SCALP EXFOLIATION: 101
What is scalp exfoliation?
Although the body naturally replaces dead skin cells with new skin cells, sometimes it can use a little help in the form of exfoliation. This is true even for the scalp.
Scalp exfoliation involves using physical or chemical exfoliants to remove excess skin cells, oil, and dandruff. Many hair experts maintain that regular scalp exfoliation is the key to healthier, shinier hair from the roots to the tips.
What are the benefits of scalp exfoliation?
Scalp exfoliation can be a soothing and stress-relieving way to invigorate the scalp. In this way, exfoliation can benefit almost anyone who wishes to do it.
However, scalp exfoliation may be especially beneficial for those with:
- dry skin
- oily hair
Although the hair itself is made of dead skin cells — which is why it doesn’t hurt when you get a haircut — the scalp is a living piece of your skin. It requires care and maintenance just like the rest of your body.
Like the skin on your face, your scalp can get oily, which can lead to irritation and dandruff.
Just like the skin on your face, your scalp contains sebaceous glands that produce oil (sebum). In the right amount, sebum helps make your hair soft and shiny. But an overproduction of sebum, or buildup of oil on the scalp, can feed the malassezia furfur yeast that leads to dandruff. An oily scalp can also lead to flare-ups of seborrheic dermatitis, a chronic skin condition marked by red, greasy patches, itching or burning, and dandruff flakes. Exfoliating with a brush or with a scalp scrub can help get rid of the flakes.
Excess oil can also cause hair thinning.
Over time, the buildup of dandruff and sebum can clog hair follicles, which can lead to hair loss and hair thinning. In most cases, the follicle has two or more hairs growing from it. When it’s clogged, the follicle shrinks and therefore the number of hairs growing from it are reduced. Exfoliating the scalp can clear these blockages, which will help hair grow in better and appear fuller.
Exfoliating can keep hairstyling products from building up on the scalp, which can make the hair look dull.
Hairstyling products can also pile up along the scalp and clog hair follicles, especially fan-favorite dry shampoo. The current trend for dry shampoos and only shampooing the hair once a week is also not a good thing for the scalp. Compare it to someone wearing makeup to bed and waking up and putting on more makeup, without ever washing it off. The same can be said about re-applying styling product and not shampooing the hair for a week. Even if you do shampoo multiple times a week, it doesn’t mean you’re getting everything removed from the scalp. There is a big difference between shampooing the hair and exfoliating the scalp.
How to exfoliate your scalp
Scalp exfoliation can be one-part scalp massage, another part skin treatment.
Although it’s safe to massage your scalp every day, you shouldn’t exfoliate your scalp more than once or twice a week. Exfoliation removes oil from the scalp, and more frequent exfoliation may cause the scalp to panic and over-produce oil.
Scalp exfoliation is usually performed on wet, just-shampooed hair. After you comb through and separate sections of your hair, you can apply the scrub with your fingertips. You can also use a brush or glove designed for exfoliation. If you’re using a physical exfoliant, rubbing in a gentle, circular motion can help.
In some cases, scalp exfoliation can make the scalp feel more sensitive. You may wish to apply a protective spray-on sunscreen formulated for hair to protect against sun damage and reduce sensitivity.
Natural exfoliants you can make at home
You can often make your own scalp exfoliant using household products.
Brown sugar and oatmeal scrub
To make a brown sugar and oatmeal scrub, mix:
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons oatmeal, finely ground
2 tablespoons of a hair conditioner of your choice
The sugar-oatmeal combination creates a physical exfoliant that will help slough off dead skin cells. After you shampoo, apply the mixture to your wet hair. Use gentle, circular motions to reach the scalp, and rinse thoroughly when done.
To make an aspirin scrub, mix:
6 to 8 aspirin
4 tablespoons warm water
Aspirin contains salicylic acid, a chemical exfoliant. You can take things up a notch by using a toothbrush to apply the mixture to your scalp. Light scrubbing will help physically remove the dead skin cells. Rinse thoroughly when done and follow up with your favorite conditioner.