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Woman inspecting her scalp and hair

Just like healthy soil is the foundation for flourishing plant life, a healthy scalp is fundamental for growing strong, shiny hair. But when our hair needs a little extra TLC, the scalp is an often-overlooked area. Buildup from styling products, natural oils, and sweat can overwhelm the hair follicles, which can lead to dull hair and breakage. And if you’re experiencing dryness, flakiness, or itchiness, your hair won’t be happy either.

“One of the ways you can maintain a healthy scalp is to periodically ‘detox,’ it” says Sarah McDonald, senior hairstylist at LifeSpa in Peabody, Mass. “Scalp detoxing is a deep cleansing of the scalp using a scrub or oil to help remove dead skin cells and product or mineral buildup from your hair follicles.”

To learn more about scalp health and care, we asked McDonald for her tips and take on the benefits of scalp detoxing.

Life Time Editorial | Why is scalp health important for hair health?

Sarah McDonald | Your hair is a dead substance, but the place where it’s still living is in the follicles on your scalp. The hair follicle is where nutrients and moisture are passed through, and deficiencies can cause issues. This means your scalp determines both the health and condition of your strands. A healthy scalp ensures healthy oil production, which leads to higher quality hair growth.

LTE | Why do I need to do a scalp detox? What benefits does it offer?

SM | Many people have a skincare routine for their face, and providing that same type of care for your scalp can go a long way. Just like exfoliating your face helps reduce blocked pores and breakouts for clear skin, detoxing your scalp helps unclog your hair follicles for healthier hair growth. By removing dead skin cells and buildup, your hair can grow faster, shinier, and stronger.

LTE | What are signs that I could use a scalp detox?

Pay attention to how your scalp is feeling. Itchiness and flakiness can be signs that there is buildup on your scalp and a deeper cleanse is necessary. Dryness on the scalp is also a signal. And if you feel like your hair isn’t growing or responding well to your normal care routine, it may be time to address the scalp skin and hair follicles.

LTE | Are there specific factors that make scalp detox more necessary for some people than others?

SM | Yes. Your scalp care needs depend on your hair type, what products you use, certain lifestyle conditions, and the minerals in your shower water. For example, where I work in New England, I have several clients who have hard water in their homes, which can cause dry, weakened hair follicles and strands. If this is the case, I recommend detoxing or clarifying treatments in the salon. I also recommend installing a shower head with a built-in filter for softer water.

Lifestyle factors, like how much you work out, also play a role. If sweat and oils are building up on your scalp daily, you may need to do a scalp detox more often. And if the products you use have heavy oils in them (coconut oil is a common one), your scalp may be more prone to buildup.

I also find that my clients with curly hair need to detox the most frequently to ensure their hair is distributing its natural oils to effectively provide moisture and maintain the curl pattern.

LTE | How often do you recommend doing a scalp detox?

SM | Depending on lifestyle or product-related factors, I typically recommend a scalp detox every one to four weeks. Have a conversation with your hairstylist about your haircare routine, what products you use, and the condition of your hair. They will be able to make more specific recommendations for timing and what products to use.

LTE | What ingredients should I avoid to protect my scalp health and why?

SM | I recommend checking a product’s ingredient list before you use it on your hair. Unfractionated coconut oil can leave a very-hard-to-remove residue on your hair and scalp which keeps them from absorbing moisture and can negatively affect their pH balance. Sodium lauryl sulfate is another ingredient to watch for, as it can leave a residue on your hair that is linked to hair loss.

LTE | Can I do a scalp detox at home or at the salon — or both?

SM | Both! At LifeSpa, we have a clarifying scalp treatment that only takes about 15 minutes. We apply a scrub and massage it into your scalp to remove buildup from minerals, dead skin, and hair products.

You can easily do this at home too, if you prefer, and we have a few recommended products. One of my favorites is the K18 Peptide Prep Detox Shampoo, which clarifies hair of product buildup, excess oil, and metals common in tap and hard water with a pH-optimized formula. I also like using Kérastase’s scalp scrubs, which help to soothe an itchy, flaky scalp and remove buildup at the same time. And for after you use a scrub, I suggest Kérastase Potentialiste Soothing Scalp Serum for extra hydration. You can find all these products at your LifeSpa.

Emily Ewen

Emily Ewen is a senior writer and content editor at Life Time.

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