The scalp is finally having its main character moment — so much so that many beauty buffs have coined 2022 as the year of the scalp. This era of scalp skin care encompasses a rise in ingredients and treatments traditionally used on the face making their way into the hair care realm, all with the overall goal of having healthier strands.
“‘Skinification’ of hair is a growing trend, and it makes sense: The scalp is skin, and the hair follicles are literally the manufacturing plant for your hair,” Dr. Iris Rubin, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and founder of SEEN Haircare, tells Bustle. “An unhealthy scalp cannot create healthy hair, and the presence of various inflammatory scalp conditions can impact the health of the skin on your body and face,” Dr. Rachel Nazarian, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group, adds. Thus, it’s unsurprising that scalp therapy has earned the second-highest searched category within the hair care product category, amassing an average of 3.2 million monthly queries in the U.S., according to trend data aggregation platform Spate.
Another factor contributing to the movement? A global rise in thinning hair and hair loss caused by pandemic-related stress and COVID-19, adds board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green, M.D. “This has created a need for treatments that alleviate hair loss,” Green says, noting that this tends to start with the scalp. “The health of the scalp plays a major role in the health of the hair, so when you have a clean, well-functioning scalp, you will, in turn, have strong hair that grows.”
Read on for scalp care tips that’ll boost your overall head of hair as well as which at-home products and treatments experts recommend.
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Scalp Care: The Basics
Experts assert that caring for your scalp shouldn’t come as a last resort, or solely when experiencing hair loss: Prioritizing the skin on your head can impact even the healthiest-seeming hair. Fortunately, treating the scalp is actually pretty easy, as the process starts in the shower.
“To prevent product buildup, the scalp needs to be regularly cleansed, exfoliated, and moisturized,” Dr. Gaby Longsworth, Ph.D., scientist, CEO, and founder of Absolutely Everything Curly, tells Bustle. If the scalp isn’t cared for, you can wind up dealing with similar issues as you would with the skin on your face: clogged hair follicles from oils and build-up, explains Gina Rivera, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Phenix Salon Suites. And that can lead to dull strands or even hair loss — which is why having a proper scalp skin care routine is key. Experts recommend the following practices:
Cleanse: It may sound contradictory, but overwashing your scalp leads to more oil production (and therefore buildup) — so it’s all about cleansing with the most effective ingredients. Specifically: Look for clarifying shampoos to remove residue and dirt for a monthly detox treatment, and then stick to shampoos and conditioners meant for your hair type for more regular washing.
Exfoliate: Exfoliate with a scalp scrub every other week (physical formulas that use salt or sugar are great). You could also opt to stimulate cell turnover with ingredients like tea tree oil and chemical exfoliants.
Hydrate: As with the skin on your face, it’s important to keep the scalp moisturized. Turn to hydrating products — like hyaluronic acid-infused hair care — in the form of serums, sprays, oils, or balms to incorporate into your regimen.
At-Home Scalp Treatments
Once you’ve mastered a scalp-friendly hair care routine, you might find yourself interested in more innovative and intensive scalp treatments, such as microneedling, PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injections, and scalp hydrafacials. “By injecting platelet-rich plasma (PRP) into the skin of the scalp, it can stimulate the withering hair follicles to become larger and healthier than before. If the hair follicles get stronger, this can help reverse the hair loss process,” Green explains, adding that HydraFacial Keravive is customarily used with PRP for optimal hair health.
Another up-and-coming treatment? LED red light therapy, which Nazarian asserts has shown great promise in stimulating hair growth. “I often recommend regular use of the red light caps for my patients,” she says. Rivera also suggests consistently massaging the scalp, too. “Massaging the scalp can be extremely beneficial because it increases blood flow to the follicles, which provides for circulation and nourishment,” she says. And it’s true: Studies have found that scalp massage and stimulation increase hair thickness. Time to make some more room in your beauty regimen for your all-important scalp.
See below for derm-approved at-home scalp products and treatments to try for more luscious, healthy locks.
The Soothing Serum
If you’re dealing with dryness or flakes, do yourself a favor and snag this uber-gentle scalp serum. It provides instant relief via peppermint oil (an ingredient that soothes and boosts shine) and other botanicals for a feels-so-good hydrating treatment.
The Hydrating Balm
Nurture the skin on your scalp with this hydrating concoction that strengthens and moisturizes with its lightweight blend of jojoba, sunflower seed, turmeric, and lavender oils. Despite its long list of hydrators (including manuka honey, too) it goes on without leaving an oily residue.
The Exfoliating Scrub
Drunk Elephant’s scalp scrub has garnered rave reviews for a reason: It uses a combo of physical (biodegradable beads) and chemical exfoliants (alpha-hydroxy acids like glycolic and lactic) to effectively rid the skin of any iota of residue. You also get a dose of hydration thanks to marula and mongongo oils.
Everyone’s hair care routine needs a solid shampoo and conditioner, and this bundle makes shopping easy. Both of these scalp care staples are fragrance-free and non-comedogenic, so they provide the cleansing and replenishing job without any adverse side effects.
The Massaging Tool
Don’t sleep on the power of scalp massage. Turn the hair care practice into a spa-like self-care moment with this sophisticated stimulator from Lanshin, which is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine and designed to hit special acupressure points on the scalp to increase blood flow (and, therefore, promote healthier hair).
The Thinning Hair Treatment
Tackle scalp health and hair thinning in one with Vegamour’s potent serum. It uses turmeric, mung bean, and N. benthamiana — three powerful anti-inflammatories — to increase the appearance of fullness.
The Microneedling Device
Microneedling the skin on the scalp stimulates blood circulation and increases the delivery of key nutrients to your hair, resulting in growth and stronger, thicker strands. Treat your scalp at home with this easy-to-use tool, which has the added benefit of LED light therapy for even more of a hair boost.
The Light Therapy Cap
While it requires regular use and takes several months to see results, this LED cap sends red light into the scalp to promote healthy hair growth. Simply place it over your head for a 25-minute treatment.
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Koyama, T., Kobayashi, K., Hama, T., Murakami, K., & Ogawa, R. (2016). Standardized Scalp Massage Results in Increased Hair Thickness by Inducing Stretching Forces to Dermal Papilla Cells in the Subcutaneous Tissue. Eplasty, 16, e8.
Dr. Rachel Nazarian, M.D., board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology
Dr. Michele Green, M.D., New York City-based board-certified cosmetic dermatologist