a woman massaging her scalp

How to look after your scalp

Scalp care may not be much fun – but neither is an itchy, oily head. We present a simple user’s guide to the scalp.

Why look after your scalp?

Dry scalp? Flaky scalp? Slow hair growth? It might be time to get serious about scalp care.

Despite happily spending time and money on our skin and hair, our scalp is often overlooked. After all, it’s not as though you can see it.

However, this is a mistake. Without a healthy scalp, you can experience dandruff, slow-growing hair and scalp problems such as an itchy and oily scalp. Even worse, an unhealthy scalp is a factor in hair loss.1

With this in mind, here’s our guide to looking after your scalp.

Common scalp complaints and the likely culprits

Itchy scalp

You wash your hair regularly and don’t have dandruff. So, you may be thinking – why is my scalp so dry and itchy?

The simple answer is – your scalp likely has a build-up of hair products which even regular washing doesn’t touch. This build-up is causing your scalp to become congested and unable to breathe freely.

Using dry shampoo is a major cause of congested scalp. Leave-in conditioner, hairspray and edge control gel which isn’t properly washed out can all leave your scalp with unwanted build-up.

Flaky scalp

If you get a dry scalp or experience dandruff, learning how to exfoliate scalp skin is an absolute must. Get into the habit of removing the dead skin which builds up on your scalp every time you wash. There are several shampoos available which contain ingredients like salicylic acid which help slough off the dead, flaky skin cells.

You could also buy a bristle hairbrush, which will reach your scalp as you brush and help lift the flakes. A nourishing scalp serum made with plant or seed oil such as jojoba can help tackle the dryness.

Sore scalp

A sore scalp could be the result of a tight hairstyle, such as a high ponytail or braids. These can create tension on the scalp and leave it tender.

If you can, use scrunchies instead of bands, try a looser hairstyle or have your braids or other protective styles put in a little less tightly.

Other reasons for a sore scalp could be sunburn (wear a hat and a heat-protecting spray in the sun) or rinsing your hair with too-hot water. Remember you should always wash your hair in cool water, never scalding.

Spotty scalp

If you’re dealing with spots on your scalp, it’s likely to be from blocked follicles. Just as pimples form on the face if the skin gets greasy without being regularly cleansed, the same is true for your scalp.

Try changing your pillowcase more regularly, as oil and bacteria can build up there. You could try tea tree oil for scalp spots. Mix a few drops in with your shampoo and enjoy the fresh tingle as the oil gets to work.

Oily scalp

Next to each follicle is a sebaceous gland, which excretes oil. This oil is great for moisturising the hair strands and keeping your scalp moisturised, but if you’re either producing too much oil or you’re not cleansing the oil away frequently enough, your follicles can get blocked.2 Your scalp is home to countless sebaceous glands, which are constantly secreting oil. If your scalp feels oily, it could be due to a hormonal imbalance, humidity or even a diet high in greasy foods.3

How to keep your scalp in great condition

Massage - absolutely everyone can benefit from a good scalp massage. As well as helping keep your scalp in optimum health, head massage promotes hair growth and relaxes you.4

Use your fingers, hairbrush or special scalp massage tool – it’s up to you. Try to make time each day for your scalp massage – around 5 minutes is all it takes. We recommend doing it just before you wash your hair, as you can rinse away all the dead skin cells, oil and shed hairs as you wash.

Wash – washing your hair regularly is important to keep your scalp free from congestion and build-up which can hamper hair growth and cause itchiness. Brush your hair thoroughly before you get in the shower to loosen the dead skin on your scalp and help shed any hairs that are ready to come out. This will help trigger the growth (or ‘anagen’) stage of the hair growth cycle.5

If you have oily hair, choose a clarifying or balancing shampoo. For dry, damaged or frizzy hair, a moisturising and nourishing shampoo is best. Try not to get conditioner on the roots of your hair, as this can lead to oily roots and you’ll risk leaving residue behind when you rinse.

Speaking of rinsing – try rinsing for 1 – 2 minutes. This will ensure the products are completely rinsed from the scalp.

Treat – unhappy scalps need TLC. If your scalp is feeling neglected, consider using a scalp tonic, scalp oil, scalp mask or other scalp treatments. There is an emerging market for such products, but you could also make your own.

Coconut oil for scalp issues is a firm favourite. Coconut oil has been known to be anti-bacterial and very nourishing, making it the perfect scalp mask.6 Before you wash your hair, massage a tablespoon of room temperature coconut oil into your scalp in firm, circular motions. Cover your hair with a warm towel and leave for 30 minutes before shampooing. You could also try apple cider vinegar for scalp health. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) can help restore your scalp’s pH levels to a natural, mildly acidic level (around 5). ACV has also been known to be antibacterial so may help tackle any overgrowths of bacteria lurking on your scalp.7

Last updated: 10 August 2020