A beauty editor’s 101 guide to all things scalp care

28 JUNE '24

If there’s one thing I have learned throughout my years as a beauty editor, it’s that healthy hair starts with a healthy scalp. I spend my days speaking with the top beauty experts in the world – from hair stylists and colourists to trichologists and dermatologists – and they all agree that if your scalp is off kilter, you’re likely going to experience some issues with your hair, too. But what exactly does scalp care entail, and why is it so important? Here’s what you should know…


Why is scalp care important?

When it comes to explaining just how important scalp care is, I like to use a simple analogy. Think of your head as a field of crops—your hair is the crop and your scalp is the earth and soil from which it grows. If the soil becomes dry and lacks nutrients (or, on the other end of the spectrum, if the field floods), the quality of the crops is majorly impacted. In order for your hair to be its healthiest, you need to be looking after the scalp – the very thing that grows your hair and roots those strands to your head.

In order to really understand the importance of scalp care, it’s good to get to grips with the role the scalp plays in growing your hair. The skin all over your body has millions of hair follicles, with each one producing at least one strand of hair. In order to grow this hair, the follicles rely on the function of the skin’s oil-producing sebaceous glands. While the hair follicles on our arms, legs and faces tend to produce short, fine hairs (that are sometimes hard for the eye to even detect), the skin on our heads (the scalp) contains thousands of hair follicles that produce thick, long hairs – resulting in what we simply refer to as ‘our hair’. If these hair follicles become blocked, dry or irritated, their function can become impaired, which in turn impacts the health of the hair they grow. If hair follicles aren’t properly looked after, your hair may become drier, more brittle and more prone to breakage. In some cases, hair growth can become impeded, resulting in increased hair fall and thinning.

In order for our hair follicles to function at their optimum and grow healthy strands, our scalps should be kept clean without becoming too dry, hydrated without becoming too oily, and free from irritation-causing conditions such as dermatitis and dandruff. And that, I’ll admit, is easier said than done – but there are some things you can do to help.

How can you look after your scalp?

First of all, if you are concerned about an itchy scalp, excessive dandruff, scalp irritation and soreness, hair loss and thinning or have worries over the general function of the skin on your scalp, it is important that you seek medical advice, so please do book in with your GP for the best course of action.

However, if you are simply looking to boost the health of your hair by investing more time into your scalp care, you’re in the right place. As we’ve already discussed, the most important thing when it comes to creating a healthy growing environment for your hair is keeping those follicles in tip-top condition – just like you do when it comes to the pores on your skin. You want to ensure you are cleansing your scalp with the right products for its needs. If your hair is prone to turning greasy quickly, look for clarifying shampoos and scalp scrubs that deliver a follicle-unclogging deep clean. If you find that your hair is dry and that your scalp sometimes feels tights, turn towards hydrating formulas that contain nourishing oils.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to be scrubbing, oiling and massaging their scalp every single day, but I do advise setting some time aside just once a week to really give your scalp the TLC it deserves. Enter: the scalp facial.

What are scalp facials?

The term ‘scalp facial’ has recently risen to fame on social media, with a number of salons and clinics now offering these treatments. They are, in essence, what they say on the tin – facials for your scalp. Throughout the treatment, you can expect a scalp cleanse, exfoliation, mask, steam and massage. The aim of a scalp facial is similar to that of a regular facial – giving your hair and scalp health a serious boost.

And while I wouldn’t advise booking in for an in-salon scalp facial every week (this would be very costly and time-consuming), I do recommend incorporating your own at-home ‘scalp facial’ into your weekly beauty routine in the quest for your strongest, shiniest, healthiest hair yet.

The Product A-List for an at-home scalp facial

My own hair is very long and straight, but it is also bleached, fine and thin, meaning it is very prone to breakage. On top of that, because of the length and fineness of my hair, I’m also used to a fair amount of hair fall as a result of pulls and catches. My skin (and therefore scalp) is very oily, which leads to greasy roots and build-up. However, since I have been indulging in a weekly scalp facial (I do mine as a Sunday-evening treat) my hair has appeared thicker and more voluminous and I have managed to stretch out the time between my wash days. Here’s how to do it…


Even if your hair is prone to greasiness, like mine is, I can assure you that your scalp will likely benefit from a nourishing pre-wash oil. Simply section your hair and apply the oil directly to your scalp, massaging it in as you go. Once your scalp is suitably coated, indulge in a stimulating scalp massage to help boost circulation.

Using an oil treatment and massaging it in helps to nourish follicles and roots for stronger hair, as well as soothing the scalp before washing. On top of that, it also helps to break down any stubborn build-up ahead of cleansing. My product of choice is the JVN Pre-Wash Scalp Oil, which contains turmeric extract and neem seed oil to soothe, as well as the brand’s patented hemi-squalane ingredient to hydrate the hair itself.


Once you have left your scalp oil on for the recommended length of time (the directions for your chosen product will stipulate how long it should be left on for), it’s time to start the next step – cleansing. Before we get into that, however, I want to mention one product that has really helped improve the condition of my hair.

If, like me, you live in an area that has hard water, you might benefit from a purifying shower filter. Hard water contains a higher amount of minerals (like calcium and chlorine) that can turn both scalp and hair dry. Since I installed the Hello Klean Purifying Shower Head to purify my shower water (and filter out any excess of that hard-water mineral build-up) my scalp and hair have been happier than ever.


When it comes to cleansing, the product you choose totally depends on the condition of your scalp. However, as a part of your weekly scalp facial, I do recommend using an exfoliating shampoo or cleansing product. 

If, like me, you have thinner hair, you might enjoy using a scrub to rid the scalp of any build-up. I adore the Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub. To start, it soothes itching while the inclusion of sea salt delivers a super-deep clean and boosts circulation, but beyond that it also develops into an unctuous lather that feels really luxurious.


When it comes to cleansing, the product you choose totally depends on the condition of your scalp. However, as a part of your weekly scalp facial, I do recommend using an exfoliating shampoo or cleansing product.

If your hair is thick and/or curly, you might find scalp scrubs too laborious and hard to rinse out. If that is the case, you will likely benefit more from an exfoliating shampoo that contains salicylic acid. Oribe Serene Scalp Balancing Shampoo gently exfoliates to rid the scalp of any build-up and flakes, but is hydrating enough that it still delivers notable soothing relief.


Once you have applied your chosen cleanser in the shower, before you rinse it out, now is the time to indulge in a scalp massage. Massaging in your cleanser will ensure your scalp is truly rid of any irritation-causing build-up and it helps soothe the mind and boost circulation while it’s at it.

Incorporating a scalp brush is the easiest and most effective way to achieve the ultimate at-home scalp massage. I simply swirl the Straand Exfoliating Scalp Brush around my scalp for 30 seconds and revel in the joy of it all.


Once you have sufficiently rinsed out your cleanser, it’s time to move onto the conditioning stage in the form of a scalp and hair mask.While most hair conditioners and masks aren’t formulated to be applied to the scalp, there are some products out there which cater to both needs, so be sure you’re using a product that clearly states it can be applied to the scalp. My mask of choice is the Coco & Eve Youth Revive Pro Youth Hair and Scalp Mask, containing retinol and pre and post biotics to help cleanse, nourish and balance the skin on the scalp, as well as nourishing coconut oil and honey to condition hair. 

Once you have slathered your mask from root to tip, let it sit. It is at this stage that I like to step out of the water and crank up the heat to create a steamy delight. (Steam helps the mask to better penetrate the hair and also aids in unclogging follicles.) When the time is up, rinse both your scalp and hair thoroughly.

Serum or Treatment

This is the leave-on ‘skincare’ stage of your scalp facial. After you have stepped out of the shower, towel dry your hair and apply a scalp treatment. Again, there are heaps of different formulas out there for different wants and needs.

If you are simply looking to maintain scalp health, you might be interested in Ouai’s Scalp Serum, which is made for all hair types and simply works to hydrate, balance and soothe. However, if like me, you long for fuller-looking hair, you might like to go for a thickening treatment or serum. Virtue Flourish Density Booster contains peptides and prebiotics specifically formulated to cleanse and enrich the scalp, promoting healthier hair growth. Plus, it contains Virtue’s iconic Alpha Keratin 60ku complex to help repair damage in the strands, fending off breakage.

Combing and Brushing

Speaking of breakage, if you’re noticing hair fall as a result of breakage, it could be time to switch up your brush. For my scalp facials, I enjoy using a wide-toothed comb that minimises pulling and snapping, like Act + Acre Detangling Hair Comb. Our hair is at its most fragile when it is wet, so it’s important not tug on the hair while brushing it out post-shower, instead starting from the ends and working your way up to the root.


Once your post-scalp-facial hair has been blow-dried (with a heat protector, please), it’s time to style it.In order to reap the benefits of your scalp facial as much as possible, it’s important that you don’t undo all of your hard work by damaging the hair shafts with extreme heat or pulling at the root and weakening the hair follicle – both of which can lead to breakage and fall. If you’re after smooth, glossy lengths, The KEEO Genius Styler utilises contoured plates and a Protective Air Gap to smooth the hair cuticle without excessive heat damage or tugging, delivering up to 50% less tension, making it the ultimate styling tool to finish off your scalp facial.