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Delilah Orpi
Updated on December 22, 2023

If you’re like most people, you have a regular hair-care routine that includes shampoo, conditioner, styling products, and maybe even a deep conditioner or hair mask. You might also clarify, on occasion, or do a special treatment at the salon once or twice a year. But have you ever thought about how to properly care for your scalp? Scalp exfoliation is what most of us are missing out on for a healthy scalp.

The Benefits of Scalp Exfoliation

Scalp exfoliation helps reduce itching and flaking, removes buildup, and can help with a dry or sore scalp. Just like products and minerals in hard water build up on your strands, the same happens on your scalp.

Your scalp needs to be healthy to ensure healthy new hair growth. In fact, scalp buildup can lead to hair loss and thinning, because it blocks the follicles. “Imbalanced oil, dirt, and pollution accumulate naturally on a daily basis and need to be removed from the scalp and hair so the follicle can remain balanced, clear and unclogged,” says Josh Rosebrook, hairstylist and natural skin-care-brand owner. With dry shampoo being so popular nowadays, most of us have a lot of scalp buildup that needs to be removed.

How to Exfoliate Scalp

The good news is there are several easy ways to exfoliate your scalp. You can do it with a scalp brush, by using something gritty like sugar or quinoa added to shampoo, or by using a product formulated to exfoliate the scalp like a scalp scrub or mask. There’s nothing complicated about exfoliating your scalp: use the ball of your fingertips to apply the product with small circular motions, rinse and repeat. Be gentle to avoid irritation, especially if you have a sensitive scalp.

Scalp Brush. A scalp exfoliation brush is an easy way to exfoliate your scalp because you simply use it with your regular shampoo to do a good scrub of your scalp. You can use it every time you wash or less often if desired. I have my 8-year-old daughter use one of these every time she washes just to ensure she is really cleansing her scalp. It has eliminated her seborrheic dermatitis, a common scalp condition that shows up as yellow, greasy flakes and redness of the scalp.

Also, you can use exfoliating products that are specially formulated for removing dead skin cells and product buildup. There are two major types of exfoliating products: physical exfoliants and chemical exfoliants.

Physical exfoliants act like your body scrub. It contains abrasive particles that help lift off the debris. Physical exfoliation requires a bit of effort from your side: you need to gently massage your scalp for a couple of minutes to achieve the desired result.

Chemical exfoliants do the exfoliation job a bit differently. They’re typically represented by serums and liquid-based treatments containing hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or lactic acid) that effectively dissolve dead skin cells and hair styling products residue. A chemical scalp exfoliant can be also based on enzymes or natural oils. Unlike with physical exfoliants, you needn’t do any of the scrubbing yourself; just apply the product, and let it work on your scalp.

Keep in mind that products like scalp scrubs and masks would be used less often but do a better job of removing product and mineral buildup compared to the brush. They are often formulated like a clarifying shampoo along with something gritty or acid to remove flakes and buildup.

Lastly, there are also a few cheap and easy DIY options to exfoliate your scalp that work just as well as a scalp scrub from the store. Actually, you can prepare various scalp scrubs at home by simply adding a tablespoon of brown sugar, salt, or quinoa to a handful of your regular shampoo. For something less gritty, try an apple cider vinegar rinse. Mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar into 1 cup of water and pour the mixture over your hair after you have shampooed and conditioned, then rinse it out.

The Best Products for Scalp Exfoliation

If you’d rather not DIY and want to pick up a product that works to exfoliate your scalp, then check out the recommendations below.

1. Briogeo Scalp Revival Stimulating Massager

This is a great scalp brush to use with any shampoo, oil, or scalp treatment. This one has nice, sturdy bristles and is a good size with an easy to hold handle.

Briogeo Scalp Massager

2. Zion Health Scalp & Hair Scrub

I love using this clarifying scrub about once a month. It foams up like a regular shampoo and the salt granules don’t dissolve quickly so you can get the most out of them. The clay helps to remove mineral buildup from the scalp and hair. Because it’s clarifying, it can be drying so I would focus on just the scalp area and rinse it. It has a nice light scent and leaves my scalp feeling squeaky clean.

Briogeo Scalp Revival Stimulating Massager

3. Briogeo Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo

Briogeo has a full line of scalp-care products, and their shampoo is a scalp scrub and shampoo in one. It has charcoal and vegetable-derived micro-exfoliators to remove buildup for shinier and healthier hair and say goodbye to a dry, itchy scalp.

Briogeo Scalp Revival Stimulating Massager

4. Yes To Tea Tree Pre-Shampoo Scalp Scrub

This scalp scrub is for use before shampooing. The product features 99% natural ingredients and is safe for color treated hair. It has apple cider vinegar and tea tree oil to soothe any irritated, flaky and dry scalp and sugar to remove hair products buildup. You can use this once or twice a week.

Yes To Tea Scalp Scrub

5. Philip Kinglsey Stimulating Daily Scalp Toner

This unique product is a water-based toner used on the scalp after washing. It stimulates blood supply to the scalp and protects against flaking from bacteria. In addition, this toner has mildly astringent qualities to absorb excess oil, which makes it the best option for an oily scalp.

Philip Kinglsey Scalp Toner

All in all, exfoliating regularly can help you cleanse clogged follicles, remove product buildup and dead skin cells creating a favorable environment for healthy hair growth. Give a try to the best scalp scrubs or experiment with homemade scalp exfoliators to find your favorite.

Regardless of which method you choose, remember to be gentle — over exfoliation can make your scalp feel irritated. And while scalp exfoliation is great for most, some should avoid it. Anyone with psoriasis, eczema, skin infections or any other skin conditions should speak to their doctor to find the right type of exfoliation since in these cases, exfoliation can worsen these conditions.

I used to struggle with an itchy, flaky scalp and started regular scalp exfoliation when I learned about it. This is one change I made that really helped transform my hair in the past few years. New growth coming in was much healthier, and my hair grew longer than it has before.

If you’re interested in learning more about transforming your frizzy, wavy hair into healthy defined curls, download my free Getting Started guide called The Quick Start Guide To The Curly Girl Method. You can also follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube for more curly hair tips, tutorials, and clean product recommendations!

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