The Dos and Don'ts of Scalp Exfoliation

You probably exfoliate your body and your face to remove dead skin cells, but do you exfoliate your scalp? If you don’t, now is the perfect time to start. If you do, it’s important to make sure you’re doing it correctly to avoid scalp irritation or damage.

Scalp exfoliation is the process of removing dead skin cells and hair product buildup from the scalp using either a physical or chemical exfoliant. Although our bodies do this to a point on their own, your scalp might need a little extra attention to prevent clogged follicles and to promote healthy cell growth. However, scalp exfoliation isn’t right for everyone.

People who can benefit the most from regular scalp exfoliation include those who use lots of products on their hair, those with oily scalps and those experiencing scalp flakiness. Scalp exfoliation can help break down the product buildup or dry flakiness and remove it, unearthing healthy skin below.

Scalp exfoliation can also improve blood flow to the scalp, which delivers essential nutrients and oxygen. This may help combat hair loss and improve hair health.

Massaging your scalp in the shower while you wash your hair is not the same thing as exfoliating your scalp. Scalp exfoliation typically uses specialized products designed to break up buildup and wash it away.

Exfoliation dos and don’ts

Believe it or not, there is a right and a wrong way to exfoliate your scalp. Consistently exfoliating the wrong way can damage your scalp by irritating it and even causing hair damage. In some cases, too frequent exfoliation can cause the scalp to produce excess oil.

Here are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.


  • Pay attention to scalp type: Different hair and scalp types will have different needs when it comes to exfoliation, and this will influence the product you choose. If you have thick hair and product buildup on your scalp, a physical exfoliator made of sugar, sea salt or another gentle abrasive can help break down the buildup. If you have thin hair and a sensitive scalp, a chemical exfoliator made from natural acids and enzymes may be gentler and reduce the risk of irritation.
  • Exfoliate once a week: Most people see the best results from exfoliating only once per week. This helps to prevent irritation on the scalp and gives the scalp the chance to rejuvenate cells while still helping to remove any buildup that occurs throughout the week. However, everyone is different. If you’re experiencing irritation, consider exfoliating once every two weeks or even just once a month.
  • Exfoliate gently: You should always aim to be gentle when exfoliating your scalp, or else you could irritate or wound the skin. Apply the exfoliating product while your hair is wet and gently rub it in circles along the scalp. Don’t scrub vigorously!


  • Use microbeads: Microbeads are small particles of plastic that used to be common in shampoos and exfoliating products. Unfortunately, microbeads have been found to be damaging to the environment and potentially even damaging to human health. They are banned in many products around the globe, but it’s best to skip it if you do find a product containing them.
  • Use harsh scrubs: Some physical scalp exfoliating products will use harsh or jagged ingredients to scrub the scalp, like crushed nuts or seeds. These products are often too harsh for the skin on the scalp and can lead to severe irritation. Avoid these ingredients and choose a product containing finer, gentler exfoliating particles.
  • Overdo it: Over-exfoliating can be extremely damaging to your scalp and hair, so don’t do it too often! Most people will not need to exfoliate more than once a week to take care of their hair. Exfoliating too often can damage the scalp and hair follicles and might even cause hair loss.
  • Continue if you experience irritation: If you begin using a physical or chemical exfoliator and experience stinging, redness, irritation or pain, stop using the product immediately. Rinse the product out of your hair and avoid using it in the future. It’s likely that the product is too harsh for your scalp and could cause damage if it’s continuously used over time.

If you want to start exfoliating your scalp, there are tons of recipes you can make using ingredients you have right at home! Most at-home exfoliators combine ingredients like sugar or coffee grounds with moisturizing ingredients like coconut oil and honey.

And, although it can certainly improve the health of your scalp, scalp exfoliation is not the only way you should care for your hair and scalp. It should be just one aspect of a comprehensive haircare routine, including washing, conditioning and clarifying to keep your hair in the best condition possible.

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