How to Take Care of Your Scalp and Why It Matters

In This Article
View All
In This Article
A blonde woman with wet hair touching her scalp

Tetra Images / Getty Images

It's easy to overlook taking care of your scalp as part of your skincare routine, but since the scalp is really just an extension of your face, it too is susceptible to irritation, itchiness, and dryness.

Taking care of your scalp can help you create a healthy environment for your hair to grow, and help you nourish the skin that protects your skull from trauma and infection. "Just like selecting a specific regimen for your face, your scalp care routine should address your current scalp needs, hair type and texture, and genetic make up, as well as your general health and lifestyle," Bridgett Hill, a certified trichologist, scalp therapist, and CEO and founder of Scalp Therapy, told Health.

Here is what you need to know about caring for your scalp.

What Is a Healthy Scalp?

A healthy scalp is characterized by clean, hydrated skin and good blood circulation, balanced oil production, and the absence of inflammation, itching and flaking.

If you are noticing changes in your scalp or your hair, it might be worth seeing a professional, such as a trichologist, that could do a scalp analysis and provide insight into the underlying factors affecting your scalp, and what you need to do to maintain healthy hair follicles. During a scalp analysis, a trichologist can examine things like your scalp health, hair density, and pores to determine what needs to be addressed. Your hair and scalp can provide insight into mineral or vitamin deficiencies.

"Hair is a non-essential tissue," Hill explains. "When the body is hormonally imbalanced, [nutritionally] deficient, or chronically inflamed, it will begin to self correct and redirect nutrients away from the cells that form our hair to the vital organs to compensate."

Your hair growth begins below the skin, so by the time your hair protrudes from the hair follicle it has already been formed. For this reason, all follicular activity—both hair creation and hair growth—requires the involvement of your scalp and its structures, Hill said. To create that optimal environment, your scalp and its hair follicles need to be kept clean, clear, and not be weighed down by sebum (oil), dead skin, dandruff, or tons of products.

How to Take Care of Your Scalp Type

Caring for your scalp begins by removing dirt and oil, as well as making sure it stays hydrated and nourished. Pay attention to your skin type and scalp issues and choose your products accordingly.

Here are some of the more common skin types and scalp issues and how you can address these.

Sensitive Scalp

When you have sensitive skin, your scalp may be more prone to irritation. Use gentle cleansers and products that can help sustain your scalp's microbiome and help deter redness and tenderness. Hill suggests trying oatmeal or clay-based shampoos as well as using sunscreen on your scalp and protective coverings such as scarves and hats.

You also should avoid heavily-perfumed shampoos or styling products that can irritate your scalp, Dr. Christina Han, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of XYON Health, told Health. Instead, opt for hypo-allergenic shampoos and products, and avoid chemicals such as hair dyes, if you can.

Dry Scalp

Having a dry scalp can be a result of something as simple as overusing heating tools or dehydration, to more complex scalp conditions like dandruff or plaque psoriasis, according to Hill. If your scalp is extremely dry, see your healthcare provider for a proper assessment.

If your condition is mild, or if you believe it's related to the products or styling tools you use, you can use a scalp mask or oil that addresses dry, flaky scalps. These can help nourish your scalp and also slow down the cellular turn over, preventing flakes from forming.

In terms of cleansing, avoid over-washing your hair so that your natural oils can build up. "These oils function as natural emollients or moisturizers for your scalp and prevent excessive dryness, which can lead to itching and flaking," Dr. Han said. Select gentle, hydrating shampoos and conditioners. You can also use natural oils like coconut, jojoba, or Argan oil to moisturize your scalp, Dawna Jarvis, a beauty industry expert and strategist at The Canyon Salon, told Health.

Oily Scalp

Most products out there that are marketed for an oily scalp—such as dry shampoo—don't stop oil production, they are just meant to absorb oil, which can add more layers of products to your scalp.

"I encourage [people] to condition their hair before shampooing," Hill said. "Apply conditioner to your hair a minimum of 10 minutes before you shampoo your dry, dirty hair. This allows the hair fiber to receive the proper humectant, lipids, and proteins necessary to keep the hair fibers and scalp healthy while preventing any additional build up on the scalp."

When using oil-regulating shampoos, you can apply them directly to your scalp, cover with a cap, and allow the active ingredients to do their job. For styling products, opt for water-based products, such as a leave-in spray, for moisture and protection.

Hill suggested looking for products with zinc, apple cider vinegar, and witch hazel. Zinc will help control the growth of bacteria and assist with calming itchiness, while the vinegar contains natural alpha hydroxy acids, which encourage exfoliation. Witch hazel, on the other hands, reduces free radicals and maintains the natural microbiome of the scalp.


The key to managing dandruff is to slow down the cellular turnover of the scalp, according to Hill. It is the over-activity of your scalp's cells that create the flakiness of dandruff to begin with.

Try an anti-dandruff shampoo containing ingredients like zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid, or ketoconazole. You may want to alternate between dandruff-fighting active ingredients and gentle daily shampoos to maintain the balance of your scalp’s microbiome, according to Hill.

If you have greasy or wet dandruff (pityriasis steatoides), which is a yeast-like fungi common in people with oily hair, you may want to use both a dandruff shampoo as well as a shampoo for oily hair. Try clay-based shampoos because the clay can slow down the production of oil.

Scalp Psoriasis

If you suspect that you have scalp psoriasis, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis first. Many times, you may need specific treatment with prescription topicals, shampoos, and even oral or injection therapies, Dr. Han said. Sometimes these recommendations include topical steroid lotions, vitamin D analogues, immunosuppressive pills, targeted therapies, and specific ingredients to help with scaling, such as salicylic acid.

When it comes to non-prescription treatments, your options are more limited. Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin disease and often requires medical treatment. Temporary, symptomatic relief may be improved with tar-based shampoos or shampoos that contain salicylic acid. Talk to your healthcare provider about the options that are best for you.

Scalp Eczema

In addition to your body, hands, and face, eczema can also plague the scalp, usually in a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis.

Like other skin conditions, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis to determine if prescription medications or other treatments are needed for your scalp eczema. Topical steroids are often the cornerstone in managing eczema and come in the form of shampoos and lotions, Dr. Han said. Additionally, some people may find emollients such as scalp oils provide soothing relief.

If you are looking for over-the-counter (OTC) options, Hill recommended hypoallergenic, vegan products made for sensitive and allergy-prone skin. You also should minimize using excessive heat and harsh chemicals on your scalp and hair.

Hair Loss

Hair loss is very common. People born male are more likely to deal with a receding hairline thanks to male pattern hair loss, which is a type of hair loss related to your genes and male sex hormones. But people born female can also experience a receding hairline, especially if they have frontal fibrosing alopecia, progressive hair loss near the forehead. Other types of hair loss such as alopecia areata which can be from emotional or physical stress, or systemic illnesses.

The first step to treating hair loss is to figure out what's causing it. That way, you can manage any internal causes as well as topical causes simultaneously. Your hair is a non-essential tissue, so if there are any nutritional deficiencies present, or added stress in your body, your body may redirect the cells used to make your hair, to fuel other organs in your body, which may result in hair loss.

You treat hair loss on the surface, minimize excessive traction or pulling on your hair, Dr. Han said. If you wear tight ponytails or braids, or use helmets or hats, try to minimize their use, since they can tug on your hair, promote inflammation, and even cause scarring of your hair follicles. You also should avoid sleeping on wet hair because this can promote further breakage.

Scalp Treatments

To begin your scalp care journey, Jarvis recommended using a shampoo that is gentle and sulfate-free, and a conditioner that is suitable for your hair and scalp type. You also may want to incorporate a scalp mask or hydrating oil.

"Begin [your scalp regimen] with an appropriate scalp mask or oil that addresses the current needs of your scalp condition, provides cellular turn over (if you don't already experience dandruff), and has anti-inflammatory properties," Hill suggested. "When your hair gets over-worked or over-processed, it can affect the scalp. Look for treatment oils, serums, or cream-based masks versus grainy exfoliants. Using granules on an irritated scalp can trigger other conditions to develop. Plus, granules have a tendency to attach to the base of your hair fiber and can be difficult to rinse out.

Next, make sure you are shampooing properly. Apply shampoo directly to your scalp and not to your hair fibers. To do this, Hill suggested buying a hair color-applicator bottle, pouring the shampoo into the bottle, and using the nozzle to distribute the shampoo directly onto your scalp.

Massage Your Scalp

Activate your scalp and improve circulation by massaging your scalp. Using both hands, start at the nape of your neck, and work your fingers up the head to the crown. Then work from the base of your ears to top of your head on both sides.

Spend three to five minutes massaging in an oil of your choice for your skin type. Doing so will soften skin cells, exfoliate, remove debris, and encourage blood flow.

To finish off, consider using a topical water-based serum or lotion that promotes hair health or addresses your specific scalp concern. Use a heat-protectant spray or serum if applying heat to your hair with hot tools, and use sunscreen over areas that are sparse or bald when doing outdoor activities (or wear a hat). "The part [in your] hair can burn, as there is often more scalp visible to the UV rays," Dr. Han said.

Lastly, don't underestimate the importance of good overall health and the role it plays in the health of your scalp. "Your nutritional, physical, and emotional health can have an [impact] on your general skin, hair, and scalp health," Dr. Han said.

A Quick Review

When it comes to scalp care, it is important to have a routine that is specifically designed for your scalp type and issues. Consistently caring for your scalp will not only give your hair follicles a healthy foundation, but also will nourish and protect the skin of your scalp.

If you notice that your scalp is inflamed, itchy, or flaky, this could be a sign of an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. Consider talking with a certified trichologist, or a dermatologist about your concerns.

Was this page helpful?
3 Sources uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Almohanna HM, Ahmed AA, Tsatalis JP, Tosti A. The role of vitamins and minerals in hair loss: A reviewDermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2019;9(1):51-70. doi:10.1007/s13555-018-0278-6

  2. The Trichological Society. Pityriasis.

  3. Blakely K, Gooderham M. Management of scalp psoriasis: Current perspectivesPsoriasis (Auckl). 2016;6:33-40. Published 2016 Mar 29. doi:10.2147/PTT.S85330

Related Articles