoliants, devices, and massages) to help reset the scalp environment by promoting circulation, enhancing product absorption, and providing stress relief.

Good hair day by @luciapilotocabeleireiros.

Who should visit a head spa?

Almost anyone can benefit from a Japanese head spa service, but those looking to unwind and relax while simultaneously improving their scalp and hair health will be particularly eager to book a session. They’re also recommended for anyone experiencing stress-related changes in their hair strength or growth.

Though a head spa is a holistic way to enhance your hair’s vitality, head to your dermatologist, trichologist, or stylist if you notice prolonged hair loss or thinning, itching, or rashes on the scalp that don’t respond well to topical products or salon treatments.

What to Expect at a Head Spa

The exact rituals professionals perform in a head spa varies between salons. Still, a general service includes a scalp analysis, scrubs, shampooing, deep treatments, and massage.

Scalp Analysis

Many parlors, including MASA.KANAI’s often begin with a consultation since not everyone has the same scalp and hair goals that brought them in for an appointment.

“This in-depth scalp and wellness consultation includes a microscopic analysis of the scalp,” says Borges. “Upon viewing the scalp up close, we can pinpoint and directly show our guests their problem areas. Through a wellness consultation, I help customers [discover the root cause of these issues].”

Exfoliating Scalp Treatments

Once your head spa expert determines the best routine for you, they will often start with a scrub to set the stage for the rest of your scalp treatment.

“Typically, the treatment at a head spa will begin with a deep scalp exfoliation with either microdermabrasion devices for the scalp or manual exfoliants to remove product and sebum build-up and prep the scalp for topicals,” says Reslan.

Much like the skin on the rest of your body, your scalp can seriously benefit from exfoliation. Think of it as creating a clean canvas that ensures any nourishing ingredients applied afterward can penetrate as deeply and effectively as possible.

Scalp Massages and Masks

“After rinsing the scalp exfoliant off, topicals, oils, or treatments are applied on the freshly cleansed scalp and massaged in either manually or with an electronic scalp massager,” explains Reslan.

Depending on whether the hair product used is also designed to treat your strands (like a mask), many salons may process the hair and scalp under a dryer or wrap them in a warm towel for increased absorption.

Topical Leave-Ins

According to Reslan, a head spa generally concludes with rinsing out all products with shampoo and conditioner. The trichologist adds that some salons may also top off your spa session by applying a leave-in scalp topical that can safely remain on the scalp until your next shampoo day.

How to Recreate a Head Spa at Home

Both Borges and Reslan agree that you can easily recreate an environment similar to a head spa at home, so long as you choose products suitable for your scalp concerns. While it’s not an exact science, here are some DIY steps to show your mane some head spa love.

Set the stage.

This part is totally optional, but Borges says the soothing effects of breathing in your favorite essential oil while doing a quick mindfulness ritual can get you into the right headspace.

“I believe body, mind, and soul health are very much connected to the skin and hair,” says the holistic practitioner. “This way, you will have both a healthy scalp and well-being.

Why not dim the lights and light a candle while you’re at it?

Pre-treat your scalp.

Every at-home head spa should start with a pre-shampoo treatment that can target your scalp’s specific needs. Scrubs work well as pre-shampoo treatments and deep-cleansing scalp massage agents.

For those with oily hair, consider using a formula like Kérastase Scrub Energisant Deep Clean Fusio Dose Scrub. It’s a deeply purifying and energizing scalp scrub for oily scalps, formulated with sea salt and salicylic acid. Are dandruff and dryness more your issue? Try Kérastase Scrub Apaisant Deep Clean Fusio Dose Scrub. This relaxing formula deeply cleanses to combat dandruff, dryness, and flakes and soothes itchy scalps.

Dampen your hair in the shower, then gently remove any tangles with your fingers. Working in sections, apply your chosen scalp exfoliator or treatment on the crown of your head with your fingertips, a scalp brush, or gloves if you prefer to keep your hands clean.

Give yourself a head massage.

Now, it’s time to give yourself a head massage—and contrary to popular belief, they *can* be just as relaxing in your tub as at the shampoo bowl.

After you’ve applied your scrub or pre-treatment, use your fingertips to gently massage your scalp in small circular motions beginning at the hairline and working your way toward the back of your head. Pro tip: Use the pads of your fingers to avoid aggravating or damaging your scalp.

For a more intense scalp massage during this step, follow the instructions in our gua sha guide.

Shampoo your hair.

Once your pro-rivaled head massage is over, thoroughly rinse the product from your hair and follow up with shampoo.

If product build-up is your main concern, a clarifying shampoo like Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Gentle Radiance Deep Cleanser is your best bet at cutting through the grime. Need extra hydration? You’ll want to add the aloe-infused Biolage Professional Hydra Source Shampoo to your shopping cart.

Apply a mask.

Follow up with your usual conditioner if your locks are in good shape post-shampoo (lucky you!). When your hair requires extra TLC, slather on a hair mask, then wrap your head in a cozy warm towel for ten minutes before rinsing. (If you doze off at this point, we can hardly blame you!)

When it comes to masking, we especially love Redken’s All Soft Heavy Cream Deep Conditioning Treatment Mask to help rehab dry, brittle hair back to life.

Use a scalp serum.

Your homemade head spa isn’t over just yet! Complete your pampering routine with a leave-in scalp serum or lotion. A formula like Kérastase Resistance Sérum Extentioniste Scalp & Hair Serum can help create visibly stronger hair at the root, while Mizani’s Scalp Care Calming Lotion nourishes, cools, and soothes the scalp while getting rid of dandruff and flakes.

Now that you know what to expect at a head spa service and how to recreate the environment at home, here’s to hoping your hair and mind are as soothed and stress-free as can be this winter.

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