What Does a Healthy Scalp Look Like? (Plus, 7 Scalp Treatments to Try)

BY Jessie Quinn · December 26, 2019

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Did you know healthy hair begins with a healthy scalp? It’s true. Implementing a scalp care routine is about more than just rinsing out the day’s gunk and re-styling your ’do. “Scalp care is important because it’s where the hair follicles are and where hair grows from,” says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. “The healthier the scalp, the healthier the hair will be. Having your hair trimmed every three months is great for the hair but the foundation of our hair stems from the scalp,” she adds.

What does a healthy scalp look like?

When it comes to scalp care, the first thing to consider is the state of your scalp. According to Dr. Jaliman, “a healthy scalp is normally flake-free.” That said, flakes don’t necessarily mean dandruff. “It could be an indication that the scalp is very dry or irritated,” Dr. Jaliman explains. In addition, Dr. Jaliman recommends taking a closer look at your scalp’s sebum—aka, oil—production, too. A scalp that “does not look oily” is what you’re looking for.

What does an unhealthy scalp look like?

In addition to knowing what a healthy scalp looks like, knowing what an unhealthy scalp looks like can also help you get a better grasp on your scalp care. “A scalp that is itchy or burning is normally an indication that it’s not at its healthiest,” says Dr. Jaliman. “An itchy scalp is a symptom of a chemical irritation and can even be a sign of an allergic reaction,” she adds. In addition to itching and burning sensations, Dr. Jaliman says to be mindful of excess oil—just like you would with your regular skin care regimen. “An excessively oily scalp usually means the scalp is trying to compensate for oil which was stripped after using products which remove the natural oils of the scalp,” she explains.

How to treat an unhealthy scalp

If your scalp leans toward the unhealthy side of the spectrum, don’t panic. A healthy scalp and hair is on the horizon. According to Dr. Jaliman, treating an unhealthy scalp begins with shampoo care. “Use shampoos that are chemical-free—free of sulfates (sodium laureth and sodium lauryl) and synthetic fragrances,” she suggests. In addition, “if you have a dry flaky scalp, you can use an anti-dandruff shampoo,” says Dr. Jaliman. When shopping for an anti-dandruff shampoo, Dr. Jaliman recommends reaching for formulas that “contain tar, zinc, pyrithione or selenium sulfide.”

While a new shampoo might help, scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist should also be considered. “You should see a dermatologist if your scalp continues to be dry, itchy and flaky after trying your own methods of treatment and see no improvement,” says Dr. Jaliman. “Your physician can prescribe you a topical steroid,” she adds.

What to avoid for a healthy-looking scalp

Knowing how to get a healthy scalp is one thing, but knowing what to avoid for a healthy scalp is another. For a healthy-looking scalp, Dr. Jaliman says to “avoid sulfates in hair products as they can dry the skin.” In addition, Dr. Jaliman warns against dying your hair frequently, “especially if the dye has bleach,” as dye and bleach “can irritate your scalp.”

Similar to that of skin care, synthetic fragrances in products and treatments can also impact scalp health. “Avoid synthetic fragrances, as they can irritate and cause an itchy scalp,” Dr. Jaliman suggests.

Dermatologist tips for a healthy scalp

Being mindful of what’s inside your hair care bottles is important, but the way you care for your scalp can also make a huge difference. “Someone who washes their hair every day should try and wash a little less often,” says Dr. Jaliman. “Washing every other day or less frequent would be more beneficial to the health of the scalp,” she adds. As far as technique is concerned, Dr. Jaliman says to avoid “using your nails to wash the scalp.” Scrubbing with your nails “irritates the scalp,” so “use the tips of your fingers instead,” she notes.

Curious to know more about scalp care? Check out our favorite scalp care treatments, below.

1. Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment

Treat your scalp to a revitalizing detox with Briogeo’s Scalp Revival Charcoal + Tea Tree Scalp Treatment. With the powers of Binchotan charcoal, witch hazel and biotin, the ultra-hydrating—not to mention: nourishing—treatment can help promote a healthier scalp and hair.

2. dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub

When it comes to hair and scalp health, balancing your pH is a surefire way to offer relief—and products made with apple cider vinegar can help get you there. dpHUE’s Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub not only helps rebalance your scalp’s natural pH; it can also help slough off dead skin cells and add a burst of nourishment to dry, itchy skin.

3. Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo

When it comes to scalp health, flakiness is typically on the mind. Whether you want to get rid of it or prevent it from coming back, the best way to reach the end goal (a flake-free scalp) is to use a product formulated with dandruff in mind. This scalp-specific shampoo uses skin care favorite salicylic acid to break up flakiness and help lift it away from the scalp, while wheat protein strengthens strands for a healthy, flake-free ’do.

4. Oribe Serene Scalp Balancing Conditioner

When it comes to scalp health, moisture and nourishment are two musts. This scalp-focused conditioner is formulated with biotin to help strengthen hair and ban breakage along with olive oil to deeply nourish and condition the scalp and strands with its natural omega 3 fatty acids. Not to mention: It adds a boost of shine to your ’do sans the grease and added weight.

5. Living Proof Restore Dry Scalp Treatment

If your scalp is on the dry side, give it the boost it needs to protect against flakiness and promote balance for a healthier scalp environment with this treatment from Living Proof. Enhanced by a hyaluronic acid-based ingredient called molecular patch that hydrates the scalp and a vitamin B3-based microbiome-balancing complex that focuses on rebalancing for an overall healthy scalp environment.

6. Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt

Think your scalp doesn’t need exfoliation? Think again! Exfoliating the scalp can slough off dead skin cells— aka, flakiness—and remove buildup, which help to create a deeply cleansed and nourished environment. This sea salt scrub features sweet almond oil and limnanthes seed oil extract to boost scalp hydration and encourage long-lasting shine.

7. Philip Kingsley Stimulating Scalp Toner

Just like your complexion, your scalp requires balance in order to look and feel its best. This invigorating scalp toner from Philip Kingsley is enriched with witch hazel to help remove excess oil, menthol to stimulate the scalp and piroctone olamine, which focuses on preventing flaking and warding off bacteria. All of these ingredients work together to create an ideal environment to boost scalp health.

Jessica Quinn | Dermstore Blog

Jessie Quinn

Jessie Quinn is a writer and editor with work published in NYLON Magazine, StyleCaster.com, Girlboss.com, Marvel.com, and more. She is a graduate of Academy of Art University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Journa... Read More >

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