I Flew 300 Miles To Try the Viral Japanese Scalp Treatment That Promises Thicker Hair and Better Sleep—Here’s How It Went
After noticing a handful of ultra-sensorial videos on my TikTok For You page that showcased Japanese head spa treatments (as of this writing, #headspa has 168 million views on the app), I was tempted to give my scalp a little TLC of its own. So—for the sake of research and the sorry state of my strands (and because there isn’t currently a head spa in my home city of San Francisco)—I flew to Los Angeles for an appointment with Sayuri Tchushitani at Head Spa EN in search of better hair days.
What is a Japanese Head Spa?
Though head spas have only recently become popular in the West, they’ve long been common across Asia, and offer therapeutic massages that promote a healthy scalp, strong hair, better sleep, stress relief, and more.
The treatment itself focuses on the scalp and hair. “It involves deep clean, detox, massage to nourish the scalp and hair,” says Keiko Uehara, co-founder and CEO of Blow Me Away Organic Salon and Head Spa in Los Angeles. “It incorporates Japanese massage technique with organic products to stimulate blood flow and promote healthy hair growth.”
The term ‘head spa’ is used interchangeably to describe both the salon and the treatment itself, and its origins can be traced back to Ayurvedic medicine in India, which has long relied on herbs and oils for hair growth and to nourish the scalp.
“In Japan, hair is considered an important aspect of beauty and grooming, and taking care of the scalp is seen as an integral part of maintaining healthy and beautiful hair,” explains Uehara, “It is a tradition in Japan to receive a head massage while doing other hair treatments and that contributed to the development of head spa in that area.”
Growing up in Japan, Tchushitani learned firsthand about the benefits of these treatments. But when she became a hairstylist in the West (namely in New York, London, and Los Angeles), she noticed a tendency to cover up scalp issues with over-the-counter creams and pain relievers instead of dealing with the root cause. “Many treatments put band-aids on the issue rather than treating the problem at the source,” she says.
So she decided to open a head spa of her own that would offer a more holistic approach to hair care than what we’ve traditionally seen in the US. “Stress causes more problems than we give it credit for, and the head spa is a small sanctuary from all of that,” she says.
The benefits of Japanese head spas
Your reason for visiting a head spa could range from treating stubborn dandruff to relaxing your mind after a long day. Regardless of why you are interested, we break down all of the benefits below.
Scalp issues are a major draw for head spas. Irritation, dryness, excessive oiliness, and dandruff are issues that Tchushitani sees all the time. She views the head spa treatment as a reset button for your scalp. A healthy scalp helps facilitate healthy hair, so users often notice an increase in shine and luster after their treatment.
Beyond that, head spas are said to encourage hair growth. Though there is limited research on the topic, Kari Williams, MD, a board-certified trichologist, licensed cosmetologist, and natural hair specialist, sees the connection. “Sustaining healthy hair growth is supported through the use of products that will keep the scalp and hair follicles free of buildup and maintain healthy blood circulation in the scalp,” she says. “So in that way, these particular scalp care practices do aid and promote healthy hair growth.”
That being said, Tiffany Libby, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Rhode Island, cautions against using this as a treatment for a medical condition. “It sounds lovely, and appears to be a self-care practice that is a ‘nice-to-have’ not a ‘must-have,’” she says.
For Tchushitani, the benefits of Head Spa extend beyond cosmetics. Yes, shiny strands and a fuller mane are nothing to sneeze at, but she is much more interested in the stress relief and sleep aid side effects.
In her home country of Japan, insomnia rates are some of the highest in the world. When she got to the US, she realized the situation was not much better. “People do not realize how negatively stress impacts their lives,” she says, “It is so important to find small ways to mitigate stress in your daily routines.”
That is where the head spa comes in. Her clients range from teenagers seeking out anxiety relief to middle-aged men fighting insomnia. Regardless of why they seek out the treatment, most of Tchushitani’s clients doze off within the first 10 minutes. Uehara also notes how the practice can help relieve tension and stress in the head and neck.
What happened when I tried it
At Tchushitani’s salon, my head spa experience began with a consultation. Using a microscope, she combed through my part and showed me close-up images of my scalp. Pink patches around my crown meant irritation, while oily clumps around my hairline meant build-up. Thankfully, Tchushitani assured me that this was nothing a little cleansing couldn’t handle.
Instead of jumping immediately into shampooing, Tchushitani followed the consultation with a neck and shoulder massage that included hot stones, a soothing sound machine, and a dimly lit room. She mentioned that many of her clients fall asleep during the treatment, which I could certainly relate to as my own eyelids started to get heavy (but for the sake of this story, I stayed awake).
Next, it was time for the wash. Unlike at salons, where water often drips down your forehead and suds make their way into your eyes, Tchushitani was meticulous. Her nimble fingers ran across my hairline with precision, creating a small moat for excess water, and quickly returned to the back of my head, her knuckles lifting, pressing, and shaking until the suds fully retreated.
Then came the steaming step, which is what typically gets TikTok voyeurs commenting, “I need this in my life!” Tchushitani attached an extra-large steaming bonnet to my head to open the pores on my scalp to allow for a deeper clean. From there, she gave me a deeper and more involved massage, which was nothing short of amazing (seriously—the shampoo-step massage doesn’t even compare to this extended version). Once again, I struggled to keep my eyes open while she rubbed and tapped at neglected areas of my scalp.
I eventually came out of my haze when she finished with yet another neck and shoulder massage which was wonderful even though it signaled the end of my dream state.
Tchushitani was gracious enough to finish my treatment with a blowout, which is available for an extra charge. To cap things off, she ended the appointment by revisiting my scalp under the microscope, which revealed that my pink spots had returned to their normal shade of peach and the oily blobs had vanished. As an added bonus, my blowout looked bouncy and full.
The cost for the treatment varies, but at Head Spa EN, Tchushitani offers two options. The 40-minute costs $110 and the 60-minute costs $150 with an additional $60 charge for a blowout.
Scalp friendly products
If this treatment sounds like what you need but you can’t find a salon near you, don’t fret. These products promote a healthy scalp environment, and a little DIY-scalp massage can help you replicate the relaxing environment of a head spa in your own bathroom.
Calling all dry scalps, this nutrient-dense serum uses ashwagandha and castor oil to hydrate and soothe.
This leave-in treatment is a must if you struggle with dandruff. Apply to your part at night and rinse out the following morning for a minty fresh scalp.
Excessive build-up can block pores and impede growth. “It uses the active ingredient glycolic acid to detoxify the scalp and gently remove build-up from the scalp and hair follicles,” says Williams.
Watch a (pretty disgusting, yet oddly satisfying) scalp facial:
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