Why a scalp scrub could be the key to better hair

best scalp scrubs
Do you need a scalp scrub? Hair experts say yes Mizina - Getty Images

If you've yet to add a scalp scrub to your haircare routine, then take note. Did you know that healthy hair begins with a healthy scalp? Red's beauty desk had a niggling suspicion that it might have some part to play, but our attention was mostly devoted to keeping our ends glossy and fresh. It was only when hair's biggest names – think Aveda, Bumble and Bumble and more – launched lines targeted toward a healthy scalp and nothing else, were our heads fully turned.

But why the sudden influx, and how much of an impact does treating your scalp actually have on the parts of our hair that we do see? Here's everything you need to know about scalp scrubs and whether you should add one to your routine, plus our edit of the best out there...

Do you need a scalp scrub?

"Well, actually, probably yes," trichologist Eva Proudman tell us. "Exfoliation helps to remove the build-up of dead skin cells and excess oils to keep it balanced and encourage healthy growth."

Michael Lendon, senior creative director at Aveda, agrees. "Skin suppleness and hydration depletes as we get older, and it’s no different for the scalp, which – when it’s tight and dry – can’t do its best work in terms of hair growth."

Michael’s research is good; Aveda works with the Centre for Skin Sciences at the University of Bradford, which in 2020 proposed via the medical journal Experimental Dermatology that hair growth is directly affected by the scalp. "Healthy hair follicles sit deep in the fatty layer of the scalp, surrounded by blood vessels, lymphatics and sebaceous glands," says centre director Professor Julie Thornton, explaining that, as cell turnover slows and the scalp loses its ability to hold water and keep collagen fibres intact, the fatty layer there gets thinner, and less elastic. Follicles are pushed into the dermis above, where the hairs they produce become finer and weaker.

And there's more. If excessive amounts of oil collect on the scalp, a reaction with airborne pollution particles leads to inflammation and damage. Tissues stiffen, some follicles disappear or sit empty, and growth rate falters. A scalp scrub, then, may well be something to consider.

How often should you use a scalp scrub?

Helen Reavey, founder of scalp-first haircare brand Act + Acre, points out that a solid scalp care routine helps to maintain shine, and prevents ends from becoming brittle. She recommends an easy approach of giving your scalp some TLC whenever you do something extra for your skin. "I'll think, OK – I'm looking a little dull here and could do with some exfoliation - I’m going to assume my scalp is the same."

Best scalp scrubs 2023

The good news is that it has never been easier to shop scalp treatments. There's options for all types and textures, too. You can shop Red's edit of scalp scrubs, below.

If you're one that uses plenty of styling product, has oilier roots or is just needs total scalp rejuvenation, look to Christophe Robin. This scalp scrub is made up of chunkier sea salt crystals suspended in a hydrating formula, to give the scalp a really deep clean while minimising abrasion. The texture is coarse, and you can really feel the salt crystals getting to work on areas of congestion. The result? Hair feels remarkably clean after, and roots somehow stand more upright.

Chic and multi-functional? It can only be Ouai. Because this scrub can be used top to toe, this exfoliation is a tad more gentle. Nonetheless, hair definitely feels swishier and fresher, and it somehow still manages to budge residual styling product with ease. The scent will have you hooked, too.

Scalp exfoliation doesn't always have to feel harsh and abrasive. Case in point? Fable & Mane's offering is one that manages to rid dry, flaky build-up without sensitising the delicate area. It lathers more than the other scrubs in this edit which makes the product easy to manoeuvre around the hair (crucial, if you're using styling product all over), and the ginger element keeps hair feeling fresh.

If your scalp is prone to oiliness, look to Aveda. This exfoliates with a plant-derived salicylic acid that helps shed flakiness and minimise oil production, for roots that feel lighter and fresher. It's a gel formula that has a real cooling sensation when applied on the scalp, and, conveniently, can be used on wet or dry hair before shampooing. This is a gentle – but surprisingly effective – solution.

The texture of this scalp scrub is one that's seriously pleasing: a whipped, airy cream that is so easy to move around the hair. When met with water, this emulsifies into a soft lather, which somehow cushions the exfoliating dead sea salt from being too abrasive yet makes hair feel so much cleaner.

Not a scrub, per se, but this exfoliates just as well as. It uses botanical oils to nibble away at build-up of product, sweat and dirt, while anti-fungal and microbial ingredients help to balance the scalp biome. In short? A balanced scalp biome means less irritation, dandruff and itchiness. Use it as a pre-cleanse before shampoo once a week for a gentle way to cleanse a little deeper.

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