To save you time and trouble, we've done all the research and curated a list of the top 10 best scalp exfoliators this year! Our favorite is Briogeo's Scalp Revival. Their blend of vegetable-based microbeads and charcoal provides a safe and gentle exfoliant for any type of skin. Keep on reading for our other favorites, a buying guide, and more.
Dr. Levy is a board certified dermatologist practicing in NYC and Westport, Connecticut. She has expertise in treating inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. She has an interest in skincare and takes a personalized approach to all of her patients.
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Table of Contents
You probably already know what type of skin and what texture hair you have. Both of these factor into the type of scalp exfoliator that's best for you. Here are some things to consider in terms of skin and hair types when you're looking for a new scalp exfoliator.
If your scalp tends to be dry and flakey, or if you notice you've been experiencing itchiness, an exfoliator with lots of natural oils might be best for you. For example, oils like peppermint or tea tree are well known to calm an itchy scalp, while coconut oil is one of the best for hydrating dry skin.
Exfoliators can leave your hair feeling dry, so if you have dry or frizzy hair, choose a product that is deeply nourishing and oil-based. Additionally, limit the frequency of scalp exfoliation for dry hair. Weekly or every other week should be beneficial without drying out the hair.
If you've noticed oily hair or skin along your scalp, you might want to look for an exfoliator with coarser ingredients such as sea salt. This will help thoroughly cleanse buildup around your follicles.
Charcoal is also a popular exfoliator ingredient for oily skin due to its deep cleansing properties, while zinc can help prevent excess oil from reoccurring.
For oily hair, exfoliators can be helpful for drying up dirt, grease, and oil. Oilier hair can tolerate a scalp exfoliator a few times a week if desired. Look for a gel-based product as these can help dry up the oil. Products with charcoal are great are removing oil, dirt, and product residue from the scalp and hair roots.
The texture of your hair affects the state of your scalp and vice versa. If you have coarse hair or thick curls, a scalp exfoliator that cleanses oily skin but also hydrates your hair and scalp might be a good choice. Due to your hair's thick nature, your scalp might have plenty of oil while your locks themselves remain a bit dry.
On the other hand, if you have fine hair, you'll want to focus on the hair follicles themselves. Fine hair leads to a quicker buildup of detritus on your scalp, so a physical exfoliator or a deeply cleansing chemical exfoliator might be your best choice.
Whether you have coarse or fine hair, you'll want to take special caution if you've treated or dyed your tresses. Exfoliators with a lot of chemical content might not be the best choice, as they can interfere with the other work you've done on your hair. Try aiming for gentler exfoliators with more natural oils, acids, and cleansers.
There are two types of scalp exfoliators: exfoliating treatments like masks or scrubs and exfoliating shampoos. Treatments are good for those who already like their hair care routine and don’t want to change out any of their current products. If you already have a shampoo that works best for your hair, you might be reluctant to stop using it.
Another benefit of treatments is that you can choose when to use them. Experts recommend scalp exfoliations twice a week at the most. If you shampoo your hair more often than that, a separate treatment might be better suited to your lifestyle.
Exfoliating shampoos perform two jobs at the same time. You can exfoliate your scalp in the shower at the same time you wash your hair. Exfoliating shampoos also tend to be milder, but they should still only be used as a main shampoo by those who wash their hair more infrequently.
For those that use a lot of products or struggle with flaky skin and dandruff, a physical exfoliant will likely be your best bet for a quick, visible change. Experts do caution that a physical exfoliator will not completely remove dandruff, but note it helps to manage the condition.
However, depending on the type of exfoliant you use and your skin sensitivity, a physical exfoliator holds the risk of irritating your scalp. If you choose a physical exfoliator, we recommend exfoliating your scalp less often and being careful not to scrub with the formula too energetically.
If you have dry hair, processed hair, or frizzy hair, avoid using physical exfoliators often. They can be harsh or irritating on the scalp.
However, they do leave the scalp and the hair leaving squeaky clean, so if you want to try one, I recommend using it only once a month and following it up with a hydrating shampoo and a leave-in hair mask. Physical exfoliators are more helpful for oil control and dandruff-prone hair.
As there are no rough textures or pieces in chemical exfoliators, they're ideal if you have easily-irritated skin or if you want to exfoliate more frequently. Doctors do recommend against using chemical exfoliators, however, if you have open wounds on your scalp or are currently suffering from ringworm.
Experts recommend looking for chemical exfoliators with the ingredients salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or lactic acid listed on the label. These are safe and effective at working through that pesky scalp buildup. If you're wary of lab-made chemicals, look for products with apple cider vinegar or other natural acids.
Chemical exfoliators can be used more frequently since they are less harsh on the hair than physical exfoliators. The acids help remove scale, dandruff, oil, and dirt from the hair. These may also help if you have folliculitis of the scalp, a condition where you develop pimples frequently on the scalp. Be careful if you color your hair as these may strip color if used frequently.
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Scalp Revival ｜Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
A Cruelty-Free, All-Natural Exfoliating Shampoo
Tea Tree Scalp Relief｜Pre-Shampoo Scalp Scrub
A Soothing, Natural Sugar Scrub
Clear: Under Hair Care｜Clarifying Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
This Rinse Gently Chemical-Exfoliates Natural Hair
Clean & Pure｜Scalp Scrub
This Protein-Enriched, Nourishing Scrub Banishes Buildup
Purifying Scalp Scrub｜With Sea Salt
A Cleansing Detox for Oily or Irritated Scalps
Invati Advanced Exfoliating Shampoo｜Rich
A Vegan-Friendly Exfoliator for Thinning Hair
Head & Shoulders
Supreme Exfoliating Scalp Scrub｜With Vitamin E and Argon Oil
A Popular Brand With Nourishing Oils and Vitamins
Head Shed｜Exfoliating Scrub
Deep-Cleansing and Exfoliating for Shaved Scalps
Charcoal Detox Scalp Scrub｜The New Clean
An Exfoliator Loaded With Natural Oils for Treated Hair
Head Remedy ｜Deep Cleanse Shampoo
A Gentle Chemical Exfoliator for Daily Use
Some reviewers have warned that this exfoliator will dry your hair out a bit and recommend following up with a conditioner. While this is a shampoo and exfoliator combination, it isn't one that should be used more than twice a week at the most. Still, Scalp Revival is hard to beat in terms of effectiveness and nourishment.
Yes To's Tea Tree Scalp Relief uses witch hazel and vinegar as natural cleansers for your follicles while the sugar scrub helps rid your scalp of pesky dandruff and buildup. Certified by Leaping Bunny, this cruelty-free wash is gentle in every way and makes a great exfoliator for those suffering itchiness and dandruff.
Reviewers with chronic conditions like scalp psoriasis have noted Tea Tree Scalp Relief effective at treating their symptoms and also soothes their scalps with natural oils like tea tree and sage. Yes To boasts 99 percent natural ingredients, so you don't have to worry about parabens or harsh chemicals.
Some users have complained that the exfoliator is hard to use due to its bottle make, and even harder to remove if you have long or thick hair. Still, we think that the nourishing ingredients and soothing nature of this exfoliator make it well worth it. Tea Tree Scalp Relief will cleanse your follicles and give your hair a spa day.
Some reviewers have complained that the smell of vinegar is too strong and tends to linger on their hair even after a wash. Some have reported a skin reaction to the vinegar as well. However, if you aren't sensitive to the smell or feel of vinegar, we highly recommend this versatile exfoliator.
Nexxus' Clean & Pure is a coarse but incredibly cleansing scrub recommended for oily scalps and hair. Reviewers love how clean and light the scent is, as well as the bolstering effect it has on their hair.
Nexxus has collaborated with salon professionals to formulate this scrub with elastin protein, which helps skin elasticity and strengthens hair follicles. Reviewers report fuller hair and a long-lasting sense of cleanliness to their locks thanks to this nourishing scrub.
While Clean & Pure isn't shampoo, Nexxus promises that it's gentle enough to use as desired. Still, some users with sensitive skin or scalp conditions have complained of inflammation after use. So long as you don't have a history of sensitive skin, we recommend this cleansing scrub!
Christophe Robin's Purifying Scalp Scrub eases oiliness and irritation of the scalp by balancing the skin's pH level. Some users have also found it helpful in managing the symptoms of scalp psoriasis. This product does contain sulfates, so if your hair is colored we recommend caution.
Reviewers note that Purifying Scalp effectively banishes oily scalp issues and dandruff. They love how soft it leaves their hair and how well it keeps buildup away. Many have found that even less than the recommended tablespoon of product per use is more than enough, so this jar can last you a long time.
Some reviewers have complained that Purifying Scalp Scrub dries their hair out and that it's harder to work the product thoroughly into your scalp if you have thick or strong hair. If you're worried about dry hair, we recommend applying conditioner after each use. This is otherwise a great scrub to pamper your scalp with!
Aveda's Invati Advanced Exfoliating Shampoo is a 94 percent plant-derived exfoliator that gently dissolves buildup with salicylic acid derived from wintergreen. This exfoliating shampoo was formulated for users experiencing hair loss, but anyone can benefit from the efficient cleansing that it promises your scalp.
Customers with thinning hair have reported not only a significant replenishing of their locks, but also a light, clean feeling after each use of Invati Advanced. This shampoo is free of sulfates that might clash with dyes or other hair treatments. It's also offered in a "Light" formula for people with fine or curly hair.
Some users complain that this shampoo doesn't work up much of a lather and others have noted that it further dries out their locks, but that might be due to the fact that Invati Advanced Rich is formulated for thick, oilier hair. Invati Advanced is still a nourishing and cruelty-free choice that we recommend to almost anyone and users love that it does help with thinning hair.
If you're a fan of Head and Shoulders, then this is the exfoliator for you! The well-known, dermatologist-recommended brand offers Supreme Exfoliating Scalp Scrub for dry or dandruff-afflicted scalps. The scrub contains argon oil, soy oil, and vitamin E that will nourish and soothe your scalp after each use.
Reviewers enjoy the scent and gentle feel of this salt scrub. They note that, unlike rougher salt scrubs, Supreme Exfoliating Scrub doesn't leave their hair feeling dried out, and actually seems to soften and replenish their locks. Many recommend using this in tandem with the shampoo and conditioner within the same series for an even better effect.
Some users with long or thicker hair have complained that there simply isn't enough of this product to thoroughly get through to their scalps. If you have a lot of hair, we recommend considering a different product. However, this is reviewers say that this is an otherwise fantastic exfoliator for dry skin and brittle, dandruffy hair.
Reviewers note that Head Shed works fantastically at preventing ingrown hairs and leaves their scalps feeling soft and healthy. Many note that it gives their shaved heads an extra shine and helps to prevent razor burn.
The biggest complaint about Head Shed is its container; the bottle and cap designs are notoriously difficult to work with. Still, this is a pampering and healthy exfoliator for shaved heads, something you don't find very often. We think Head Shed is worth the frustration its bottle creates.
Unwash guarantees an incredibly gentle scrub and deep cleansing experience with their Charcoal Detox Scalp Scrub. Loaded with soothing and nourishing oils like tea tree and peppermint, this exfoliator is guaranteed to bolster healthy hair growth in a natural way.
Reviewers love how clean their hair and scalps feel after using Charcoal Detox Scalp Scrub. Some are so thrilled with the cleansing benefits of the formula that they skip shampooing on the days that they use it. They also note that it is very efficient at clearing away dandruff.
A few users report that this feels more like a shampoo than it does a scalp scrub, as the charcoal exfoliant is very fine and doesn't give the coarse, scrubbing sensation that other scrubs might. Still, Unwash Charcoal Detox Scrub is a great choice if your skin is too sensitive for other scrubs, and it has some excellent health benefits.
Some reviewers have complained that the newest formula that KMS has introduced to their shampoo is not as effective as older ones. However, Head Remedy is still a solid choice for an all-purpose exfoliator if you want to shampoo your hair daily.
Almost every scalp exfoliator should be used on a wet head of hair; however, before you turn on the sink or the shower, we recommend that you gently brush any tangles or product out of your locks. You don't want to yank your brush through any knots, as this may make your scalp more sensitive to the exfoliator.
Next, using a teasing brush or comb, work at your scalp to dislodge dandruff and buildup. You don't want to do this for too long, or apply too much strength in your strokes. This could also make your scalp more sensitive to the ingredients of your exfoliator.
Finally, wash your hair and massage the exfoliator into your scalp. You can either use a special exfoliating brush or your fingers, but if you use the latter we recommend not using your nails. Leave the exfoliator in for five to ten minutes, then wash it out and follow up with a round of conditioner.
Make sure you're getting the treatment mostly on the scalp and not treating the hair itself. Although these are safe to put on the hair, it defeats the purpose of using them since the hair will soak up the treatments. You can follow up the treatment with hydrating shampoo of your choice to wash and treat the hair.
These homemade scrub recipes from Little DIY can be used to deep cleanse, clear, and exfoliate your scalp! We're including the recipe for the exfoliator here, but be sure to check this video out for all three nourishing formulas.
Happy, healthy hair builds confidence and feels better on our heads. If you're looking for other ways to pamper your tresses, check out our recommendation lists below!
No. 1: Briogeo｜Scalp Revival ｜Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
No. 2: Yes To｜Tea Tree Scalp Relief｜Pre-Shampoo Scalp Scrub
No. 3: Girl+Hair｜Clear: Under Hair Care｜Clarifying Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse
No. 4: Nexxus｜Clean & Pure｜Scalp Scrub
No. 5: Christophe Robin｜Purifying Scalp Scrub｜With Sea Salt
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