Risks of the Scalp Popping and Hair Cracking Trend

The practice actually has roots in other cultures, but you shouldn't attempt it on your own.

You can crack your knuckles, neck, back, and, according to TikTok, apparently even your scalp. 

Hair cracking or scalp popping is a new-to-some phenomenon circulating the social networking site, and it's got people intrigued, confused, and a little concerned.

The hashtag #ScalpPopping has garnered over 6.4 million views on the app—the top video by a TikTok user named Yana (@yanasemerly), which has more than 820,000 likes and 4.9 million views. 

In the video, Yana and an unnamed friend try the scalp popping technique, each taking a small section of the other's hair, twisting it around their fingers, and pulling from up. The friends both act shocked when the act elicits a popping noise.

But it's not just Yara and their friend—tons of others on the app have also tried their hand at scalp popping or hair cracking. In another video, user @gizzybautista (also known as Giselle) takes a section of their hair, pulls it away from their scalp, and looks pretty surprised at the popping noise it makes. 

"I was shook," Giselle wrote in the caption. 

In the YouTube video below, another person performs the scalp popping technique.

Another TikTok user, Rebekah Grider (@rebekahgrider), also hopped on the trend. 

"Guys, I saw this TikTok of these girls [referring to Yana and their friend] and they were doing, like, scalp popping, otherwise known as hair cracking, and I tried it and I looked it up and it's real and it works," Grider said in the video, before doing it for the camera. 

After Grider twisted her hair, pulled it, and heard a popping noise, they responded with "Ew!" and proceeded to do it a few more times—just as surprised by the sound as the first time they did it.

Clearly, there's a lot of interest behind this scalp popping, hair cracking trend—so what is it, exactly? 

Real talk: None of the dermatologists we contacted spoke on the trend, but Jon Musgrave, a New York-based licensed massage therapist, was able to key us into the practice, what it's used for, and if it's safe to do.

How Scalp Popping Works

To be honest, there isn't much information on scalp popping or hair cracking online. One Reddit post from u/lizfromdarkplace shared their hair-cracking experience while receiving a facial at a spa. 

"I have never felt a stranger sensation in my life and am wondering," the Reddit user wrote, acknowledging the lack of information on the topic.

But Musgrave told Health that he's been aware of the practice for many years. 

"I first became aware of it as something Mexican women do to help relieve heat-induced migraines," said Musgrave. "It's not a standard Western massage technique, and it's not something that I would do to myself or to someone else."

And as for the "popping" noise that has fascinated TikTok, Musgrave said that he wasn't entirely sure what causes it. 

"It could be that it's the fascia [a thin casing of connective tissue that holds bones, muscles, organs, blood vessels, and nerve endings in place] ripping as the skin pulls away from the skull. But I'd say it's more likely that it's just suction," suggested Musgrave. "When the skin gets pulled away from the bones quickly, it creates a vacuum that 'pops' as the edges lift and the space gets filled in by liquid, like pulling a suction cup off the shower wall."

Dangers of Scalp Popping

While scalp popping seems to be a cultural practice—comments on Reddit mention Asian or Turkish origins—Musgrave expressed some significant concerns with the technique. According to Musgrave, you may want to be cautious if you're a first-time scalp popper and don't exactly know what you're doing.

First, Musgrave highlighted the potential of tearing the skin or the connective tissues underneath. Plus, Musgrave added that there's the risk of causing strain in the neck as it gets pulled along with the head. Musgrave compared it to cracking your neck. 

"It's something that many people do but is not particularly safe and should be left to someone who has the training and experience to do it safely," warned Musgrave.

And after their first video, Gisele shared another, revealing that they tried to do it again but couldn't. Other TikTokkers also reached out to Gisele, saying they tried the trend and ended up with bald spots.

 "If it won't pop that easily, then don't do it," said Gisele. "It won't work on you."

Trichotillomania is a common behavioral disorder. According to an article published in 2020 in Dermatologic Therapy, the condition causes people to have urges to pull their hair. The act creates bald patches on the scalp or any other body part where hair grows. 

While there is no research on whether hair cracking or scalp popping is connected to trichotillomania, the pulling action is similar. Both actions also share a serious consequence: Bald spots. 

You may consider seeing a healthcare provider if you are developing the urge to continuously perform hair cracking or scalp popping.

Safe Scalp Massage

It may be best to file this one under "interesting things I've seen on TikTok" and forego trying it. 

Instead, opt for seeing a qualified massage therapist if you have tension in your scalp or suffer from migraines that just won't quit. You can also try safe scalp massage techniques on yourself.

If you feel like you have tension on your scalp, "the skin on the head adhering to the skull is a pretty common issue," according to Musgrave. You could try a couple of simple techniques that won't rip your hair out, tear your skin, or strain your neck.

Musgrave suggested placing all four fingers of both hands onto either side of your skull. Then, make small circles, first in one direction and then the other, moving the skin across the head. 

"You can then move your hands to different places so that you're moving the skin on the front, back, sides, and top of the skull," explained Musgrave.

Another option that might work for people with long hair is to take large sections of hair and pull firmly but slowly to drag the skin away from the skull. 

"This has a similar effect, without the safety concerns," added Musgrave.

A Quick Review

Scalp popping and hair cracking may be a trendy practice on TikTok. Still, Musgrave cautioned against attempting the action on yourself. If you are a first-time scalp popper or don't know how to crack your hair, you may be better off with a scalp massage. 

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