While many of us reach for our favorite leave-in conditioner or a nourishing hair mask when our hair needs a little extra TLC, scalp exfoliation is an often overlooked step in our hair care routine. But just like the skin on your face and body, the scalp needs regular exfoliation, too.
From removing product buildup to improving blood circulation and hair growth, scalp scrubs and other exfoliating tools offer a range of benefits that affect not only the scalp, but also the overall look and feel of your hair.
To learn more about scalp scrubs and what to look for when shopping for a product, Shop TODAY asked three hair and scalp experts to weigh in. Read on for their expert advice and use the links below to find the best scalp scrub and exfoliating product for you.
What are the benefits? | Best overall | Best budget | Best for sensitive scalps | Best with apple cider vinegar | Best for itchy scalps | Best for oily scalps | Best for dry scalps | Best scalp brush | Best scalp mask | Best scalp serum | Best oils for scalp buildup | What should I look for? | How to exfoliate | Meet our experts
What are the benefits of using scalp scrubs?
"Like the skin on our bodies and face, our scalp sheds dead skin and secretes oil and sweat — all of which contain bacteria. Product residue, pollution and dirt can also build up on the scalp and ultimately lead to clogged pores and hair follicles," says Natalie Palomino, master hairstylist and the founder of North Authentic, an online source for expert-prescribed hair care routines.
These clogged hair pores can stop hair from growing, explains celebrity hairstylist Joel Warren, who adds that scalp scrubs and scalp exfoliants can help unclog the pore and allow the hair to grow.
Chasity Shipman, a certified AMCA trichologist and hair loss specialist, adds that exfoliating the scalp also helps in promoting healthy hair growth by waking up the follicles. "A tight and dry scalp will not encourage hair growth, but rather slow it down or cause shedding due to lack of stimulation and blood circulation," she says. "Scalp exfoliation is [also] great for those who suffer from scalp disorders such as psoriasis, [scalp] eczema and seborrheic dermatitis."
Best overall scalp scrub
Key ingredients: Sake water, sugar, hyaluronic acid | Usage: Once per week | Size: 8.1 oz.
This 2-in-1 clarifying scalp scrub (formerly known as Perfect Shine) doubles as shampoo to not only help remove buildup, but also to improve the appearance and shine of dull and drab hair. In addition to more than 2,100 verified five-star ratings on Amazon, reviewers aplenty rave about the multitude of benefits they saw.
One Amazon customer shared, “This product is perfect. … I have struggled with product buildup and this just feels so refreshing on my scalp. It foams up when you scrub it in and makes a wonderful lather that’s easy to rinse out, and it smells very high-end. 10/10!”
Best budget scalp scrub
Key ingredients: Elastin protein, marine minerals | Usage: Once per week | Size: 11.25 oz.
This scrub gently removes dead skin and residue from the scalp, while also helping smooth and nourish the hair, according to the brand. In addition to nearly 2,000 verified five-star Amazon ratings, reviewers praise the product, sharing that “a little goes a long way.”
One Amazon user added, “Totally worth it! … You get a pretty big-sized jar. I think this will last me at least six months. It’s giving five-star spa treatment. I use this as a scalp massage to get off dry shampoo buildup but could totally be an all-over body scrub.”
Key ingredients: Apple cider vinegar, blue agave, banana and sugar | Usage: Once per week, or as needed | Size: 6 oz.
An easy solution to clean out dirt, flakes, oil and any other unwanted substances on your scalp, this scrub is applied after shampooing and can be easily conditioned out. Made with ingredients thoughtfully included to ensure that your scalp is healthy and clean, apple cider vinegar and blue agave also help to reduce frizz and lock in moisture.
Key ingredients: Menthol | Usage: Once per week, before shampooing | Size: 6 oz.
Associate SEO editor Kamari Stewart lives by this scalp scrub not only because the menthol included makes her scalp feel good, but because "it also leaves your hair feeling super clean," she says. This scrub promises to exfoliate, energize and refresh your scalp. Plus, it can be used on all hair types, according to the brand.
Best scrub for sensitive scalps
Key ingredients: Sucrose, climbazole, shea butter, soybean oils | Usage: As needed | Size: 8.4 oz.
Designed with oily and sensitive scalps in mind, this scalp scrub helps remove buildup and impurities, while also promoting new cell growth. But even if you don’t have an oily scalp, don’t count it out quite yet because this product works wonders on my (Jennifer's) dry, flaky scalp, too.
Not only does it help remove the dead skin and flakes that always seem to appear around my hairline, it leaves my scalp feeling soothed and hydrated. So whether you have an oily or dry scalp, this may be a great option for you.
Best scalp scrub with apple cider vinegar
Key ingredients: ACV, pink himalayan salt, aloe vera, avocado oil | Usage: Once a week | Size: 9 oz.
Shop TODAY readers may be most familiar with dpHue for their potent apple cider vinegar hair rinse, but did you know the brand also makes a scalp exfoliant? Perfect for eliminating impurities and maintaining your scalp's pH balance, its formula is packed with vitamins, avocado oil, aloe vera and pink Himalayan salt alongside its star ingredient for a complete detox.
Best scrub for itchy scalps
Key ingredients: Apple cider vinegar, peppermint, sugar crystals | Usage: As needed | Size: 6.7 oz.
This sugar-based scrub will leave your scalp feeling cool and refreshed. It contains peppermint oil and apple cider vinegar, which help to detox and remove any buildup. One verified buyer noted, "I have a very itchy scalp and this scrub gave me such relief. [It] helped minimize my itch to almost nonexistent."
Best scrub for oily scalps
Key ingredients: Sea salt, natural carbohydrate complex, bisabolol | Usage: Once a week | Size: 250 mL (8.5 oz.)
Next time you need to detox your hair, try this sea salt-based scrub from Christophe Robin. It doubles as a shampoo to deeply purify the scalp and clean the hair, while also calming any itchy sensations. It’s formulated with sensitive and oily scalps in mind, and users love how well the product lathers.
Best scrub for dry scalps
Key ingredients: Aloe vera, agave juice extract | Usage: Once per week | Size: 250 mL (8.5 oz.)
If you’re looking for a gentle option for your dry scalp, this scrub from Christophe Robin is an excellent go-to. The fermented agave juice extract in the formula helps soothe scalp irritation, while the organic aloe vera hydrates and nourishes even the driest of scalps. And as someone with a dry scalp, it has become one of my (Jennifer’s) favorite scalp products on days where I need a little extra hydration.
Best exfoliating scalp brush
Usage: Daily | Size: 3 x 3 x 3.5 inches
For extra assistance in getting a thorough exfoliation, use this Briogeo scalp massager that helps improve flaky and dry scalps. The massager helps promote circulation and can be used on wet or dry hair. One buyer reports that this massager "is so gentle and doesn’t hurt my sensitive scalp."
Best exfoliating scalp mask
Key ingredients: Argan oil, biotin, panthenol, volcanic ash | Usage: 1–2x per week | Size: 5.0 oz.
This foamy exfoliant helps absorb oil and break down buildup, while also improving hydration and giving the hair that much-needed volume boost. And after testing this product for Shop TODAY's Beauty Awards, we even crowned it Best Hair Mask for its performance.
Partnerships editorial assistant Lauren Biggerstaff raves, "I absolutely loved this. It was a foamy mask and exfoliator without feeling dry or irritating. I used it twice a week, but saw immediate results in how soft my hair felt and was able to go longer between washes. It left no residue and washed out well, which I was worried about since it’s a gray/black color."
Best exfoliating serum for sensitive scalps
Key ingredients: Essential oils, cocoa butter, aloe vera, silk protein, vitamin E | Usage: Once per week | Size: 4 oz.
This all-natural scalp treatment utilizes a combination of essential oils like jojoba, tea tree, lime, chamomile and peppermint to soothe, moisturize and exfoliate sensitive scalps. It also helps reduce inflammation and itchiness, while balancing scalp pH to promote a healthy environment for hair growth, according to the brand.
While I (Jennifer) personally have seen excellent results using the dry scalp formula, ScalpFacial also comes in an oily-scalp formula.
Best exfoliating oils for scalp buildup
Key ingredients: Pink clay and charcoal, Indian Cress stem extract, sea buckthorn | Usage: Once per week | Size: 2.0 oz.
This pre-wash oil from Amika helps break down and lift dirt, oil and other impurities, leaving you with a clean and refreshed scalp.
“This scalp cleansing oil is the best. I use it on my scalp prior to showering to help get rid of any dandruff and product buildup. It leaves my scalp feeling fresh and clean,” noted one Amazon reviewer. And for an added bonus, you can enjoy the transformation from an oil to a foam when you rinse this product.
Key ingredients: Baobab oil, basil leaf, moringa extract | Usage: Once per week | Size: 3.0 oz.
This pre-cleanse oil does just what the name implies — provides the scalp with a much needed detox by breaking down and removing the oils and buildup. It also promises to help moisturize and balance the scalp to support a healthy scalp microbiome and encourage hair growth.
One Amazon customer shared, “I have found this scalp oil to be very effective in relieving dryness and itching, and it has also helped to reduce flakiness and oily scalps. It gently removes buildup from dead skin cells and product residue.”
Best exfoliating scalp pre-shampoos
Drybar’s pre-shampoo cleanser with built-in scalp massager helps to gently loosen build-up and flakes, while locking in moisture for up to 24 hours. It also encourages a healthy scalp microbiome to reduce future oil and flakes. The result? A healthier scalp and longer-lasting blowouts — a win-win!
This one is in former associate editor Fran Sales' rotation; she reaches for it when she doesn't have time to do a full mask but owes her scalp a refresh. Her little secret? She doesn't use hot tools and loves that this works great with her air-dry hair regimen.
She adds, "The applicator tip doubles as a brush, which is so helpful in speeding things up in the shower. And while Jupiter is my favorite scalp exfoliator, this one refreshes my scalp in a pinch — and my hair looks volumized at the roots afterward, without fail."
What to consider in scalp scrubs and other exfoliants
When shopping for a scalp scrub or chemical scalp exfoliant, it’s important to consider your hair type and any scalp issues, as well as personal preferences, Palomino tells us. To start your search, consider these four factors to help narrow down your options.
Type: A physical exfoliant, like a scrub, works to buff off unwanted debris, like dead skin and product buildup — whereas a chemical exfoliant uses acids or enzymes.
Scalp issue/hair type: "Those with extremely thick, dense hair may find it difficult to rinse some physical exfoliants. Those with scalp sensitivity or scalp issues (like psoriasis, scalp eczema or dermatitis) may also find physical exfoliants too harsh and therefore opt for a chemical exfoliant," she says.
Key ingredients: “Chemical exfoliants generally contain ingredients such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid or glycyrrhetinic acid. Physical exfoliants contain ingredients like sugar or salt crystals, pumice or clays (kaolin and bentonite),” she explains.
Usage instructions: Pay attention to the application instructions on the specific product label. In most cases, physical exfoliants should be applied on a wet scalp and massaged in circular motions, whereas chemical exfoliants are generally applied on a dry scalp prior to shampooing.
Aftercare: Moisturizing your scalp following exfoliation is always recommended, advises Palomino, who recommends a moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. But she also suggests staying away from applying heavy creams or oils directly to your scalp. “Look for moisturizing products that are lightweight and non-greasy,” she adds.
How do I use a scalp scrub?
Use the right tools. "The proper way to exfoliate the scalp would be using the ball of your fingertips or a scalp massage device," says Shipman.
Go gently, especially if your scalp is sensitive. Use small, circular motions and be gentle to avoid irritation, then rinse and repeat. If you have a delicate scalp, you may want to consult a professional before starting.
Wait until your scalp is clean. Warren also suggests rubbing your scalp for two to five minutes before proceeding with shampoo. Wait for your hair to form suds if you want to ensure your scalp is completely clean.
Questions about scalp scrubs, answered by experts
How often should I exfoliate my scalp?
“The frequency of exfoliation usually depends on the level of dry to oily scalp that you experience. Oily scalps generally should be exfoliated once per week, whereas dry, sensitive scalps should be exfoliated once every 14 days or more,” Palomino says.
Exfoliating more frequently than this can cause issues on the scalp, making it sensitive and potentially causing it to overproduce oil, adds Shipman. “Allow time for the scalp to produce its own natural oils to nourish and keep the scalp healthy."
Does exfoliating my scalp help with hair growth?
“Yes, buildup can clog the hair follicle and impede hair growth, causing slowing of growth or worse, hair loss. Exfoliating the scalp sets the stage for a clean, healthy follicle to work efficiently, and as a result can help with hair growth,” says Palomino.
Is using scalp scrubs or exfoliants good for my scalp and hair?
Scalp exfoliation offers multiple benefits for the scalp and hair. In fact, one 2018 study found a link between scalp health and hair growth and quality. According to the study, scalp exfoliation can increase hair fullness and reduce hair shedding while controlling scalp Malassezia levels — a type of yeast that causes damage to the hair follicles.
Meet our experts
Natalie Palomino is a master stylist, hair care expert and the founder and president of North Authentic, an online source for personalized, expert-prescribed hair care routines. She is based in Aliso Viejo, California.
Joel Warren is a celebrity hairstylist and educator, with over 30 years of experience in the beauty industry. He co-founded The Salon Project by Joel Warren, a hair salon in New York City that specializes in color.