A scalp that’s greasy, itchy, flaky, dry, or, worse still, some combination of these can be annoying, if not downright distracting. But the best scalp treatments out there, the ones with the right active ingredients and formulations to suit your individual scalp health, can help resolve those issues. Whether you’re looking for an exfoliating product to smooth and soothe the skin on your scalp or something more hydrating, here’s what you need to know about scalp treatments before you give one a try.
How do scalp treatments work?
These products come in a variety of formulations, from salt scrubs to lightweight serums and toners. Some you can massage into your scalp, let sit for a few minutes, then rinse out, while others are meant to be left on your scalp, no rinsing required. The longer they’re left on your scalp, the more effective they’ll be, board-certified dermatologist Azadeh Shirazi, MD, tells SELF.
What active ingredients should people look for in a scalp treatment?
If you’re looking for a scalp product to address itchiness and flaking related to dandruff, look for products containing antifungal ingredients, the most common ones being ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, or selenium sulfide, Dr. Shirazi says. Some anti-dandruff products may also contain tea tree oil, which can help curb the overgrowth of yeast that causes dandruff in the first place.
Dr. Shirazi explains that chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid and glycolic acid can help reduce oiliness, bacterial growth, dead skin cells, and general scalp buildup. Also look out for lactic acid, which will serve a similarly clarifying purpose in other products. Then, of course, there are physical exfoliants, like products made with sea salt or massaging brushes, which will have a different feel than chemical exfoliants but will also help slough away skin cells and residue, so healthier, refreshed skin can emerge.
Finally, if you’re mainly dealing with dryness (which can sometimes be the root cause of flaking), look for hydrating ingredients like argan oil, aloe vera, and hyaluronic acid (which draw moisture to the skin), to name a few. If you’re dealing with a combination of these issues, you’re in luck—many products contain some combination of a moisturizer and exfoliant in order to leave your scalp feeling clean and calm in equal measure.
Who should consider using a scalp treatment?
Dr. Shirazi says these products can be immensely helpful for people dealing with skin conditions, but if you have a relatively healthy scalp, you might not need to worry: “If it’s not broken don’t fix it!” She explains that, while exfoliating your scalp periodically (say, once a week) can be beneficial, over-exfoliating can be disruptive to its overall quality. Also, if you have open sores or wounds, Dr. Shirazi says to avoid scalp treatments to not make them worse.
That said, if you’re dealing with recurring flakiness, oiliness, or dryness, you may want to give a scalp-specific product a try as part of your wellness routine. Your other options include clarifying shampoos and anti-dandruff shampoos, which can help alleviate buildup and flakes, respectively. If you aren’t sure what product is right for you, or what the root cause of your scalp issues is, get in touch with your dermatologist, Dr. Shirazi says.
With all that in mind, hopefully, you have a clearer idea of what kind of scalp product will serve you best. Whether you’re eyeing a nourishing scrub or clarifying serum, we’ve found the best scalp treatments available right now, from top-rated and trusted brands like Briogeo, Philip Kingsley, Living Proof, Sunday Riley, and more.