To say that dry shampoo is the best thing to enter my life may sound like I’m being hyperbolic, but I’m really not. This heaven-sent elixir has saved me many times: When I’d rather spend an extra half-hour sleeping, not primping; after a sweaty workout and I have to be at work ASAP; when my hair is looking lackluster and needs a boost of texture and volume. But underneath its magical exterior lies a dark side. A really dark, really icky side that involves scalp acne, dandruff and irritation.
Turns out, dry shampoo can disrupt the ecosystem of your scalp. “The delicate acid mantle on your face is identical to [the one on] your scalp, which is easily disrupted by products like dry shampoos, especially if the scalp and hair is not shampooed after frequent use,” says Christyn Nawrot, Phyto National Educator. In other words, say hello to dandruff, excessive oil, unpleasant odor, clogged pores and even fungus and bacteria.
“Remember, scalp is skin and requires the same care as your face,” says Dr. Francesca Fusco, Clear Scalp & Hair dermatologist. Washing your hair too infrequently leads to the buildup of dead skin.
How frequently you should wash your hair really depends on your hair texture, says Bosley Professional Strength Trichologist and Director of Education, Michelle Blaisure. “With coarser and curlier textures, it is common to only shampoo maybe two times a week or less, as oil helps to keep hair smoother.” People with finer hair usually shampoo more often to get rid of oil, or they use dry shampoo to make their style last.
Unfortunately, doing what’s best for your hair isn’t always what’s best for your scalp. “If your scalp pores become clogged, it can contribute to a kind of scalp acne called folliculitis,” Fusco says. “This folliculitis can be bacterial or yeast in nature and if it goes without treatment can lead to increased shedding (i.e. flakes).” Cue the collective “Ew."
"Think of it this way: You’d never skip washing your face [editor’s note: only when we’re really, really lazy], and you’d also never replace face cleansing with a wipe or blot of a powdery sponge,” she explains. That certainly puts my dry shampoo addiction in perspective. But, there is hope for us lather-averse, dry shampoo devotees. That salvation comes in the form of a scalp exfoliant.
“Exfoliating the scalp removes dead skin cells and encourages healthy skin turnover, creating the ideal environment for healthy hair growth,” says Anabel Kingsley, a Philip Kingsley trichologist. Read: a healthy scalp means health, resilient and shiny hair. She recommends exfoliating your scalp once a week, especially if you like to go days without shampooing. Here, six scalp exfoliants that will help you get the hair of your dreams – without the nasty side effects.
Make Your Own Scalp Scrub
“Mix together a tablespoon of coarse sugar with your regular shampoo,” says Fusco (she recommends Clear Scalp & Hair Nourishing Shampoo, $7.49). This gentle exfoliant won’t leave a residue or dull your hair color, and it rinses out easily, making it a solid option for all hair types.
Dessange Paris Balancing Pre-Shampoo Mask, $11.99
See ya, greasy hair. This pre-shampoo treatment is inspired by the personalized scalp treatment at the brand’s flagship salon on the Champs-Elysees, and it uses clay to purify the scalp and suck up excess oil while removing acne-causing toxins. You apply it to dry hair with the included applicator, and let it work its magic for five to 10 minutes before rinsing. French-girl hair for a bargain price – I’m in.
Kerastase Chronologiste The Gommage, $44
This scrub takes a little more work on your part than a mask – but it feels so refreshing and leaves hair silky soft. While you’re in the shower, but before you shampoo, apply it to damp hair and massage, much like you would a face or body scrub. The micro-fine scrubbers whisk away flakes and give your scalp the detox it’s been craving. (Bonus points if you can get your S.O. to do the actual massaging.)
Related: 8 Best Deep Conditioners
Phyto Phythéol Dry Hair Moisturizing Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo, $26 and Phythéol Oily Hair Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo, $26
A gentle exfoliating shampoo will cleanse your hair effectively without stripping it of your natural oils, says Nawrot. Phyto’s new shampoo comes in formulas for both dry hair and oily hair. Both whisk away dandruff flakes (a culprit behind scalp acne) and excess oil; the one for dry hair has extra moisturizing properties and the one for oily hair has ingredients that gently de-grease.
Kiehl’s Deep Micro-Exfoliating Scalp Treatment, $20
Scalp acne doesn’t stand a chance against this physical exfoliator. It’s designed to help treat and prevent dandruff with micronized apricot seeds and argan shells. They scrub away all signs of skin flakes and pore-clogging debris, leaving your scalp feeling squeaky-clean.
“Exfoliating removes dead, dulling scalp cells, stimulates circulation and makes the scalp well prepared to benefit greatly from conditioner,” says Fusco. It also helps increase cell turnover. Normally I’d point out that better cell turnover means glowier skin, but you’re probably not all that concerned about having a scalp as radiant as Beyoncé. It will, however, make your hair look healthier, shinier and prettier overall.
Philip Kingsley Exfoliating Scalp Mask, $30
Keep pesky bacteria and flaky skin at bay with this once-a-week mask. After getting your hair damp, part your hair off into one-inch sections and apply the mask into the partings, then work it into your hair. Go about the rest of your shower routine and rinse it out after 10 to 20 minutes. It not only contains exfoliants, it’s also full of moisturizing ingredients so your scalp is left nourished, not stripped – and the instant cooling sensation upon application is oh-so-refreshing.
Related: 17 Best Hair Treatments
Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub With Sea Salt, $52
Apparently, the French were way ahead of us when it comes to taking supergood care of their hair. Parisian brand Christophe Robin is now available on Net-a-Porter, and I’m swooning over the luxe packaging of the Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt. It comes out like a paste, making it considerably easy to apply, and lathers right into your scalp. Sea salt exfoliates, soothes and boost circulation. It’s also paraben-, silicone- and colorant-free, and designed for sensitive scalps (even those suffering from itchiness post-color appointment).
Since you’re making your scalp healthier, you’re also making your hair healthier – just think of all the money you’ll save on shine sprays. Like the relationship between your skin and makeup, it’s easy to look better with less styling if you have healthy hair to begin with. (Perhaps this is why the French have that whole nonchalant “It”-girl thing down pat).
Aveda Scalp Remedy Dandruff Solution, $28
This spray-on, leave-in treatment contains salicylic acid (yes, the stuff you’d use to treat pimples on your face) to gently get rid of dead skin and other nasty buildup. It also contains clarifying lippia to make sure your scalp is in tip-top, squeaky-clean condition. And, because life is all about balance, it also contains sugar beet extract and rosemary, sage and echinacea to hydrate and soothe the scalp, respectively.