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How to identify your scalp type — plus the products you'll need for each

Step 1: Understand your scalp. Step 2: Find the right products to treat it.
Woman putting serum on her scalp
Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY

Let's get to the root of our hair problems — the scalp. Tons of products out there seem to target oily and dry hair, but most stray away from figuring out what's going on underneath. Scalp care was at the top of 2022's hottest beauty trends list — Cosmopolitan's beauty director even stopped by to chat about it — and the trend has continued this year with scalp serums making the list of Spate's predicted 2023 trends. So why is the scalp so hard to understand and target?

Shop TODAY spoke with dermatologist Dr. Angela Lamb about how to determine your scalp type and what you you should look for in a scalp product. Using her expert guidance, our own extensive research, and feedback from dozens of passionate reviews, we found the best products catering to every kind of scalp type. Keep scrolling to see them all, or use the links below to jump to a specific category.

What is my scalp type? | What should I look for? | Products for oily scalps | Products for dry scalps | Products for normal scalp types

What determines your scalp type?

Lamb clarified that there aren't necessarily scalp "types," but rather characteristics of your scalp that depend on how much sebum the scalp produces. "Sebum is a natural oil and protectant for your skin," Lamb explains, adding, "How fast and how much you produce dictates how oily [or not] your scalp will be."

Those with high sebum production (oily scalps) can wash their hair more frequently to remove excess oil, while those who have less (dry scalps) can spread out washes a bit more, according to dermatologist Dr. Angela Lamb.

People who produce a lot of sebum will have a more oily scalp — they tend to have greasier locks and may feel like they need to wash their hair one to two days after the last wash, Lamb says. On the other hand, those who don't produce a lot of sebum will have a drier scalp. "When they wash their hair, the scalp may feel irritated or tight," she says.

Lamp also notes that having a dry scalp is different from dandruff. "[Dandruff] is an allergic reaction to a natural yeast that lives on the scalp's surface," whereas a dry and itchy scalp doesn't necessarily warrant flaking, she explains.

If you don't fall in either of those categories, Lamb would describe your sebum production as "just right." Those with normal scalp types still produce sebum, but not an excessive amount that results in greasy hair, or an underwhelming amount that causes dryness.

What to look for when shopping for your scalp type

Lamb said that those with dry scalps are going to want to look for products with more emollients in them, or hydrating treatments that are applied directly to the area. Those with greasier scalps, on the other hand, will need to look for shampoos, conditioners and treatments that target oily hair and scalps.

Besides nourishing the roots, those with high sebum production can wash their hair more frequently to remove excess oil, while those who have less can spread out washes a bit more, Lamb advises. You should also make sure that, when shampooing or using other scalp-related products, you really focus on massaging your scalp and not your hair.

There are tons of great hair products on the market that can treat your scalp based on its characteristics. However, Lamb warns that a lot of products are targeted towards hair types instead of scalp types, so we put in the extra research to find you options specifically based on these three levels of sebum production.

Products for oily scalp types

Heeta Hair Shampoo Brush

Shop TODAY associate editor Emma Stessman has nothing but praises for this shampoo brush. She says that it lengthens the time between washes for her normally oily hair — sometimes up to four or five days. It's also highly rated on Amazon, with more than 101,000 verified five-star ratings.

RELATED REVIEW: Read more about how this scalp brush made our editor's grease-prone locks softer, cleaner and healthier.

dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub

Apple cider vinegar has a bounty of beauty benefits, especially for your scalp. When Lamb mentioned dpHUE's scalp scrub as a great option for those with greasy scalps, we knew it was going to be a soothing winner. It not only exfoliates and demolishes buildup, but it even works for dry or normal scalp types, too.

Sunday Riley Clean Rinse Clarifying Scalp Serum

Glycolic acid, salicylic acid, niacinamide, rose clay and jasmine essential oil team up to create this exfoliating and buildup-busting hair serum. It can be used several times a week, depending on how much oil your scalp gathers.

Moroccanoil Oily Scalp Treatment

Tons of Sephora shoppers touched on how this Moroccanoil treatment greatly improved their oily scalp and extended the days between necessary washes. We can thank ginger root oil that helps regulate oil production, plus argan oil and biotin peptide complex that work together to promote healthy hair follicle growth, for those satisfying results.

Products for dry scalp types

Jupiter Purifying Mask

Shop TODAY associate editor Fran Sales uses this hair mask on her dry and sensitive scalp. It's made with biotin and volcanic ash that's meant to break down buildup, strengthen hair follicles and reinvigorate your scalp, according to the brand. "I use this once a week, and it feels like I'm giving myself a spa treatment, but for my scalp," she says, adding that afterward her fine hair looks and feels cleaner, not to mention more voluminous, after a treatment.

Necessaire The Scalp Serum

Another favorite of Sales, this scalp serum is made with a biomimetic peptide blend that's meant to increase hair growth. According to the description, it's color-safe and suitable for a flaky, dry scalp. It also touts the ability to address aging and thinning hair.

Arkive Headcare The Crown Scalp Scrub

While the brand says this scalp scrub is suitable for every head type, Shop TODAY associate editor Kamari Stewart is a fan of how well it works on her dry scalp. "I love the tingly and refreshing feel of the menthol," she says. "It's almost like I can feel my scalp getting cleaner in the moment."

Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub

This Kristin Ess scrub has also found its way into Sales' scalp care routine. "I like that it feels like you're doing a sugar scrub, which is my favorite kind of exfoliating scrub, but on your scalp," she says.

According to the brand, it's meant to gently exfoliate while hydrating and rebalancing your scalp. "I've been struggling with a lot of buildup on my scalp and oh my gosh this product just made me feel so clean!" raved one Target reviewer. "It's an exfoliating scrub like you would use on your body but for your head."

Derma E Scalp Relief Treatment

This after-wash treatment is water-based and best suited for those with dry scalps. Blue algae, sea kelp extract and alma oil work as moisturizing elements, while tea tree oil brings a healing, cleansing component to your scalp.

JVN Complete Pre-Wash Scalp Oil

Since this pre-wash scalp oil is designed to be used once a week (or whenever you feel like your scalp could use a boost), it's sure to last you a while. Bisabolol (a chamomile-derived anti-inflammatory ingredient) calms the scalp, and hemisqualane smooths your hair strands.

Mizani Scalp Care Calming Dry Scalp Lotion

Remember that itchy, tight feeling Lamb described? This lotion is perfect if you're experiencing those symptoms. Avocado oil and eucalyptus soothe your scalp, while aloe vera reduces itchiness and dandruff.

Living Proof Scalp Care Dry Scalp Treatment

This is a leave-in treatment that tackles itchy, flaking and irritated scalp. A hyaluronic acid base offers hydration and comfort, and the vitamin B3-based microbiome complex supports the benign microorganisms on your scalp to prolong the relief.

Act+Acre Scalp Detox

Baobab and basil leaf are anti-inflammatory plants included in this scalp detox treatment — they soothe your skin while encouraging and protecting a natural moisture balance. To use: simply apply to your dry scalp before washing, massage and let sit for 20 minutes. This pick also works for those with a normal scalp type.

Products for normal scalp types

Davines The Purity Circle Scalp Mask

Hair masks are on at the top of a lot of people's beauty must-have lists, and we believe scalp masks should be up there, too. You can use this option from Davines before or after showering to detoxify your scalp with its antioxidant-packed formula. Some if its key ingredients: "Matcha is a well-known super food with polyphenols that fight free radicals, and bamboo charcoal acts as an absorbent," according to the brand.

Prose Custom Shampoo

If there's one way to ensure a product will work for you, it's to make sure it was made for you. Maintain your balanced sebum production with a custom shampoo from Prose. You'll be able to create your own version of the sulfate-free shampoo based on your specific scalp needs. You'll use the brand's list of natural and sustainable active ingredients to customize it (ingredients like biotin, vitamin B5, rice water and argan oil), which the brand promises will keep your scalp in check.