When it comes to an everyday beauty routine, skincare is often looked at as the first priority. Many of us spend hours (and a ton of money) creating the perfect line-up of face wash, toner, and moisturizer. But thanks to the rise in the skinification of hair trend, many of us began seeing their scalp care routine in a whole new light.
Like your skin, your mane needs the same personalized TLC to look glossy, nourished, and healthy. If you’re truly looking to skin-ify your hair routine, you need to begin at the root, which means paying extra attention to your scalp. After all, your scalp is skin, so it deserves just as much love as the rest of your body.
Looking to make your hair routine more scalp-centric? Whether you’re dealing with common scalp woes such as dryness and dandruff or want to pay more attention to it, this is everything you need to know about building the ultimate scalp care routine.
Why is scalp care so important?
Think of it this way: Your hair is an extension of your scalp (literally). While overall hair care is important for achieving and maintaining a strong, healthy mane, your scalp is the foundation of healthy hair growth. If your scalp isn’t in its best condition, the look and feel of your hair will reflect that. That’s why, along with your regular hair care, we recommend adding a few scalp care products and specific scalp care steps to your routine.
What does an unhealthy scalp look like?
If you’re experiencing itchiness, flakes, redness, irritation, excess oil, or a product build-up, this could signify that your scalp isn’t in the best condition. Before creating a scalp care routine, you’ll need to figure out exactly what scalp woes you need to target.
When in doubt, consult your stylist or a dermatologist, who can help you figure out the best routine for you. For example, the terms ‘dandruff’ and ‘dry scalp’ are often used interchangeably, but the truth is that they vary in both their causes and their solutions. A professional can help you distinguish between these small nuances and point you in the right direction.
How do you take care of your scalp?
While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to what is a good scalp routine, an effective regimen will be uniquely tailored to your scalp and hair. Read on for our best tips and products, including scalp exfoliators for product build-up, shampoos for an oily scalp, and what type of sun hat you should *actually* be wearing.
Give your oily scalp a deep clean.
If you’re prone to oily roots, it’s likely caused by overactive sebaceous glands (the glands that make your hair’s natural oils) on the scalp. Sebum is constantly being produced, which helps keep your hair and scalp hydrated naturally. However, excessive sebum can cause oily hair and roots, often caused by product build-up, environmental factors, and even over-shampooing. Overwashing may sound counterintuitive, but hear us out: Every time you lather up your hair with shampoo (especially one that ends up being too harsh for your skin type), it signals your scalp to produce more sebum to replace it, which can lead to oiliness.
So, what’s an oily-haired girl to do? First things first: You’ll want to pick up an oil-reducing shampoo like L’Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Volumetry Anti-Gravity Shampoo. Formulated with salicylic acid to purify your strands, this shampoo gently cleanses and removes oily build-up without stripping the hair of its natural oils.
For those with oily roots and dry ends, consider using a weekly cleansing clay, like Kérastase Specifique Argile Equilibrante Cleansing Clay. This intensely purifying formula gently cleanses the scalp by removing sebum, pollution particles, and impurities while nourishing your strands. It even helps boost volume if greasy roots weigh your mane down. Once a week, apply this clay mask to the roots of wet hair, lather it up, and pull it through the lengths of your hair before rinsing.
Moisturize your scalp.
A dry scalp describes a hydration issue, indicating that your skin lacks moisture. The weather, stress, age, and scalp-stripping hair products can all trigger irritation and dryness that present as tiny flakes.
Hydrating shampoos and conditioners made with humectant ingredients like aloe or glycerin will help the scalp retain its much-needed moisture. Biolage Professional’s Hydra Source Shampoo + Conditioner Duo is a great pick since it’s inspired by the moisture-retaining properties of the aloe plant that never seems to dry. As for glycerin, you can find it in a system like Matrix Moisture Me Rich Shampoo and Conditioner.
Now that your mane is squeaky clean, your scalp may still require a little extra moisture. After stepping out of the shower, apply a leave-in scalp serum like Kérastase Resistance Sérum Extentioniste Scalp & Hair Serum once or twice weekly. This formula helps create visibly stronger hair from root to tip. Ingredients like ceramide and creatine R help enhance shine, retain moisture, and reinforce hair structure. Bonus: This serum can also be applied to a dry scalp on non-wash days.
Ah, dandruff—often the bane of our scalp care existence, though it can sometimes be confused with dryness. The most noticeable difference between dandruff and a dry scalp is the size and color of your flakes. Dandruff is often tinted yellow and falls off the scalp in larger clusters (thanks to a speedy renewal of skin cells), while a dry scalp is usually associated with white specks that look similar to dust. Plus, dandruff is yeast-related, while dryness is a hydration problem.
The good news is that if you have dandruff, you no longer need to shy away from wearing your favorite black outfits. Keep flaking to a minimum by incorporating products made especially for this condition into your hair care routine to help restore your scalp to a healthier, flakeless state. We often turn to Biolage Professional’s Scalp Sync Anti-Dandruff Shampoo. It features pyrithione zinc and mint, an antibacterial ingredient that can calm your scalp. Follow it up with the line’s Scalp Sync Anti-Dandruff Conditioner to alleviate itching, renew the scalp, plus hair is left smooth and soothed.
Looking for a way to ease itchy flare-ups on the go? Stash a leave-in lotion like Mizani’s Scalp Care Calming Lotion in your purse, which has a pointed nozzle that makes it easy to apply product onto your scalp while you’re out and about. Formulated with menthol, eucalyptus oil, aloe, and avocado oil, this product nourishes and soothes skin to help maintain scalp comfort.
Lastly, if all else fails, we suggest asking your doctor about a prescription or over-the-counter dandruff shampoo recommendation.
Exfoliate your scalp.
Wondering, “How do I get rid of scalp build-up?” Exfoliation is the answer.
No matter what scalp concerns you’re dealing with (or even if you aren’t dealing with any at all), a scalp exfoliator is essential for a healthy hair routine. Like the skin on the rest of your body, exfoliating your scalp can remove dry patches and flakes. It can also eliminate product build-up and excess sebum that can clog your hair follicles and clear a pathway to allow any follow-up ingredients to absorb better. Use a grease-nixing formula like Kérastase Scrub Energisant Deep Cleaning Fusio Dose Scrub, or streamline your routine with a multi-tasking shampoo scrub such as Biolage Professional’s All-In-One Shampoo Scrub With Oat.
Massage your scalp.
You may not be able to get that in-salon scalp massage your stylist gives you at the shampoo bowl, but an at-home scalp massage can be just as effective! In fact, a scalp massage can help increase your scalp circulation and promote healthy hair growth. Not to mention, it’s an easy way to de-stress!
While shampooing, use your fingertips to gently massage your scalp in a circular motion beginning at the front and working your way toward the back. If you don’t want to use your fingers, you can also purchase a handheld scalp massager.
Brush your hair often.
We lazy girls have become accustomed to throwing our hair into a claw clip without even thinking of picking up our hair brush first. As tempting as it is, it may be doing more harm than good (even if it does save us some precious time in the morning).
Skimping out on brushing your hair can create tangles that make it that much harder to remove when the time comes—and weeding through the accumulated knots can lead to shedding, breakage, or damage. In addition, brushing helps evenly spread your hair’s natural oils from root to tip. If you don’t brush your locks, all that oil gets concentrated on the scalp, making hair look and feel greasy. In our hair brushing guide, we’ve outlined all your most burning brushing questions, including how often to brush your hair and with what type of bristles.
Clean your hair tools.
Aside from adding products for oily scalps to your hair routine, you’ll also want to ensure that your hair tools are squeaky clean. You likely wouldn’t want to sweep a grimy-looking foundation brush over your complexion, so your hairstyling instruments should be no exception. Hair brushes and hot tools can hold onto product residue and oil, which can transfer onto your mane. For combs and brushes, it’s important to clear loose hair as often as possible since clusters of trapped hair can harbor build-up and bacteria even further.
We recommend checking out our complete guides on how to clean hair brushes and combs the right way and how to clean your curling iron for deeper expert-approved dives into these subjects.
Use tight hairstyles sparingly.
As much as we love a snatched ponytail, these types of super-tight styles put extra stress on your scalp and hair. The occasional tight hairstyle likely won’t cause too much harm. Still, continuous tension on the scalp can result in inflammation and even traction alopecia, a scarring form of hair loss caused by repeatedly pulling hair prematurely from the root, damaging the hair follicle and halting or slowing new hair growth.
If you need a tight hairstyle for a special occasion, apply Matrix’s Instacure Scalp Tension Reliever Scalp Ease Serum to your scalp. Packed with biotin, avocado oil, and liquid proteins, this multi-action formula moisturizes a dry scalp to help reduce flaking and itchiness associated with tension.
Protect your scalp from the sun.
Your scalp and hair are constantly exposed to the sun in your daily life. We all know about the damaging effects UV rays can have on our skin, but our scalps are often ignored when we apply our daily SPF products.
If you plan to be in the sun for long periods, be sure to sit under an umbrella or wear a physical head covering. Straw hats are often the go-to option for sun bums, but their holes aren’t great at stopping UV rays from penetrating through the material and into the scalp. We suggest picking a lightweight hat with tighter stitching to help block out the sun. Wide brims are also ideal for protecting strands that peek out around your face or hairline. Not a fan of the hat? Not to worry—a headscarf can work just as well, and there are dozens of ways you can tie them, allowing you to add your own personal flair.
Also smart: Applying products that protect your hair from the sun throughout your scalp and hair. We love switching to Kérastase’s Soleil Nourishing After Sun Shampoo, especially in the summer. Infused with coconut water, it gently removes chlorine, salt, and sand residue while deeply hydrating the hair fiber and providing sun protection.
Summer isn’t the only time your locks need to be shielded from the sun, though. Even if you’re spending most of your time indoors, the sun that comes through your window can still have the same effects on your strands—so it’s important to always use sun-protecting products. The latest innovations in hair care allow you to style and nourish your hair while protecting it simultaneously. Some of our favorites include Pureology’s Style + Protect Weightless Volume Mousse For Color-Treated Hair to add weightless volume to hair, and Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Essence Absolue Nourishing Protective Hair Oil, which adds shine and deeply rebalance the hair’s moisture level.
With our expert healthy scalp tips and product picks, you’re fully equipped to care for your scalp properly. Now go and take on the day!
Interested in more professional scalp care products? Hair.com has you covered.