Using Scalp Scrubs: What Are the Benefits and Risks?

Many mistakenly believe that hair care and scalp care are the same; however, the requirements for hair and skin are different. Hair is a collection of dead skin cells, while the scalp is living skin that needs the same care as the rest of the skin on the body. The better you care for your scalp skin, the better chance you have of improving the appearance of your hair. Read on to learn how scalp scrubs may help your hair.

Key takeaways:

What is a scalp scrub?

Scalp scrubs perform the same way body scrubs do and exfoliate the skin. As with the body, scalp exfoliation removes dirt, oil, and dead skin cells that can clog pores, leading to acne or folliculitis. Hair products build up on the scalp skin and can clog the pores. When products build up on the scalp and hair, the hair appears dull and limp.

Types of scalp scrubs

There are two different types of scalp scrubs: physical and chemical.

  • Physical exfoliators. Or scrubs include instruments like combs and brushes and ingredients like salt, sugar, clay, and charcoal. They use friction and force to physically remove dead skin cells, dirt, oil, and debris.
  • Chemical exfoliators. Include tea tree oil, glycolic acid (AHA), lactic acid (AHA), salicylic acid (BHA), coal, zinc, and selenium sulfide. These ingredients loosen the bonds between cells to easily rinse away dead skin cells, dirt, and oil.

Benefits of scalp scrubs

The use of scalp scrubs is beneficial for many reasons. They can remove dead skin cells, dirt, and oil that clog pores, causing acne and folliculitis. Scrubs also eliminate product buildup that can lead to dull, limp hair. By removing this buildup, it will make hair easier to style, look better, and grow healthier. You may also experience less itching by removing grease and flakes from the scalp. It may also soothe and calm irritated scalp skin.

Can scalp scrubs help with hair loss?

Scalp scrubs do not cause hair to regrow. However, they can help with some issues that may contribute to hair loss. Product buildup may inhibit hair growth. Therefore, removing product buildup will allow hair to grow normally. Other skin issues, like dandruff or psoriasis, can cause hair loss. Using medicated shampoos, such as those with coal tar, can help exfoliate these flakes, soothe the skin, and promote normal hair growth.

How to use a scalp scrub

Scalp skin is delicate. When beginning a scalp scrub, use it only once a week or once every two weeks. If your skin tolerates it, increase its use to twice a week. It is always best to start slowly when beginning a new product to see how your skin reacts. You can always try a test spot first to see if your skin will tolerate it.

Apply the scalp scrub to clean, wet hair. Use gentle, circular motions to lightly massage it into your scalp. Rinse and apply your conditioner as normal. Be sure to apply sunscreen or wear a hat. Using exfoliating scrubs makes your skin more sensitive to the sun's harmful UV rays. This puts you at risk for sunburns and skin cancers.

How to choose a scalp scrub for your needs

It is important to select the right scrub based on your scalp skin type and hair type. If you use the wrong scrub, it could lead to the worsening of your scalp condition. Scalp scrubs for oily hair will worsen dry scalp. Look for product labels that specifically address your skin and hair issues. If you need help selecting the right one, ask your dermatologist for guidance.

Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Oily skin. Look for ingredients such as salicylic acid, which can remove excess oil. A glycolic acid exfoliating scalp scrub may help too.
  • Dry skin. Scrubs with moisturizers, like coconut oil, may help.
  • Irritated skin. This skin type may benefit from ingredients like tea tree oil or coal tar. Apple cider vinegar scalp scrubs may also help to soothe irritation and fight the overgrowth of bacteria and fungi on the scalp.
  • Fine hair. To avoid weighing down hair, look for a fine sugar scalp scrub.
  • Thick hair. This hair type may benefit from a scrub with coconut oil.
  • Dyed hair. Be sure to avoid products with harsh chemicals like sulfates and parabens. Look for scrubs with keratin to help repair the damage. Fine salt scrubs may help.

Homemade scalp scrub

Many prefer to make their own scalp scrubs at home. Just be sure to use the proper ingredients to avoid harming your skin. If you use salt or sugar, use only fine particles to avoid abrading your skin. Large particles can damage the skin. If you are using essential oils, you may need to dilute them with carrier oils, like sweet almond, jojoba, argan, or coconut, to prevent irritation. Do your homework or ask your dermatologist for help.

Risks of scalp scrubs

As with any product, there are risks, especially if you misuse these products. Always check with your dermatologist before starting new products to ensure they are right for you. Just like with face and body scrubs, if you have sensitive skin, you may not tolerate using it. It could cause redness, swelling, burning, or an itching sensation.

Even if you have normal skin, if you overuse exfoliators, you could irritate your skin or cause micro-tears. This can lead to infection and permanent scarring. Only use the exfoliators as directed. Overuse can also cause excess oil production, leading to a greasy scalp. Removing too much oil makes your body think it needs to produce more.

Who should not use scalp scrubs?

Patients with certain skin issues should avoid using scalp scrubs unless directed otherwise by their dermatologist. Before starting a scalp scrub, check with your dermatologist to see which would be best for your skin and how to use it properly. They can give you guidance and help to avoid complications.

If you have any of these skin issues, it is best to avoid scalp scrubs:

  • Certain skin problems, like sensitive skin or eczema
  • Active skin infection
  • Open wounds or cuts
  • Lice

The scalp skin is often overlooked when designing a skincare regimen. Scalp scrubs can help keep your scalp skin healthy by removing product buildup, dirt, oil, and dead skin cells. Left untreated, this buildup can lead to scalp problems and hair loss. Healthier scalps lead to healthier, better-looking hair. Always talk to your dermatologist to find out which scrub is best for you and how to use it appropriately to avoid complications.

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