Is scalp exfoliation the key to healthier hair?

Every beauty buff knows that exfoliation is a key part of any skincare routine.

Whether you use a physical scrub or a hydroxy acid solution that penetrates below the surface, sloughing away dead skin cells is essential for maintaining a smooth, glowing complexion.

When it comes to hair care, it’s easy to forget the importance of looking after your scalp, but experts warn the consequences of neglecting the skin on your head can be serious.

“How healthy your scalp is has a direct effect on how healthy your hair grows,” says says trichologist and Viviscal ambassador Hannah Gaboardi.

“Scalp issues such as dandruff and psoriasis are linked to hair breakage. Having poor scalp health can also lead to premature hair loss.”

While we talk about washing our hair, lathering up with shampoo is about keeping the scalp clean too.

“Our scalps collect dust, dirt, oils and dead skin cells which can all lead to a breeding ground for fungi and bacteria,” says Anabel Kingsley, trichologist and brand president at Philip Kingsley.

“Malassezia yeast – the root cause of dandruff – breeds in an oily scalp environment, contrary to popular belief that it’s a dry scalp issue.”

How can you tell if your scalp health is suffering?

“Some of the first things I tell my clients to look out for if they are having issues with their scalp is if it becomes itchy, starts to burn, hair loss and dandruff,” Gaboardi says.

Kingsley says others signs may include: “Irritation, flaking, pustules, odour, scabbing, bleeding and excessive oil.”

She continues: “Perhaps it’s because we cannot see our scalp, but it’s very often neglected, and common sense tends to go out of the window when it comes to looking after it.”

So what does a sensible scalp care routine look like? The good news is that it’s not complicated, and only requires two steps.

The first step is cleansing, which you’re probably already doing if you shampoo your hair regularly.

“A clean scalp promotes good cell turnover, leading to super healthy strands,” says Gaboardi.

“When your hair and scalp aren’t covered in the build-up – whether it be dead skin cells or product, you are less likely to suffer from dandruff.”

Contrary to the recent TikTok trend for ‘hair training’ – leaving your locks unwashed for as long as possible so they produce less oil – frequent shampooing is best, according to our experts.

“Daily if your hair is fine, or at least every third day if you have coarse or coiled hair textures,” says Kingsley.

“You wouldn’t leave three days between washing your face, and you likely wouldn’t wear the same outfit more than a few times before washing it – apply the same thinking to your hair.”

The second step is exfoliation, which can be done in tandem with your shampoo.

“I always recommend incorporating a scalp massage into your routine which increases hair thickness and stretches the cells of hair follicles to produce fuller strands,” says Gaboardi.

“It’s also thought that direct stimulation and stretching of human dermal papilla cells may help dilate blood vessels beneath the skin encouraging hair growth.”

She likes to use a massaging tool with spiky (but soft) plastic bristles once or twice a week: “Put the shampoo on first, then massage it into your scalp. This is a great way at exfoliating the scalp and removing any dead skin cells.”

Alternatively, you can apply a specially formulated scalp serum or mask.

“Scalp masks containing gentle chemical exfoliants are great for general scalp health, but especially for those who suffer from dandruff and seborrhoeic dermatitis as they help to remove dead skin cells,” says Kingsley.

Don’t be too heavy-handed, she warns: “You should not scrub a scalp mask into your skin – gently but firmly massage it in.

“Most masks are formulated to be left on for up to an hour, but read the directions on the packaging as this will vary.”

There’s one other benefit to giving your scalp a bit of TLC, Gaboardi adds: “Your hair products are able to penetrate your scalp better and easier, leading to more effective results.”

Skincare for hair: 8 effective products to cleanse and exfoliate your scalp

1. The Body Shop Ginger Shampoo Bar, £10

2. Ffør Purify: Scalp Cleanse, £22

3. Philip Kingsley Flaky/Itchy Scalp Anti-Dandruff Mask, £20

4. Boots Ingredients Exfoliating Scalp Serum With Salicylic Acid, £2.55

5. Arkive The Root-ine Scalp Scrub, £6, Boots

6. Ful Detox Scalp Treatment, £30

7. Ful Scalp Massager Shampoo Brush, £9.50

8. Body Proud Sami the Duck Scalp & Body Brush, £8.95