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Do Scalp Detox Treatments Work? The Answer May Surprise You

With Kristin Ess' recent launch of scalp-focused products at Target earlier this month and Act+Acre's three-piece hair cleanse system, scalp health is really hot right now. But apart from the occasional scrub or application of a medicated dandruff shampoo, scalp care is uncharted territory for most beauty enthusiasts — which leaves room for a lot of questions. Namely, do scalp treatments really work?

“Scalp detox is something that isn't spoken about as regularly as clarifying treatments of the actual hair,” Caitlin Richardson, a celebrity colorist and owner of Los Angeles’ Blonde Blond salon, tells The Zoe Report. “But scalp detox is just as — if not more — important, because this is where you hair grows from.” In order to have the healthiest, strongest hair possible, it should grow from a scalp free of buildup; which can include everything from dead skin cells to environmental pollutants, old product, and excess sebum.

While that doesn’t exactly sound glamorous, there’s no reason to be squeamish about scalp buildup: Everybody has it. Problems can arise if you don’t deal with the buildup, though. “It can encourage scalp problems such as hair loss and itchy, flaky scalp conditions,” Sophia Emmanuel, an IAT certified trichologist, tells The Zoe Report. “Your hair will still grow if you have buildup on your scalp, but the skin may be prone to irritation and dandruff.”

Act + Acre

Enter the latest scalp detox products on the market, most of which are designed to be used pre-shampoo. “Using it before you shampoo your hair helps lifts dead skin cells and oil off the scalp more thoroughly than shampoo,” Emmanuel says. Many products, like the Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub, contain exfoliating agents to help cut through any stubborn buildup, as well. “Compare it to exfoliation of your face,” Richardson suggests. “ How dull and clogged can your skin get on your face without exfoliation?” That’s pretty much what’s happening to your scalp if you’re not regularly detoxing — it is, after all, part of your skin and deserves skincare-level attention.

This concept was inspiration for the just-launched Act+Acre line of hair wellness products. "Our mantra is, ‘Treat your hair like you treat your skin,’” Helen Reavey, Act+Acre’s founder, tells The Zoe Report. “Healthy hair begins at the scalp, and healthy hair always looks good.” The brand’s Cold Processed Scalp Detox relies on basil leaf to remove impurities and dead cells, while moringa oil hydrates and delivers nutrients to the hair follicles.

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“You immediately see and feel the benefits of deep-cleaning your scalp,” Richardson tells TZR. “And what's better than instant gratification?” According to the colorist, you’ll notice bouncier, cleaner-feeling hair — and your blowout just might last a little longer. “Think of it this way: The blow dry after a color appointment is always better than your own attempt,” she explains. “Part of this is because your scalp gets super, extra clean.” Basically, scalp care is the key to salon-worthy hair, every day.

There are long-term benefits, as well. Regular scalp detox helps the other products in your lineup work harder, since they're not fighting against oil or flakes. In turn, you'll actually be able to wash your hair less often without worrying about looking greasy.

Imaxtree

“I suggest using [a scalp product] every five to seven days in the beginning to get the buildup under control, and then reducing it to twice a month after,” Emmanuel instructs. But if you have a scalp condition like psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis (aka, dandruff), consult a dermatologist before embarking on an scalp care regimen that includes exfoliators.

Ahead, assemble your ultimate scalp detox routine with 12 products loved by trichologists and stylists alike.

Shop Scalp Care

Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub

$14

Kristin Ess

"Most [scalp scrubs] are made with salt — which is a great choice," Kristin Ess tells The Zoe Report."However, I went with sugar because during testing I found that it was more moisturizing and that’s what a lot of my scalp collection focuses on."

Scalp Detoxifying Bubble Hair Mask

$14

Kristin Ess

Scalp detox can be fun — Kristin Ess' Bubble Mask proves it. Apply to your scalp pre-shampoo, wait for the bubbles to start popping, then rinse off.

Scalp Detox

$42

Act+Acre

This weekly treatment works overtime on the scalp, to wash away all impurities, pollution, and build-up so your follicles are revitalized, balanced, and moisturized. Good hair starts with a good, healthy scalp.

Naturaltech Detoxifying Scrub Shampoo

$29

Davines

"With a formula that includes clay from the spa are of Acqui Terme in Italy, this will remove any dust and smog particles that have settled onto your scalp," Richardson says. "This also removes the surface squamous layer on your scalp, which is not an easy task."

Detoxifying Mud

$4.99

Davines

Richardson suggests following the above Davines shampoo with the brand's Detoxifying Mud treatment once a week.

Scalp Treatment

$45

SACHAJUAN

Dealing with flaky buildup? Try Sachajuan's Scalp Treatment, which removes dry flakes thanks to medical-grade ingredients like piroctone olamine and climbazole. It also helps with itching — the natural rosemary oil and ginger extract inside are super-soothing.

Scalp Detox

$34

Bumble & Bumble

"This fizzing foam uses micellar water and salicylic acid to remove debris and overloaded styling products," Richardson says. "Use before shampooing in the shower — you only need to leave it on for three minutes!"

Complex 5 Stimulating Plant Extract

$49

Rene Furtere

"This gently lifts dirt and impurities off the scalp without the use of harsh chemicals, and will not leave the scalp feeling dry or irritated," Emmanuel tells TZR. "It also helps stimulate hair growth and reduce dandruff, because of the lavender inside. It's gentle enough to use twice a week, and leaves the scalp feeling cool and rejuvenated."

Tea Tree Hair and Scalp Treatment

$18

Paul Mitchell

Emmanuel likes this treatment because it "has microbeads that help lift up build up and condition the scalp," she says. "Because of the tea tree oil, it leaves a cool and soothing feeling on the scalp without drying it out."

Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-exfoliating Shampoo

$42

BRIOGEO

Charcoal absorbs impurities and excess oil, while coconut oil leaves the scalp healthy and hydrated — but the best part? The tingly effect from natural peppermint oil.

Exfoliating Scalp Mask

$11.98

Philip Kingsley

Emmanuel recommends using this mask prior to shampooing your hair to loosen and lift buildup.

Detox Shampoo

$49

Grown Alchemist

Once a week, shampoo with this detoxifying formula from Grown Alchemist. It targets pollution and mineral buildup, to keep your hair and scalp free from free radical damage.