Facts Checked By Freewill Beauty Experts - Written by Gopika Suresh (Journalist) on 10th Oct 2020

What Is Scalp Exfoliation? Is It Required?

What Is Scalp Exfoliation

Why you must never neglect your scalp

No one would be able to achieve healthy hair without a healthy scalp. When your scalp is clean and happy, your hair grows healthy and long. So, there is no point taking care of just your ends and not the roots.

The pampering must begin from the hair roots, so the scalp gets all the care it needs. Not doing so can cause weaker follicles over time.  

Now is the time to talk about scalp scrubs. Just like how facial and body scrubs work, scalp scrubs exfoliate dead skin and fight off excess oil.

You will be surprised to know of the buildup on your hair post dry shampoos; scalps scrubs take care of that too.

But, before you rush and purchase your bottle, hear us out. Scalp scrubs, although may do wonders for your best friend, maybe disastrous for you. Keep reading to learn more. 

What is scalp exfoliation?

The body does replace dead skin cells with new ones naturally, over some time. However, we could help it a bit from exfoliation, even for the scalp.

Scalp exfoliators involve chemical and physical exfoliators to eliminate excess oil, dead skin, and dandruff. If done right, it can give shinier and healthier hair from root to tips.

According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman, the scalp must be cared for as follicles grow from there. Several people ignore the scalp. Trichologist Vincent De Marco agrees. He says that scalp exfoliation is necessary for having hair of top condition. Usually, the natural sebum produced by the scalp keeps everything in check. Thus, preventing dry scalp. However, overproduction of it can lead to Malassezia furfur yeast, which further causes dandruff. It can be taken care of with scalp exfoliation.  

What are the benefits of scalp exfoliation? 

Although scalp exfoliation could benefit almost anyone who uses it, it is best to use it if you have the following on your scalp -  

  • dandruff 
  • dry skin 
  • oily hair 

Do you know why it doesn’t hurt when you get a haircut? Because your hair strands are made up of dead skin cells. However, the scalp is living and requires attention.  

Let us look at some benefits of scalp exfoliation: 

  • Removes buildup: Dr. Jaliman says that not exfoliating your scalp can cause buildup, which causes dandruff. Due to this, the follicles are blocked, and the hair does not grow healthy. Most of the time, hairspray and gel can cause many buildups that do not go away on washing. So, scalp exfoliation is required.
  • Encourages hair growth: Consistent usage of a scalp exfoliator will improve hair growth. It is because the enzyme population leading to the natural shed rate is lowered. De Marco compares it to dusting your home space - you can’t live a healthy life with your family in a dusty home. The same way your scalp needs dusting or exfoliation, so that cell turnover and hair growth can increase.  
  • Promotes shiny hair: Your hair will shine when the follicles are cleared of buildup. Moreover, exfoliating your scalp also helps get rid of hard water deposits from hair care products
  • Prevents dry scalp: Having a flaky scalp doesn’t always mean dandruff. Instead, it may be a sign of irritation or a dry scalp. When you exfoliate the scalp, it allows the natural oils to nourish the skin.  

Do you need scalp exfoliators?

If you have any of the conditions we mentioned above, you could use scalp exfoliators. However, if you don’t and can’t judge if you need one, we’re here to help.

If you use a ton of products in your hair, you can't be confident that washing your hair will remove all of it. The product, along with sweat, oil, dry shampoo, and dead skins, will buildup on your scalp.

Here is where scalp scrubs come in handy. If you have fine hair, you are more prone to build up. So, it would be a good idea to invest in a scalp exfoliator, says Dr. Barr. If you notice that your hair is getting difficult to manage, dry and flaky, you could consider using one as well.  

How to exfoliate your scalp 

Scalp exfoliation includes two parts -scalp massage and skin treatment.

Although you could massage your scalp every day, you must exfoliate it more than once or twice a week.

Exfoliation can be done on wet hair that has been just shampooed. Comb it through thoroughly and separate the strands into sections. You may use your fingertips to apply the scrubs. If you like, you could use a glove or brush as well.

While using a physical exfoliant, rub in circular motions. Please refrain from using your fingertips as it can cause dandruff. If your scalp is sensitive, use a sunscreen after the exfoliation.  

How to find the right scrub for your scalp?  

Dr. Barr says that finding the perfect scrub may require some trial and error. However, you could look for some active ingredients that are great for your scalp.

Those with oily scalp may go for charcoal and kaolin clay that absorbs the extra oil. On the other hand, those whose scalp has buildup may look for products with sea salt and sugar that helps in exfoliation.
If you have a dry scalp, opt for argan, coconut, or jojoba oil. These oils help in moisturization.

When you decide on buying a scrub, please don’t rush into it. First, determine if you need a physical or a chemical scrub.  

Physical exfoliants or scrubs

Physical exfoliants are made of elements that help create friction on the scalp when applied. These remove dead skin cells. You massage them thoroughly onto your scalp for best results.

 Dr. Solomon says.

Physical exfoliants contain small grains to get rid of dirt any product buildup on the scalp. If you're fighting any flakiness, these are useful, even with dandruff or excess oil. Always use gentle scrubbing motions to avoid damaging the skin

Chemical exfoliants or peels  

Chemical exfoliants are made of active ingredients that don’t require manual exfoliation and can be applied to the scalp. However, always read the instructions on the bottle to see how long you may keep it for.

Also, check for whether it is safe to style after washing off. “Chemical exfoliants containing active ingredients can remove dead skin cells and flakiness without having to scrub or massage the area.

Ingredients like salicylic and glycolic acid are present in these to fight excess sebum production and promote healthy cell turnover”, added Dr. Solomon.  

How often must you use a scalp exfoliator? 

When you get your scrub home, use it no more than twice a week. If you have a sensitive scalp, use it just once a week. This will keep your shiny and healthy enough. De Marco suggests exfoliating the scalp once every seven to ten washes.

To get maximum benefits from the product, look for natural ingredients or scalp-friendly ones. Although you may be tempted, stay away from over-exfoliating your scalp. This can ruin the pH balance of it.  

Potential side effects and risks of using a scalp exfoliator  

If you suffer from any of the following conditions, you must not scrub your scalp.

  • Infections such as ringworm
  • an open cut or sore 
  • lice

Sometimes, those with a sensitive scalp may find physical and chemical exfoliators too harsh for themselves. If you experience any swelling, irritation, or discomfort, stop exfoliating your scalp. If it persists, don't hesitate to speak with an expert.

North Carolina-based dermatologist Sheel Desai Solomon doesn’t recommend scalp exfoliators to those suffering from acne, psoriasis, eczema, or sores and cuts. Scrubbing could worsen the condition and cause it to flake. If you suffer from seborrheic dermatitis, don’t opt for scalp scrubs as well.  

The Bottom Line

If you are looking to give your hair the care from roots to the ends, which you must, scalp exfoliators are a great pick. Begin with once in a week treatment and slowly proceed to a twice in a week scalp treatment, if required. Remember to stay away from sunlight is good practice for a few hours after exfoliating.