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What is a scalp scrub and should you be using one?

Plus recommendations for your hair type

A woman washing her hair. Credit: Getty Images / Moyo Studio

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Beneath every head of luscious hair is a clean, healthy scalp. And one way to show your scalp some love is by using a scrub before shampooing. Like scrubs that you may apply on your face and body, scalp scrubs contain exfoliating particles and other ingredients meant to remove excess oil, product build-up, and other grime that can weigh hair down and cause itchiness or flakiness.

“If you tend to apply a lot of hair and scalp products, you should clean your hair and scalp frequently,” says Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist based in New York City. Here’s why and how.

How do you use a scalp scrub for the best effects?

Scalp scrubs fall into the less-is-more category in terms of your grooming routine. Green recommends using a scrub once or twice a week, but no more than that; exfoliating too often can be counterproductive, as it can cause the scalp to overproduce oil to compensate for moisture loss.

To properly use a scrub, Green suggests sectioning wet hair—you can do this with clips in the shower—then massaging the scrub gently in circular motion in each section. Because exfoliating can make your scalp more sensitive, it's smart to apply a spray-on sunscreen formulated for hair post-wash and before heading outdoors. If you suffer from conditions such as scalp psoriasis, eczema, or dermatitis, you should check with your dermatologist before adding a scalp scrub to your haircare routine.

The rewards of using a scalp scrub can be shiny, voluminous locks, especially when you choose a good one for your specific needs.

1. For any hair type: Nexxus Clean and Pure Scalp Scrub

The Nexxus Clean and Pure Scalp Scrub.
Credit: Nexxus

This Nexxus Clean and Pure Scalp Scrub is suitable for all hair types.

For an option that's suitable for any hair type, Green recommends the Nexxus Clean and Pure Scalp, which claims to remove build-up from the scalp with a blend of elastin protein and marine minerals. It also claims to be free of controversial ingredients like sulfates, common surfactants that cause the lathering effect we see in shampoos, and parabens, preservatives found in cosmetics.

Get the Nexxus Clean and Pure Scalp Scrub at Target for $14.99

2. For dry hair: Kérastase Relaxing Scrub

The Kérastase Relaxing Scrub.
Credit: Kérastase

Relieve your dry scalp with the Kérastase Relaxing Scrub.

The price tag might seem a little steep, but Green lists the Kérastase scalp scrubs among her favorites because they “cater to any scalp issues.”

Reach for the Relaxing Scrub if you suffer from a dry scalp—it has Vitamin B5 to help with hydration, while jojoba oil and sweet orange peel exfoliate the scalp.

If you have oily hair, the Energizing Scrub is better suited for you, with sea salt that absorbs oil.

3. For scalp and body: Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub

The Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub.
Credit: Drunk Elephant

Get more for your money with the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub.

This scrub is loaded with amino acids and a blend of alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids, which chemically exfoliate the skin. These ingredients promote cell turnover, which Green says makes them “beneficial to scalp health.”

If you’re looking for a product that can multitask, good news: This one can also be used on the body, which makes it a good bang for your buck.

Get the Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub at Sephora for $36

4. For color-treated hair: dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub

The dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub.
Credit: dpHUE

Don't worry about messing with your hair color with the dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub.

If your hair is color-treated, this might be the scalp scrub for you. Pink Himalayan salt provides the exfoliation, while apple cider vinegar, aloe vera and avocado oil soothe the scalp and condition the hair roots. And while it gives your scalp a good cleaning, the ingredients won't mess with your hair’s color.

Get the dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub at Sephora for $38

5. For a great value: Love Beauty and Planet Delightful Detox Charcoal Shampoo Scrub

The Love Beauty and Planet Delightful Detox Charcoal Shampoo Scrub.
Credit: Love Beauty and Planet

Don't break your budget; try the Love Beauty and Planet Delightful Detox Charcoal Shampoo Scrub.

A scalp scrub doesn’t have to cost a ton of money. And using one doesn’t have to involve adding an extra step to your haircare routine.

This affordable drugstore option is meant to take the place of your shampoo once a week and has ground coconut husks for exfoliation, as well as charcoal, an ingredient known for absorbing dirt and oil. The jelly-like formula also contains menthol for a pleasant cooling sensation.

Get the Love Beauty and Planet Delightful Detox Charcoal Shampoo Scrub at Target for $6.99

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