The face has always enjoyed center stage in the quest to present one’s healthiest appearance to the world. But seemingly overnight, the scalp is enjoying a rise “to the top” of health trends, with buzzwords like “Scalp Detox” and “Scalp Health” making the rounds in beauty magazines. Some salons are even touting “Hair Detox Treatments”.
Why is a healthy scalp important and does the scalp actually need to be detoxed? Is the average head of hair riddled with harmful toxins, heavy metals and chemicals? Or is this just another buzzy beauty trend designed to sell you high-priced products and services?
“It’s a lot of hocus pocus,” says Doctor Eddie Valenzuela, who specializes in treating scalp and skin issues, which affect as many as 1 out of every 3 people.
“People want answers. They want to do something. And I see these modern-day snake oil salesmen who appeal to that need,” says Dr. Eddie, adding “They talk a good game using words that sound legitimate or trendy but have little basis in reality or science.”
Part of the scalp detox appeal is that its proponents base their approach on facts that appeal to our common sense, like what we know to be true about skincare.
For example, you already know the skin on your face and body benefits from exfoliation, unclogging pores, removing impurities, and promoting new cell growth, giving skin a fresh glow. Since your scalp is skin, the idea of “exfoliating your scalp” or “detoxing your scalp” can start to make sense.
Scalp Detox: Fact vs. Fiction
“But an exfoliation on your scalp won’t do anything but potentially cause irritation,” says Dr. Eddie, who says “it is unlikely a pediatrician or doctor will ever tell you to get a scalp detox.”
So we ran down the list of hot “Scalp Detox” trends with the doctor.
Scalp Scrubs – “You’re going to irritate your scalp more”
Scalp Massage – “It releases feel-good hormones and decreases stress, which is always positive. But the actual mechanical act will NOT improve your scalp.”
Extra Hair Brushing – “Again, something that feels soothing and could contribute to your overall sense of well-being, but will not actually improve scalp health.”
Homemade Masks with Vinegar and/or Food Ingredients – “You can make a fruit salad up there, but it won’t help.”
How to REALLY get a Healthy Scalp
The reality of scalp health isn’t quite so glamorous. Or expensive. All the touted “signs that you need a scalp detox” are overwhelmingly plain old dandruff. In more aggravated cases, it’s seborrheic dermatitis.
And the doctor – who specializes in treating children with cradle cap, seborrheic dermatitis and eczema – says the solution may be as simple as an inexpensive bottle of over-the-counter medicated shampoo.
“Do yourself a favor and get yourself an OTC shampoo and use it for several days in a row or at least a week in a row,” says Dr. Eddie, who recommends you choose a brand with no fragrance or dyes.
“Try that before you spend big money on a detox program,” he says, “then once it’s under control, you can keep using the OTC shampoo twice a week to maintain your scalp free of flakes, irritation and itchiness.”
Dr. Eddie formulated his own shampoo and body wash for the very gentlest of his patients…babies. His Happy Cappy sells online and in stores like Walgreens and Buy Buy Baby. Whatever product you choose, he encourages people to go the over-the-counter route in the search for scalp health, especially if you feel itching, discomfort, flaking or even crusting.
The Best Way to Wash Your Hair for Maximum Scalp Health
Then what? Is it as simple as just washing your hair? Yes and no.
“A lot of people just wash their hair and don’t really get into their scalp to work in the product, especially if they have a lot of hair or thick hair, says Dr. Eddie.
He recommends people wash their hair twice “and let the medicated product sit there the second time for a few minutes. That lets the molecules really get in there and do their work.”
Flaky, itchy hair will also benefit from more frequent washing. The doctor recommends a minimum of 2 to 3 times a week. And because there are 5 different active ingredients that comprise the realm of OTC Dandruff and Seborrheic Dandruff shampoos, the doctor says you may want or need to rotate through different kinds to see which ingredient best works on you. You may even need to switch between formulas when the scalp gets a diminishing response to one particular ingredient. Fortunately, having an array of these shampoos won’t break the bank.
So if the idea of luxurious oil massages and aloe vera scalp rubs sound good to you…absolutely enjoy them. But if the dryness, flaking and itching you’re experiencing is based on a skin condition like dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, you’ll want to keep an eye on your scalp to see how it reacts to these “special” treatments, to make sure they don’t have the opposite effect on your head.
“Ultimately, I’m glad the scalp is getting more attention in the beauty press,” says Dr. Eddie, but only if it ultimately leads people to good information that helps people truly feel better. “Because expensive hocus-pocus is toxic.”