For so long, itchy scalp treatments and products for dandruff were a one-to-one operation. See a flake? Pick up a cheap, clunky bottle of shampoo from the drugstore and breathe in the smell of dads everywhere. Tried and true formulas get the job done, and have been with us through thick and thin, but—make no bones about it—dandruff shampoo isn’t exactly the chicest product in the shower. We push it to the back of the caddy.
But no longer. With more info than ever about the importance of scalp health (and horror stories about dry shampoo’s dark side), scalp products are stepping up their game. And they’re doing so in hoards. Every time we open Instagram it seems like another luxury brand is releasing a new scrub, mask, or elixir promising to to de-flake, balance, and nourish your scalp.
It’s easy to be suckered into pretty packaging, but seriously, how many scalp products does one woman need? Should you be using a scalp-focused shampoo, let alone an entire collection, even if you don’t deal with dandruff? It turns out, yes, according to pros.
“Everyone, no matter their gender or age, can benefit from taking care of their scalp,” says Dr. Ariel Ostad, a NYC-based dermatologist. Your scalp is more prone to dryness than your hair, and a build-up of styling products and increased pollution can lead to irritation and flakiness. Hadley King, M.D., a dermatologist at Skinney Medspa in New York City, adds that excess dryness is something to keep your eye on, as it can eventually lead to hair loss.
While scalp care is definitely something you should be thinking about, most experts will agree you don’t need a full arsenal of products, and less is actually more because too many products can lead to irritation. “We are conditioned to think we need more products than we do, often leading to over washing, which actually irritates our skin by disrupting its natural barrier,” says Ostad.
A clarifying shampoo is something everyone can use once or twice a week to help get rid of build-up, and actually clean your scalp, not just your hair. If you need a deeper clean, King suggests scrubs for deeper exfoliation, but Ostad warns that they can be irritating, so ease in. He also recommends using a moisturizing oil weekly or a mask monthly to really hydrate and strengthen your skin barrier and protect your hair follicles. More targeted serums and treatments are best for those who are trying to prevent hair loss.
The one thing everyone should be using every day? Sunscreen. Just like your face, you should be using SPF daily in order to protect your delicate scalp skin. “I encourage my patients to wear hats whenever possible in the sun, since they protect our scalp as well as our face,” says Ostad.
So, in short: No, the influx of cool dandruff and itchy scalp treatments aren’t just a marketing ploy. But if you’re not sure where to start, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites below.