To get to the root of your haircare concerns, look to the scalp. Delicate hair follicles depend on a healthy environment to grow—and to really flourish, it’s important to lay the groundwork. “It’s like a plant,” says Melissa Tedeschi, national education manager at Kérastase. “The scalp is like the earth of the plant. If it’s not watered, there’s no vitamins, and it’s not clean or there’s infection, then the plant will not grow in a healthy fashion. It’s the same thing for hair.”
Scalp health is gaining momentum, and brands are keeping pace with innovative scalp-care solutions that go beyond lather-rinse-repeat. It’s welcome news for those experiencing scalp issues, like itchiness, inflammation and those dreaded white flakes. Dr. Harvey Lui, a dermatologist at Vancouver General Hospital and a professor in the department of dermatology and skin science at UBC, explains that many factors can contribute to an irritated scalp, such as hair dye, a new product or even tying hair up too tightly (resulting in what’s called “traction alopecia”). Of course, a predisposition to dry skin, psoriasis or dandruff can contribute to scalp discomfort.
If your scalp is very itchy, the problem is persistent or you simply think something is amiss, Dr. Lui suggests making an appointment with a dermatologist. “Don’t sweep it under the rug, so to speak,” he says. For more-minor skin concerns, his advice is straightforward: be gentle to your scalp and hair to avoid hair breakage; shampoo if the scalp is oily; and use conditioner directly on the scalp if it’s dry. “Conditioner,” he says, “is actually a very nice lubricant and moisturizer for the scalp tissue itself.”
Brands are taking scalp-care a step further, with solutions that are specifically targeted to a healthy scalp—and, in turn, healthy hair. Exfoliators, tonics, serums and masks promise to relieve and ease scalp woes. But be careful of overdoing it. Matthieu Jacobs, technical education project leader at L’Oréal, warns that using too many products can change the scalp’s pH, and a healthy balance “provides a healthy environment for new hair growth.” Gentle products, washing less and scalp scrubs that clear away buildup are his recommendations for a more balanced scalp.
Any scalp-care regime begins with a good cleansing—especially if you need to fight flakes. A dedicated dandruff shampoo can relieve symptoms, but consider adding an exfoliating scrub to your routine. The Symbiose line from Kérastase targets dandruff-prone hair in particular. According to Tedeschi, if you buy just one product, “put your money on the micro-peeling scrub.” The salicylic acid dissolves flakes, and it doubles as shampoo so there’s no extra step in the shower. Clean-beauty brand Boscia has a water-activated scrub, which blends chemical exfoliant salicylic acid with physical exfoliants charcoal and rice powder to gently slough dead skin away. Niacinamide, a soothing ingredient you might recognize from your skincare regime, and vitamins B5, C and E join in to hydrate and calm irritation.
Once the scalp is clean and free of impurities, the next step is to address any skin or hair concerns. If the skin is irritated or itchy, consider the anti-discomfort treatment gel from L’Oréal Professionnel’s Scalp Advanced line that includes calming niacinamide. For thicker, fuller-looking hair, try Nioxin’s Ultimate Power Serum. Caffeine, lauric acid and niacinamide work in sync to stimulate the follicle, pump up the growth cycle, and improve hair anchorage (so it’s more resistant to falling out). Oribe‘s new Serene Scalp Oil Control Collection, an extension to the Serene Scalp family, reduces excess oil and sebum on those with oily scalps specifically. And, if hair is dandruff-prone, try Serum Nuit Intensif from Kérastase, Melissa’s runner-up pick, with its salicylic acid to gently exfoliate, and bifidus, a nutrient and prebiotic that slows down the growth of bacteria.
Maintaining scalp health means restoring the moisture barrier—and if it feels a tad indulgent, all the better. Guerlain, a brand more aligned with skincare than haircare, released the Abeille Royale Scalp & Hair Youth Oil-In-Serum that leans on the restorative powers of honey. (And not just any honey: Ouessant Island black bee honey and royal jelly.) It’s gentle enough to use daily, just as you would your facial serum, and doesn’t leave roots greasy. Stoic’s Thalassa Hydrating Face & Scalp Serum adds a dose of moisture to the scalp—or face—thanks to hyaluronic acid and clary extract, a plant-derived botanical. And JVN’s nutrient-dense Pre-Wash Scalp Oil, with stimulating rosemary extract and calming neem seed extract, promotes balance and strength for healthier hair—even for those concerned with dry, itchy, flaky scalps—from root to tip. (Bonus: it smells of amber and cashmere musk brightened with lemon and mandarin.
“It’s really important to use the right product for our specific needs. Every person is different,” says Matthieu from L’Oréal. So as you craft your scalp-care routine, keep the end-goal in mind: healthier hair, with more length and volume. After all, the growth and health of our hair can always be traced back to the root. —Jill Von Sprecken