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Is a scalp scrub what you need?

Regular exfoliation of the scalp can nip greasiness and product build-up. Here’s how you can tread with care

Exfoliating helps reduce follicular obstruction.
Exfoliating helps reduce follicular obstruction. (Istockphoto)

Face and body scrubs may have become the norm and skin experts agree that scalp skin too could do with TLC beyond oiling—at least occasionally.

Any exfoliation is tricky, of course. When done right, it helps remove dead cells that give a dull appearance and can clog the pores. Regular exfoliation helps improve blood flow to the skin—this helps manage sagging skin, enhances the absorption of skincare products and increases collagen production. But when done wrong, scrubs, especially abrasive ones such as walnut scrubs, can lead to scarring, worsening of acne, raw skin that is prone to infection, and pigmentation.

So it is with scalp scrubs. It’s important to know your scalp type before you consider adding a scrub to your haircare routine. Is it, for instance, dry, oily, flaky or mixed? And do you really need a scrub?

“Scalp scrubs are designed to exfoliate the scalp, thus improving scalp skin, by removing product and dead skin buildup and reducing the follicular obstruction. It’s not needed for the average person, but those who tend to get scalp boils, who use a lot of styling products or who tend to dry-shampoo often are ideal candidates," says Kiran Sethi, owner and founder, Isya Aesthetics, Delhi. Dr Sethi also recommends a scrub for those who suffer from oily dandruff, preferably one with salicylic acid, which helps control oil production, and exfoliates as well.

If you have normal skin, scrub just once in 15 days, says Rinky Kapoor, consultant dermatologist, cosmetic dermatologist and dermato-surgeon, The Esthetic Clinics, Mumbai. “Scrubs are best suited for those with an oily scalp, and if you don’t wash your hair on alternate days, the scalp tends to get itchy and even results in dandruff and boils. Scrubs help make the follicles cleaner and also improve the blood circulation of the scalp," says Dr Kapoor. Those with dry and sensitive scalp too can use a scrub once in 15 days.

If you use a lot of hair products, you may need to exfoliate once a week. “Just shampooing cannot always rid your scalp of product buildup. It is not removed unless you exfoliate the superficial epidermis or the first few layers of the skin, which can be done only with a scrub. If you are also exposed to pollution, travel often or work out, which makes one sweat a lot in the scalp, you should use a scrub once a week at least," says Dr Kapoor. If you use hair growth serums that have alcohol as a base, they will leave deposits, leading to itchiness and a product buildup of tiny flakes, she adds.

Stay away from scrubs, however, if you have a sensitive scalp or conditions like psoriasis, eczema and seborrhoeic dermatitis, where the scalp is already flaky. “In this case, a scrub can cause abrasions which will lead to infections. You also need to be careful if you suffer from hair loss," adds Dr Kapoor.

If you do go in for a scrub, what should you opt for? Dr Sethi recommends less abrasive ones with ingredients like AHAs or BHAs. “They induce the scalp skin to self-renew, which causes natural self-exfoliation. I would suggest doing one no more than once a week. Be very gentle and avoid hair strands as you can damage them if there is too much friction."

Dhara Vora Sabhnani is a Mumbai-based journalist.

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