Whether you’re sulphate-free or not, shampoo is one of those things that none of us can live without. The feeling of soft, freshly-washed hair is probably the best thing to come from a shower (except maybe nestling under the covers with a pair of baby-smooth pins), but is our shampoo taking good enough care of our scalps? Often overlooked and neglected, the skin underneath our hair is kind of where healthy, luscious hair starts - and if you’re battling dandruff, hair loss or greasy locks, giving your scalp some TLC may just change your mane game for good.
Scalp scrubs have been popping up from some of our most beloved haircare brands for a while, but are they just another fad product we don’t really need (we’re looking at you, so-called ‘split-end sealers’)? We reached out to London hair and scalp specialist, Dr Sharon Wong, for her verdict on whether adding a scrub to your hair routine is worth it.
What is a scalp scrub?
"Compared to facial skin, the scalp has more hair follicles and grease glands, so it can quickly lead to a build up of dead skin and sebum, causing the scalp to become flaky, greasy and itchy," says Dr Wong. Add in the build-up of dry shampoo, conditioner and volumising products, and you’ve got yourself a seriously blocked-up head. "Just like exfoliating the skin on your face, a good scrub will physically remove dead skin cells/dandruff from the scalp surface, which then allows the proper penetration of ingredients in other hair and scalp products used.
"If you’re suffering from thinning hair, or hair that isn’t growing, adding a scalp scrub to your routine can promote a healthy turnover and renewal of skin cells, allowing proper space for new hair to grow in. If greasy hair is your problem, then scrubs can definitely mop up any excessive grease from the scalp surface that your shampoo just didn’t catch. "
Can a scalp scrub help with dandruff and hair growth?
" Yes it is vitally important - healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp, akin to growing healthy plants from good quality soil! There are plenty of examples where an unhealthy scalp can lead to hair loss such as severe eczema, dandruff, psoriasis and ringworm.
How often should I exfoliate my scalp?
"This depends on your scalp type, but it’s very important not to overdo the exfoliation as this damages the barrier function of the skin, making it more sensitive and prone to irritation. For dry scalps I would only advise using a scalp scrub once a week maximum, whereas very greasy scalps may require more frequent treatment. " Depending on your scrub's instructions, apply it pre- or post-shampoo and divide your hair into sections. Take a proper moment to massage it in, which will help stimulate the hair follicles and help you unwind a tad (go on, you deserve it).
Can a scalp scrub get rid of product build-up?
"Unless the scrub is formulated as part of a shampoo it may not be sufficient to fully remove build-up of product. Most scrubs are used as a separate treatment from the shampoo which is more effective at removing product build up from the scalp. "
Which ingredients should I look for in a scalp scrub, and which should I avoid?
Look for scalp scrubs/exfoliants that contain alpha hydroxy acids such as fruit acids, or beta hydroxy acids such as salicylic acid which are both commonly used for chemical peels in facial rejuvenation, and offer a more gentle exfoliant compared to overly using products that contain coarse particles which are more abrasive and potentially damaging to the skin. For more brilliant salicylic acid products, check out our edit.
Which are the best scalp scrubs?
1. Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt, £39
Ideal for: Some good old physical exfoliation
Although chemical exfoliators work best in avoiding irritation, this one is a rebalancing shampoo with tiny sea salt crystals to double-down on scalp cleansing, while almond oil nourishes any dryness.
2. Kiehls Deep Micro-Exfoliating Scalp Treatment, £20
Ideal for: Dry, itchy scalps
This treatment harnesses the power of apricot to exfoliate the scalp, lifting scaly patches and adding a shot of moisture with argan oil.
3. Philip Kingsley Exfoliating Scalp Mask, £17
Ideal for: Oily scalps with dandruff
This scrub is so loved by hair connoisseurs, it won our prestigious Best Beauty Buys awards this year as the best scalp treatment, and it's totally deserved. It moisturises and soothes while controlling sebum production, making it a hero for problem scalps.
4. Lee Stafford Hair Growth Scalp Scrub, £6
Ideal for: Growing long, luscious locks
If your hair stubbornly refuses to reach past your shoulders, then you've got to get to know this scrub. It unblocks hair follicles, providing an ideal environment for hair to grow, and lifts product build-up.
5. Grow Gorgeous Scalp Detox, £28
Ideal for: Pretty much everything
Grow Gorgeous focuses on scalp action for healthy hair growth, and their scalp scrub is a total all-rounder. Pomegranate enzymes exfoliate, castor oil beads gently scrub while adding bursts of nourishment and stimulating the hair follicles, and white willow bark purifies. Oh, and this little guy also protects your hair against UV and free radical damage.