The Hidden Drawbacks To Scalp Scrubs You Need To Know About

Dry skin is a known ailment to the cold, arid air that comes with winter. This can affect your hands, feet, and face, but it can also impact your scalp. You might not think of it this way, but your scalp is also an extension of your skin, meaning it deserves just as much TLC as you give your face in your daily skincare routine.

Furthermore, many people struggle with itchy and dry scalps year-round due to dandruff or other skin issues, per Cleveland Clinic. If you are looking for a good way to help your scalp's dryness or itchiness, scrubs are a popular option. They have the same concept as body scrubs: The formula includes some kind of physical exfoliant that feels grainy to the touch, and it's meant to scour away those flakes. So if you have a chronically itchy scalp, that intense scrubbing with the grainy substance can feel really, really good. However, scalp scrubs can actually have some drawbacks, and other products might be better for your head in the long run.

Scalp scrubs might do more harm than good

The concept of a scalp scrub is to use a rough texture to combat flakes, itchiness, or buildup. But Heleen Kibbelaar, a P.h.D candidate who focuses her research on hair, told Shape that its roughness could hurt the health of your hair. A physical exfoliant, which is what a scalp scrub is, contains tiny beads that act as harsh sandpaper, and the worst time to be rough with your hair is when it's wet because it can break easier. "You are creating a lot of friction around the hairs, which might also induce damage," she explained. Damage to your hair can lead to breakage.

The harsh nature of scrubs also can harm your scalp's skin. Face wash with these tiny scrubbing beads — like St. Ives' — is infamous for tearing the skin and being too abrasive, even resulting in a lawsuit, per The Atlantic. And just as they reported that scrubbing your face raw won't give it a better clean, scalp scrubs with physical exfoliants won't get rid of product buildup despite what some products or internet trends claim.

Kibbelaar added via Shape, "If you have a lot of product buildup and you really need this intense cleansing of the hair near your scalp, a shampoo will do it better than a scrub because a scrub doesn't contain surfactants which are able to remove the oil and dirt from your scalp." Surfactants are ingredients in shampoo that easily remove oil and grease.

Taking care of your scalp is important

If you feel like your scalp needs an exfoliant, Heleen Kibbelaar said via Shape that scrubs are only beneficial for those with dry flakes. But even then, she suggests looking for chemical exfoliants, not scrubs. They produce the same result without physical roughness that can irritate or cause hair damage, and anyone can benefit from that because scalp maintenance is important.

"The scalp is an extension of our skin, but we often don't give it the same attention as our faces and bodies," Dr. Barbara Sturm, a German aesthetics doctor with her own skincare brand, told The New York Times. Scalps age just like us and the rest of the skin on our bodies, and exfoliation helps with that, according to Penny James, a New York-based trichologist. In addition, according to The New York Times, hair loss begins at the scalp, so taking care of it can prevent that. There aren't many dermatological studies done on scalp products, but Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist, said a tried-and-true technique is to destress. She suggested a "calming head massage," which can "allow us to slow down" and, hopefully, lead to less hair loss.

Whether it's physical or chemical exfoliation, Healthline suggests that you don't do it more than twice a week. Scalps are sensitive, and any kind of exfoliation can seriously irritate them even more, per WebMD, so be gentle. Check in with your skin and do what you think feels best for your scalp.