Why a Shampoo-Scrub Might Be the Best Hair Product of the Year

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Photo: Stocksy/Good Vibrations Images
You already know that exfoliating your skin is key to a healthy complexion. But what about your hair? Lately, there's been an influx of exfoliating shampoos in the beauty aisle, and this new category of hair care definitely deserves some explaining—you know, because it's not like you have dead skin buildup on your tresses... or do you?

"In recent years, the trend to wash your hair less, combined with the explosion of dry shampoos, has made exfoliating the scalp more necessary than ever," says Merrady Wickes, head of content and education at The Detox Market, a natural beauty shop.

So, the skin-polishing action isn't for your hair—it's for your head. Makes sense, considering that scalp stimulation is supposed to be good for healthy hair growth (according to spa lore, where scalp massages aren't just for the feels).

"People are ending up with tons of residue on their scalps that regular shampoo can't really handle. Exfoliating shampoos are a great answer for people with flaky scalps who don't have dandruff," Wickes says. You'll know you need it if you feel an itchy tightness on your head.

"People are ending up with tons of residue on their scalps that regular shampoo can't really handle."

"I highly recommend exfoliating your scalp," says Josh Rosebrook, natural hair and skin-care expert and founder of his eponymous product line. "Doing so triggers new skin cell growth, helps clear away dead skin, and clears your follicles." And he notes it's doubly important if you often find yourself with an oily scalp.

To work their dullness-removing superpowers, these new shampoos are made with ingredients like volcanic ash, charcoal, sugar, and sea salt, according to Wickes, who also suggests her own (incredibly easy) DIY method.

"Once a week I like to add a little scoop of sea salt to my regular shampoo and really work it in, flipping my head upside-down," she says. "I have dry, processed hair, so I usually follow this by applying my conditioner from roots to tips. You could also add the salt—or even sugar or corn starch!—to your favorite hair mask." Salt itself is powerful when it comes to healthy locks, as Wickes adds that it can remedy the pH balance of your scalp and stop any itching that happens after dyeing your hair (which is a side effect of a regular color treatment).

Rosebrook notes that looking for enzymes—such as those from pineapple or papaya—in your shampoo can also be effective. Or you can opt for beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic or lactic acid. "You can make a pineapple organic buttermilk at-home treatment, since the lactic acid exfoliates really well," he says. "Both acids and enzymes break the bonds between dead and new skin on the surface of the scalp and stuck inside the follicle, which can affect healthy hair growth."

Simply apply your exfoliating shampoo of choice in the shower (once or twice a week), rub into your scalp vigorously (as you would with a facial exfoliator), then fully rinse (and follow with conditioner, if you want) to keep your locks on point.

If you'd rather not mix up your own concoction, here are 3 exfoliating shampoos from the natural beauty aisle.

exfoliating shampoo
Photo: Briogeo

Briogeo Scalp Revival Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo, $54

This treatment uses charcoal powder and vegetable-derived micro-exfoliators to slough off any scalp buildup, and peppermint and tea tree oils to soothe discomfort from inflammation.

exfoliating shampoo
Photo: Intelligent Nutrients

Intelligent Nutrients PurePlenty Exfoliating Shampoo, $43

Invigorate your tresses with antioxidants while saying "peace out" to scalp gunk, thanks to this combination of saw palmetto extract, nettle, and ajuga plant stem cells.

exfoliating shampoo
Photo: Sans[ceuticals]

Sans[ceuticals] Balancing Hair Wash, $25

Lemon, apple, and sugar cane extracts are the active ingredients in this gentle cleanser that also has sugar beet betaine to stimulate collagen production.

This post was originally published on May 30, 2017; updated on September 21, 2020

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