You wash. You condition. You generally take good care of your hair. But if you’re not pampering your scalp, you may be missing a critical step in getting the beautiful, breakage-free hair you want. Think of it this way: You wouldn’t expect to grow a lush, healthy garden without tending to the soil, right?
The truth is, there are specific scalp conditions that can have a profound effect on the quality of your hair. “People who have disorders like psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, or eczema often experience hair loss and thinning in the areas of the rash,” explains Melissa Piliang, M.D., a dermatologist specializing in scalp health at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “Even mild cases can have an effect—the hair is typically thinner and more brittle.”
If you think you may be dealing with any of these conditions, see a dermatologist. But even if you’re not, there’s much you can—and should—do to give your scalp some TLC. Read on for all of the expert-approved strategies.
First, wash regularly
Sudsing up with shampoo on the regular is the best thing you can do to nurture your scalp and help it grow healthier hair. You may have held off, thinking that over-cleansing will dry out your hair. But that’s a mistake. “It might not be the best idea to wash your hair every day because it can strip it of protective oils, but I’d recommend every few days—at least once a week—so that your scalp doesn’t get itchy and start to develop an odor,” recommends celebrity stylist Mia Santiago, who counts Dove Cameron, Martha Stewart, and Mariska Hargitay among her clients.
Calming shampoos, especially CBD shampoos can be particularly effective as they can help to quell the inflammation and irritation of the scalp, both of which may compromise hair growth.
Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate
A scalp scrub can be a useful tool in your arsenal. Like the ones designed for your face, these products, typically formulated with salt, sugar, or plant-derived exfoliants, help to remove buildup that can clog follicles, says Santiago, who uses one herself two to four times a month. Scoop out a dollop and work it into your roots for five minutes, then rinse.
Of course, the simple act of massaging in your shampoo with your fingertips or a scalp massager can be just as effective. Our experts suggest using your finger pads—not your nails—to avoid scratching and potentially scarring scalp skin. For a full tutorial on how to give yourself a relaxing, invigorating scalp massage, we have you covered.
Avoid this styling pitfall
Both Santiago and Piliang say that the most common mistake people make in terms of caring for their scalp is overusing dry shampoo. That’s because dry shampoo doesn’t actually clean your hair or scalp. Instead, these products typically use some form of starch to merely absorb the natural oil produced by your hair follicles. Once it does its job, that gummy mixture of starch and oil just sort of sits on your scalp. Not cute.
“If you use this product too much, especially in place of cleansing the scalp with regular shampoo, pro-inflammatory oils can build up,” Piliang explains. “Dry shampoo should be used sparingly—every few weeks to make a blowout last, for example.”
Steer clear of one common ingredient
As long as you wash your hair regularly to rid it of styling build up, there aren’t many hair products you need to avoid to properly care for your scalp. But if you find that the skin on your scalp is particularly sensitive (it gets red or breaks out easily), hairstylist Senada K. Ceka recommends passing on products with too much fragrance, a common skin irritant. Santiago also recommends looking out for parabens, glycols, and silicones, all of which can be harsh on sensitive scalps.
One common scalp complaint that is easily dealt with is dandruff. Look for hydrating shampoos or calming shampoos formulated with zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole, Piliang recommends. “These are good at cleansing the scalp, fighting the fungus that causes dandruff, and they also have anti-inflammatory properties,” she says.
And there you have it: Scalp-first haircare for longer, stronger locks.