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Scalp Scrubs

Exfoliating the scalp can mean different things to different people. Over time there can be a build-up of residues from hair products such as shampoos and conditioners as well as an accumulation of natural oils and dead skin cells. Read more...




Scalp scrubs

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What's the purpose of scalp scrubs? What do they do that your shampoo and conditioner do not?

Exfoliating the scalp can mean different things to different people.

For some, over time there can be a ‘build up’ of residues from hair products such as shampoos and conditioners as well as an accumulation of natural oils and dead skin cells. Shampoos and conditioners can either leave behind a residue or the hydrating ingredients can accumulate in and around the hair follicles on the scalp leading to a residue that can affect the quality of hair growth. It is not that shampoos do not clean and conditioners do not provide clean hydration to the scalp. It is just inevitable with the terrain of the scalp and different manners in which products can accumulate that routine use of the same products leave some residue behind. Exfoliating or treating this build-up can help return hair’s natural luster and make the scalp less ‘flaky’ or dry and, hopefully, less itchy.

For others, inflammation can lead to significant scaling and flakiness to the scalp. Common examples of this are psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. For these conditions, exfoliating the scalp by trying to actively remove or dislodge this scale can result in significant discomfort, raw or tender sensation, and even bleeding. This scaling and flakiness can be treated, however, the approach is different.

Do scalp scrubs contribute to healthy hair? Do scalp scrubs stimulate hair growth?

Regardless of the cause of buildup, flakiness, or scaling to the scalp, this really should be addressed. Any kind of build-up or scaling can result in a few problems.

The buildup of dead skin cells and oils from not washing routinely or from product buildup that is not addressed can make our scalp feel itchy. This itching can cause flakes and dead skin cells to fall on our clothing which can be a bit embarrassing when wearing darker-colored clothing. Excess itchiness can result in hair breakage as well.

If dry, flaky scalp is the result of inflammation, then the underlying cause of the inflammation should be treated or addressed. If the inflammation becomes chronic, then it can interfere with hair growth and become a source of discomfort as well.

Can a scrub address product build-up?

Although an aspect of hair training to reduce the number of days to shampoo could include a scalp scrub, the reality is that scalp scrubs are likely intended for use in those that overuse hair products as opposed to under usage. That being said, sometimes people use shampoo and conditioner just because they are getting in the shower but not necessarily because their hair is in need of a cleaning. Others may use shampoo and conditioner daily as they find it the only way to address the excess flaking and dryness in their scalp. In this case, the use of scalp scrub may reduce the tendency to feel the need to shampoo daily.

What are some signs people should be incorporating a scalp scrub or condition into their routine?

If you would like to try a scalp scrub, start off using it every other week or up to once a week. It may help to get used to them a bit and avoid over-drying your scalp. Excess use may strip your scalp of natural oils and even strip away some hair color if you are coloring your hair.

It can feel really good to use a scalp exfoliator the first time you use it. It’s almost like a really good salon wash with a great scalp massage. However, try not to go overboard. At first, your hair will look great. If overused, you will start to lose the natural luster of your hair. It’s actually helpful to follow up these treatments with a leave-in conditioner or regular conditioner to rehydrate your scalp and hair.

Are there any homemade/natural ways to scrub your scalp?

If your scalp issues are related to bacteria, it may be somewhat helpful to consider ACV diluted 1 part ACV to 3 parts water to help prevent. However, if your issues are dandruff related you may need to do 1 part ACV to 1 part water as this should be able to retain more effectiveness to the yeast that triggers dandruff.

Can you provide tips for using these products? Which ingredients should people look for in scalp scrubs?

Charcoal has become a popular ingredient for products to include when targeting excess oil or impurities. Although I could not find a single medical study to show the effectiveness of charcoal in treating scalps directly, I can find potential benefits to using products that contain it.

What is charcoal? Activated charcoal used in products and in medicine is made by heating substances rich in carbon such as wood, sawdust, coconut shells, etc. This is an interesting process because it allows the carbon to become more adsorbent. Adsorbent means that it can bind more molecules. In medicine, activated charcoal has been used to treat overdoses and poisonings as it can adsorb these toxins quickly. It has been used in wound healing in addition to a number of other uses.

Charcoal applied to the skin is overall harmless and is not likely to irritate the skin. The theory behind adding it to products is that it may possibly absorb extra oil from the skin. If you have found a benefit in treating your scalp with charcoal-containing topicals then it is perfectly ok to continue. It would likely be best for people that have an oily scalp. It is a milder alternative to help reduce the oiliness without excessively drying the skin or hair.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is gaining a lot of attention in skin care products. It is a proven emollient that can effectively hydrate the skin. It also has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. These can be beneficial for dry flaky scalps to help hydrate and improve scaling or flaking to the scalp.

I don’t think a day goes by where a patient doesn’t tell me that they used apple cider vinegar to treat something! ACV has anti-yeast properties and has been used to even treat diaper rash. Seborrheic dermatitis is thought to be related to yeast that is overgrown on our skin. It can often be added to scalp exfoliators to help address the underlying yeast that triggers inflammation resulting in scaling.

Tea tree oil has become one of the most common ingredients to find in skin care products. It is known for its antimicrobial and antiseptic properties in its activity against bacteria, viruses, fungi, mites, etc. When added to scalp exfoliators it is likely addressing some of the underlying triggers for scalp inflammation that result in scaling and itching. The only caution is that it does have about a 1-2% chance of causing contact dermatitis in those that use it. If using a product that has tea tree oil and your itching and flaking are getting worse, it’s important to take a look at your products and make sure they are not making it worse!

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid breaks apart superficial skin cells to help remove dead skin cells from the surface. It is used in acne medications but can also be found in higher concentrations in wart treatments. It can be effective without being too irritating. In scalp products, it can help remove excess dry skin and scale.

Are there any mistakes people make with scalp scrubs?

Understanding and accurately diagnosing the causes of different scalp conditions is important prior to deciding to use a scalp exfoliator.

Most products marketed as scalp exfoliants use ingredients intended to chemically exfoliate the scalp similar to acne products or hydrating ingredients intended to address itching and flaking of the scalp.

Scalp Scrubs


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