In my bathroom, on the shelf by the shower, you’ll find all my favourite skincare products, lined up in the order I use them. I don’t use them all every day – it depends on how my skin is feeling – but the gang’s all there: liquid and physical exfoliants, cleanser, toner, serum and moisturiser.
Oh, and by my skin, you know I’m talking about my scalp, right? Most of us have dedicated routines to care for our face, and I think the skin on the tops of our head deserves equal attention, too.
Why do you need to take care of your scalp?
Much like a plant gets its nutrients from the soil it grows in, your hair is affected by the state of its roots – meaning that maintaining a healthy scalp is the key to healthy hair. Instead of looking for shampoos that claim to rid your hair of grease and dandruff, or say they’ll encourage growth, you’re better off treating the root of the problem (see what I did there): targeting the sebaceous glands on your scalp that produce the oil, for example, or removing the dead skin cells before they can build up and flake off.
What exactly causes an irritated scalp?
With so many exciting new haircare formulas on the market, we’re all guilty of overloading our hair from time to time. This is one of the main reasons people experience scalp issues, whether it’s irritation due to overloading the skin with too many actives, or a build-up of product (and potentially bacteria) from not cleansing properly between applications.
The weather plays a part, too. Recently, I’ve found more friends complaining of flaky, itchy scalps and greasy, flat hair. For a lot of people, this becomes more of an issue when there’s a sudden temperature change, especially in summer.
However, the flakiness is something I experience year-round, thanks to having psoriasis (a skin condition that can cause flaky, sometimes sore, patches anywhere on your body) on my scalp. Which means I’m well-versed in searching for products that are gentle enough to use on even sensitive scalps but effective enough to relieve this dryness and itching.
Fortunately, beauty brands are cottoning on to the healthy scalp = healthy hair hype, taking some of the key ingredients from our favourite skincare products to use on our heads.
They’re all multitaskers, designed to work on the scalp and benefit the lengths of your hair, too. I use them all on a regular basis and my hair is now less greasy, less dry and shinier than ever before.
The best scalp products & how to use them
Not sure where to start? Think of the kinds of products you’d use to tackle common skincare concerns and apply that logic to your scalp.
The quick rinse: Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Detox Kombucha Rinse, £26.55
The ingredients in this might make it sound like a Goop-approved wellness drink, but this one is specifically for detoxing your hair. Sorry Gwenyth.
This rinse is super easy to slot into your existing haircare routine; simply use it in the place of your shampoo once a week, massaging it in and allowing it to sit for 1-3 minutes, before washing out and following with your normal conditioner.
The results? An invigorating scent, a clean, fresh-feeling scalp, and shinier hair to boot.
The soothing serum: Bleach London Reincarnation Scalp Treatment, £15
You know those great do-it-all facial serums that calm irritation whilst boosting hydration? (Paula’s Choice Calm Repairing Serum, £36, Cult Beauty, I’m looking at you), well the Bleach London Reincarnation Scalp Treatment, £15, Boots, is the do-it-all equivalent for your scalp.
The dermatologically-approved formula contains pea sprout extract to encourage hair growth, probiotics to restore the scalp’s microbiome (no irritation here, then) and tripeptides and ceramides to get rid of flakes and soothe itchiness. Simply apply to the scalp after you’ve washed your hair, massage in and you’re good to go.
The liquid exfoliant: The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Scrub, £12.99
Think of this pre-shampoo treatment as the equivalent of the REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic, £22.40, LookFantastic, for your scalp.
It contains chemical exfoliants such as glycolic acid to remove dead skin – leaving you with less flakes and an instant ‘clean’ feeling.
It also contains a ‘Symcontrol Scalp’ complex, using microalgae to regulate sebum levels (so less grease) and synthesised natural sugars to protect the scalp. A great addition to your usual wash day to remove product build-up.
The deep cleanse: Bouclème Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo, £26
This is hands down one of the best shampoos I’ve ever used. It’s a gentle manual exfoliant – I’d call it haircare’s answer to the Dermalogica Daily Milkfoliant, £41.30, LookFantastic – with hydrogenated castor beads that remove dead skin cells and bacteria from the scalp, while also producing a lather to deliver an effective cleanse from root to tip.
Infused with spearmint, sweet orange and marjoram, it has a cooling effect on the scalp and smells like a dream – paired with a scalp brush, it makes for an at-home hair wash that rivals an in-salon massage.
The purifying mask: Trepadora Hibiscus Pink Cleansing Clay-Wash, £25
This product has changed my hair routine. Designed by Trepadora’s founder Keisha Jo Lawler as an antidote to co-washes (which, for her in particular, failed to cleanse her scalp properly and actually resulted in hair loss), the clay-based formula is designed to sit on the scalp and draw out impurities.
Apply to your scalp like you’d put on a clay mask to your face, then smooth any leftovers through the ends of your hair; its natural zinc PCA will help to control oiliness and reduce product build-up without having to do a repeat wash (as I have to with so many shampoos), reducing scalp itching and inflammation.
The refreshing toner: Philip Kingsley Flaky/Itchy Scalp Anti-Dandruff Scalp Toner, £22.50
Applied directly to the scalp, it works instantly to relieve any itching with its cooling effect and in the long-term, with antimicrobial properties to remove bacteria to tackle the cause of flaky scalps.
It also comes in a mini version for £10.50, which is great for when you’re travelling.
The hydrating moisturiser: The Ordinary Hair Care Natural Moisturising Factors and HA, £10.90
You don’t need me to remind you of the moisture-retaining benefits of hyaluronic acid. It’s found in many of the best face creams and serums – CeraVe’s Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum, £19, Sephora, and The Ordinary’s classic Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 formula, to name a couple – and now, it can be found in your haircare, too.
Like any good face cream, this also won’t leave a greasy finish – the serum has a milky texture that helps it to sink into the scalp without leaving residue.