The scalp is often overlooked, literally and figuratively, in favor of all that happens on top. The market is full of products promising shine, length, and volume—but caring for the foundation is integral for strong, healthy hair. The scalp can also become a problem zone if signs of imbalance are left unattended, from itchy patches to the telltale flakes of 1980s Head & Shoulders commercials.
For some, that equilibrium can be thrown off course, whether by shifts in diet or the environment. “Although seasonal changes aren’t always the cause for scalp issues, it is typical to see increased dryness in the winter months, and an excess amount of oil production during the summer,” says hairstylist Helen Reavey, whose red-carpet experience and interest in scalp care (she’s also a certified trichologist) inform her three-year-old brand, Act+Acre.
Complicating matters further, the scalp is often the site of compounding concerns. “A major contributing factor of these scalp conditions is inflammation, which could be caused by oil, dead skin, bacteria, yeast, and sweat build-up,” says Tucson-based dermatologist Sheila Farhang, MD. Poor cleansing and misguided products can be a culprit, she notes, along with underlying medical conditions. And while such scalp issues usually amount to general discomfort, severe situations can occasionally go so far as to impact hair growth, she says.
Both Reavey and Farhang agree that the condition of the scalp is often tethered to hair-washing. “One big trend I saw on Tiktok—and in my younger patients—was that they were not washing their hair,” says Farhang, who saw an uptick in “scalp dandruff, folliculitis, itching, and even hair loss.” Conversely, washing too often or with harsh cleansing agents can strip moisture from the scalp, contributing to dryness and irritation. The right frequency largely depends on one’s individual oil production and hair type, so some trial and error is expected.
Still, certain cases warrant daily attention. “There is a common misconception that if you wash your hair too often, it will become dry or unhealthy—but when you’re having scalp concerns like dandruff or seborrheic dermatitis, the yeast actually feeds off the sebaceous glands and thrives in an oily environment,” Reavey says. In such cases, she recommends incorporating a scalp treatment every three days (unless otherwise noted by the product indications), as well as shampooing daily.
While scalp treatments can draw on a range of ingredients, Reavey is particularly fond of salicylic acid. “It works to gently and effectively exfoliate while removing flakes and balancing sebum levels within the hair follicle,” she says. “It also has antifungal properties to help treat the bad bacteria without disrupting the good bacteria.” Humectants, such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, are also beneficial. “They draw water from the atmosphere to hydrate, so it’s perfect for when your scalp is feeling dry and dehydrated.”
If you’re in need of a surface-level reboot, consider one of these dozen scalp treatments, shampoos, and serums—a calming solution for just about every need.