Hair Care Tips & Styling Ideas

What Does a Healthy Scalp Look Like? (Plus, 8 Scalp Treatments to Try)

Just like the skin on your face and body, the skin on your scalp needs lots of TLC in order to grow healthier, more luscious locks. While yes, tending to your scalp’s needs might add a few more minutes to your shower routine, this small act of self-care will all be worth it once you start to notice fuller, bouncier hair that’s flake-free and shinier than ever before.

What Does a Healthy Scalp Look Like?

Considering your scalp is covered with a forest of hair, it can sometimes be difficult to discern whether your scalp is at its peak health and happiness—but it’s worth assessing. “It’s very important to maintain a healthy scalp, since this is where the hair follicles reside and where your hair starts to grow,” explains Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “A healthy scalp should be clear of flakes and irritation or redness, and it should be free of dryness, or any signs of infection, or disruption of the skin on the scalp.”

Any itchiness, irritation or burning sensations might be signs of an unhealthy scalp. “A healthy scalp is free of flakes, pimples and dry patches—the scalp will look clean, smooth and moisturized with no breaks or cuts in the surface,” says Dr. Kari Williams, a board-certified trichologist, licensed cosmetologist and member of DevaCurl’s Expert Curl Council.

Common Scalp-Health Concerns

If your scalp feels dry and itchy…

…you might need to identify what’s drying out your skin. Dry scalp is caused by the skin in that area becoming irritated and flaking off—look for loose, white, powdery flakes that sit in the hair. “Dry scalp can be caused by extreme cold, dry air or an allergic reaction or contact dermatitis to products that you use on your scalp,” says Dr. Williams. “You can have irritant reactions from shampoos, gels, hairspray and conditioners.”

If you’re noticing flakes on your black t-shirt…

…you might have dandruff. Dandruff flakes are skin cells that are white or yellowish in color. This condition is caused by having too much oil on the scalp—too much oil causes an excess of skin cells to build up and later shed. Your dandruff could be the result of a scalp disorder, like psoriasis or eczema, or “an excess of malassezia (a yeastlike fungus) [that] can cause dandruff,” says Dr. Green. Other factors contributing to dandruff could include not washing your hair enough, stress, hormones, age and temperature changes (like cold weather).

If you’re dealing with excess oil and product buildup…

…you might want to change your hair care routine. “Product buildup on the scalp happens when the scalp is not cleansed thoroughly on a regular basis,” says Dr. Williams. “A quick and easy remedy is to incorporate a clarifying shampoo into your hair-care regimen.” When using the clarifying shampoo, be sure to apply it directly to the scalp and massage it in thoroughly with the pads of your fingertips, which will gently remove product buildup from the scalp.

If you’re seeing more of your scalp than you’d like to…

…you might be suffering from hair loss. Hair loss happens when hair follicles start to slowly shrink up, causing the scalp to become dry, further damaging the hair follicles. “When this happens, the hairs gradually become thinner until they stop growing entirely,” says Dr. Green.

Hair loss can be a result of hereditary factors, hormonal changes or aggressive styling techniques—or more short-lived issues. “Most non-scarring forms of hair loss caused by dietary changes, medications or illness are temporary, and once the body is back in balance, the hair will grow back,” says Dr. Williams.

Best Products for a Healthy Scalp

No matter which concern you struggle with—or even if your scalp is typically healthy—regular treatments can help ensure your scalp is in top shape. Try one of our favorite scalp products to promote stronger, healthier hair from the root:



Beauty Editor

Daley Quinn

Daley Quinn is a freelance beauty and wellness writer and content strategist living in Boston. She is a former beauty editor at a national magazine, and her work has appeared on sites including Allure, Byrdie, Well + Good, The Cut, WWD, Women’s Health Mag, Elite Daily, Family Circle and more. You can see more of her work on daleyquinn.com and connect with her on Instagram.