This Dermatologist-Approved Scrub Transformed My Fine Hair and Flaky Scalp—And It’s Under $20

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For years, I’ve struggled with an itchy, flaky scalp and fine, oily hair. Dandruff shampoos combatted the flaking but left me with flat and lifeless locks. Meanwhile, shampoos that gave me voluminous hair irritated my scalp and encouraged grease. It felt like a no-win situation.

I’d read that scalp scrubs could be the solution, so I tried several—but with moderate success. Although they did help a bit with itching and flaking, it felt like my hair became oilier more quickly and (despite plenty of rinsing) it seemed almost impossible to get rid of all the gritty scrub particles.

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One day, I had a lightbulb moment. I am a total devotee of Japanese skin care thanks to the wonders certain J-beauty products have worked on my complexion, so I figured, “Why not give some Japanese hair-care products a try?” After researching several brands online, I took a punt and ordered Nature Lab Tokyo's Perfect Clean 2-in-1 Scalp Scrub + Shampoo ($19). Six months on, I can’t believe I ever lived without it.

The product

We use products to exfoliate our face and body, and scalp scrubs are designed to do precisely the same. “[They] gently exfoliate the scalp and remove buildup of dead skin cells and product,” says board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Michele Green, MD, explaining that this process comes along with a host of benefits. “Exfoliating the scalp helps stimulate skin cell turnover, maintaining scalp health and freeing the hair follicles of debris,” she adds. As a result, scrubbing your scalp also aid in reducing flaking and itching.

However (as I previously discovered), not all scalp scrubs are made equal—and one thing that ensures this NatureLab Tokyo product stands out is its ingredients. First, we have beauty experts’ favorite, hyaluronic acid. This molecule holds up to 1000 times its weight in water, and your scalp loves hydration just as much as your face. “Delivering moisture to the scalp helps maintain its natural protective barrier, protecting the scalp and hair follicles from environmental stressors like pollution,” says Dr. Green.

Next up is a traditional Japanese ingredient: sake water. While sake is better known as a tipple, this rice by-product contains plenty for the scalp to love. “Sake water is a good antioxidant that protects the scalp from environmental stressors like pollution and UV rays,” says Dr. Green. “It also has many amino acids that support hydration and lock in moisture.”

Last but not least is a plethora of natural plant extracts. A key one here is grapeseed—which, according to Dr. Green, supports hair health and strength and encourages a silky shine. There’s also mango (“rich in fatty acids for hydration and nourishment”), tea tree oil (to “soothe the scalp and reduce dandruff and irritation”), and willow bark (which “helps facilitate exfoliation”).

The review

While my locks are sadly still not *quite* in the Jen Aniston realm, I’m not lying when I say this scalp scrub has transformed my hair. I can run my fingers over my scalp without feeling dry patches, itching and flaking have 99% disappeared, and my fine strands feel soft and look thick and flowing (even after being laid on overnight). Since using the scrub, my hair has also become much less greasy—and can now last three days between washes, something that was previously unheard of.

One thing that struck me when using the scrub for the first time was its texture. The product has a sugar crystal base, meaning it feels exactly like that: a thick sugary paste. As I scooped about two dollar coins worth of scrub from the tub, I thought there was no way it would lather up (the product also doubles as a shampoo) and disperse to cover my entire scalp. But I was wrong! I rubbed it between my fingers, then started massaging my scalp in circular motions. It began lathering within a few seconds, and soon my head was covered in a light foam. I have fine, shoulder-length hair and imagine you’d need a bit more if your hair is thicker—but a little of this scrub really does go a long way.

While the sugar crystals’ rough texture makes it a great exfoliator, these little granules dissolve after getting to work—meaning the scrub is easy to wash out, and I don’t encounter stray gritty bits when running my fingers through my hair later on. I also adore the smell: it’s a subtle almond scent that gives off more spa vibes than at-home shower.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I won’t be ditching my new BFF any time soon. Its shampooing powers make it a great multitasker (although I do follow up with my usual conditioner), and my scalp and hair are the happiest they’ve been in ages. At under $20, a pot of this scrub is more than worthy of your hard-earned dime.

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