If you haven’t already heard, scalp care is the new skincare — take proper care of that hidden skin, and you’ll start seeing major improvements in the health of your hair, too. The key to maintaining a balanced, flake-free scalp involves giving yourself a scalp facial at home. Rather than spend lots of cash on a fancy salon or an in-office scalp facial, there are tons of products available now that you can use in the comfort of your own home.
“It’s important to take care of your scalp, because the scalp skin is very delicate and has many more sebaceous glands and sweat glands than other skin located on the body,” Dr. Michele Green, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells Elite Daily. “Maintaining your scalp in the healthiest way possible can be done by giving yourself a scalp facial.”
All follicular activity requires the involvement of the scalp and its structures. “In order to achieve a healthy head of hair, it is mandatory that the hair follicles are kept clean, clear, and well-maintained, meaning they aren’t weighed down by sebum and products, or aren’t obstructed by things like dead skin, dandruff, or inflammation,” says Bridgette Hill, a trichologist and stylist at the Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa in New York City.
Hill suggests giving yourself a scalp facial at least monthly, preferably bi-weekly to keep your scalp extra clear. “If you have eczema or psoriasis on your scalp, you should visit a dermatologist rather than doing a scalp facial,” says Dr. Green. “There are necessary precautions that should be taken for skin conditions such as psoriasis, because you don’t want to further irritate the skin.”
Serious scalp conditions aside, if your head is in need of some extra-TLC, see the steps below for the most relaxing, yet effective scalp facial to give yourself at home, along with the best products.
Step 1: Pretreat the scalp.
First, you begin with an appropriate scalp mask, oil, or scrub that addresses your scalp’s current needs. Is your scalp itchy all the time? In that case, you might be dealing with dandruff or congestion and should find a pretreatment geared toward that need. If your scalp constantly feels super oily, look for a product that can help minimize oiliness.
When searching for a pre-treatment product, Hill suggests looking for options with peppermint, tea tree, and citrus-based oils, which will not only stimulate the scalp and enhance circulation, but will also aid in decongesting the scalp. In any case, make sure to follow the directions closely, and find out if you’re supposed to apply the formula to wet or dry hair.
If you’re using a mask or oil, Hill says sleeping in your scalp pretreatment is a great option for optimal results. However, you might want to invest in a specific pillow and pillow case to avoid ruining your other linens. If you’re in a pinch and don’t want to deal with dirty pillowcases, she says you can leave the product in for 15 to 30 minutes instead.
Step 2: Massage the scalp.
Once you've applied your pretreatment all over your scalp, take some time to really massage it in. “Start your massage at the nape of the neck, using both hands and working your fingers up the head to the crown,” says Hill. “Then, work from the base of the ear to the top of the head on both sides.” You should be spending about three to five minutes massaging the appropriate oil into the scalp to soften skin cells, exfoliate, and remove debris, as well as to encourage blood flow and hair growth.
Step 3: Rinse and apply shampoo.
After you’ve massaged your scalp, hop in the shower and rinse out the pretreatment. Then, apply a detoxifying or hydrating shampoo, depending on your scalp’s needs. “Find a shampoo that’s sulfate-free and also paraben- and phthalate-free,” suggests Dr. Green. “You want a shampoo that contains salicylic acid, which is a gentle exfoliator for the skin.”
According to Hill, a proper shampoo job for your scalp happens when the cleansing agent is applied directly to the scalp and not to the hair fibers. “At your local beauty supply store, you can purchase a plastic hair color applicator bottle, pour the shampoo into the color applicator bottle, and use the nozzle of the applicator bottle to distribute the shampoo directly onto the scalp.”
It’s important to try to avoid washing your hair more than two to three times per week, because doing so strips the natural oils found in your scalp, says Dr. Green. “The oils that are produced by the scalp are essential for keeping the skin and hair healthy and moisturized — over-cleansing will cause the scalp to become dry and damaged.” If you have really thick hair, you might want to consider rinsing your scalp with another round of shampoo, as the first time might not have rinsed everything out.
Step 3: Apply conditioner.
Post-pretreatment and shampoo, the next step is to apply conditioner not only to your ends, but also to your scalp. “Use a deep conditioning mask that contains ingredients such as HA (hyaluronic acid) or glycerin,” suggests Dr. Green. “These ingredients are wonderful for the skin because they help lock in more moisture, keeping the skin hydrated.” Leave this on for about two to three minutes while you wash your bod, shave, or do whatever else you gotta do in the shower.
Step 4: Apply a hair serum.
Finish off your scalp facial with a water-based serum or lotion that promotes hair health or addresses any specific scalp concern you have, whether that’s an irritated scalp, hair loss, or an oily scalp. Unless the instructions say otherwise, feel free to leave this product in and not wash it out. If you experience hair shedding or loss, consider trying the Rene Furterer TRIPHASIC Progressive Concentrated Serum ($82, amazon.com) which claims to stimulate hair growth. To combat an itchy, flaky scalp, Davines' Natural Tech Calming Superactive Soothing Serum ($39, amazon.com) calms irritation and inflammation. If your scalp is, well, pretty normal, Love Beauty and Planet's Soothe & Nourish Scalp Serum ($7, target.com) is a moisturizing option for all skin and hair types.
After you've finished the final step for your scalp facial, try to avoid using a blowdryer or any other hot tools, as the heat will further damage your scalp and reverse all the hard work you just put in. Embrace the air-dried look. All in all, a good scalp facial should leave you with hair feeling less weighed down and overall bouncier and shinier than before.