Our bodies hold stress in different places. Over the course of lockdown, as I started to double down on my hair care, I began to understand just how much pent-up tension I store in my scalp—and it was introducing a weekly detoxing scalp massage that helped me come to this realization.
“Making space to slow down and simply touch the head creates an awareness of the amount of tension stored in the muscles of the scalp and head, as well as triggers endorphins that feel good and are good for our bodies,” explains New York City trichologist Bridgette Hill, also known as The Scalp Therapist, who encouraged me to embrace at-home “scalp facials” at the beginning of quarantine. In addition to feeling cathartic, it also made me much more aware of the general congestion (dry patches and the buildup of natural oils and styling products, in particular) I was overlooking and needed to address in a more intentional, attentive, and frankly loving way.
Building from there, I introduced a host of new tailored rituals and treatments, and thus my personal weekly scalp facial regimen was born. After a few months of committing to it, I’ve found that my scalp is much happier (i.e. less flakes and no longer tender to the touch), while my hair is fuller and more voluminous at the roots especially. From increasing scalp awareness to giving yourself a deep-tissue head massage, here Hill helps walk through the at-home scalp care process.
Build Scalp Awareness
The way Hill sees it, your scalp is the root connection between internal health and external beauty. “It’s the organ that supports the hair fiber through the hair follicles that are located on the scalp,” she explains. “The quality of these hair follicles is dependent upon the quality of the tissue, cells, and blood that fuel the follicle which makes our hair fiber.” Certain factors such as vitamin deficiencies, health conditions, medication side effects, or high cortisol levels due to stress can have a negative impact on the hair follicles, which can compromise scalp health and lead to issues such as hair shedding, thinning, and a problematic scalp. What to look for? “The most common signs of unhealthy scalp are general buildup and congestion, which often goes overlooked and unaddressed,” explains Hill, noting this is most commonly caused by not properly shampooing and a slowdown in cellular turnover.
Think of Your Scalp Like Your Skin
“I like to think of scalp care as the skinification of hair care,” explains Hill. “Depending on the condition and health of the scalp, a regimen—whether it is weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly—should be adhered to.” In this spirit, you want to think about applying the basic steps of cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing your scalp based on its individuals needs. As for what they are, Hill insists your scalp will tell you in the form of dandruff, oily scalp, hair loss, or breakage. “In acknowledging the natural, authentic state of our scalp health, we can connect the factors and actively reset our decisions and choices [to improve it],” says Hill. A vital first step? Getting hands on and incorporating targeted treatments.
Treat and Massage Your Scalp
According to Hill, applying a pre-shampoo scalp oil treatment and giving yourself a deep-tissue massage is the first—and most important— step for surface scalp health. In choosing a scalp tonic, look for a gentle scrub, like Virtue Exfoliating Scalp Treatment or NatureLab Tokyo Perfect Shine Clarifying Scalp Scrub, or an oil spiked with ingredients that are known to stimulate the scalp, encourage cellular turnover, and reduce inflammation. Clean haircare brand Ceremonia’s Aceite de Moska is laced with flake-fighting Brazillian pataua oil, soothing aloe vera, and follicle nourishing castor oil, while Briogeo’s tingly mix of purifying Binchotan charcoal, soothing peppermint, and antifungal tea tree oil works to draw out impurities.
To start your deep-tissue scalp massage, Hill instructs beginning at the nape of the neck and using both hands to work your fingers up the head, kneading from ear to ear for a few minutes to vigorously to lift up oil and debris. “Massage helps relax the scalp and increase suppleness,” explains Hill. “We know stress tightens the scalp and impedes circulation and hair growth, so weekly scalp massages are an excellent for our overall health and well being.” After you work the treatment into your scalp, make sure you leave it on for at least 15 minutes to allow it to penetrate the scalp, hair follicles, and hair shaft.
Cleanse the Scalp Thoroughly
When it comes time to cleanse your hair, you want to be sure you’re doing so thoroughly and with the right gentle cleansing shampoo. If you’re looking to fight off flakes, consider using a dandruff shampoo, such as Jupiter’s Balancing Shampoo or Oribe’s Serene Scalp Shampoo, once a week, or monthly depending on how often you wash your hair. Additionally, Hill encourages her clients to invest in a special bottle with a tapered applicator tip that allows for better control in application. Another tool that can be helpful both in depositing pre-shampoo treatments and for a more rigorous cleanse in the shower is a scalp brush with flexible bristles, such as Briogeo’s Scalp Revival Stimulating Therapy Massager or Leonor Greyl’s Massaging Scalp Scrubber. “Begin brushing at the nape of the neck on either side of the head and brush forward towards the heart,” says Hill. “Repeat that action working around the entire head.” Just be sure not to overdo it—overstimulating your scalp can cause irritation, or even damage, if you do too much in one sitting.
Supercharge the Scalp
To keep your scalp smooth and supple, you must restore the moisture that may have been lost in the cleansing process. Look to a tonic that will lock in hydration while also considering your specific scalp concerns, such as dryness or hair growth. A serum like Act + Acre’s cold-pressed Stem Cell Serum imparts a cooling effect as collagen-boosting apple stem cells, protective bamboo leaf extract, and soothing aloe vera work together to rejuvenate the scalp. Then for an in-between wash refresh, dr°k Daily Spray—a lightweight cocktail of tea tree oil, shea butter, and aloe leaf juice—can be misted on the scalp and hair to nourish roots, keep hair follicles unclogged, and fight itchy scalp. As is the case for the skin on your face, the scalp must stay hydrated and healthy to keep up the momentum.