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How to exfoliate and massage your scalp for your healthiest hair yet

If you’re a wellness enthusiast, you know the importance of regular facial exfoliation and body massages. The former gently removes dead skin cells (leaving a subtle glow in its wake) and the latter relieves muscle tension—which is a self-care must. What you might not know, however, is that your scalp can benefit from both practices, too; in fact, habitual scalp massages and exfoliation might even lead to longer, stronger hair, says a dermatologist and trichologist.

Scalp exfoliation, explained

scalp massage
Image Credit: Lindsay Cash/Unsplash

Exfoliation has the same effect on both your face and scalp—it removes flakes, grease, and buildup, says Fayne Frey, MD, a dermatologist and the author of The Skincare Hoax: How You’re Being Tricked into Buying Lotions, Potions & Wrinkle Cream. And like facial exfoliation, scalp exfoliation has two forms: physical (which can actually take the form of a massage, says Dr Frey) and chemical (which involves active ingredients).


Since hair growth starts at the scalp, removing flakes and pore-clogging residue (left over from styling products or excess oil) is beneficial. That’s where exfoliation, which clears anything that blocks hair follicles, comes in.


The downside to exfoliation is that it can harm the scalp and follicles if the method or formula is too harsh or abrasive. Some exfoliants can also be drying if they are not paired with other moisturising products in a hair care routine, says Kari Williams, PhD, a trichologist and DevaCurl expert curl council member.

Scalp massages, explained

scalp massage
Image Credit: Christin Hume/Unsplash

While scalp massage might be considered a type of scalp exfoliation, they aren’t exactly alike, explains Williams. “Massaging manipulates the muscles in the scalp and head, releasing tension and increasing blood flow,” she says. “[It] also stimulates the sebaceous glands, which secrete sebum (a natural oily substance that keeps the scalp healthy).”


Scalp massages are beneficial for the aforementioned reasons: They relieve tension, increase blood flow (which supports hair growth), and trigger skin-nourishing sebum. They can soothe the scalp and even gently remove dry, itchy dead skin, too.


Unlike exfoliation, scalp massages don’t have many detrimental effects. This practice promotes healthy hair growth and cannot be done too much, says Williams. However, if you do massage too hard, you could cause breakage, irritation, and possibly infection.

How to exfoliate the scalp

hair washing
Image Credit: Getty Images

Before you begin exfoliating your scalp, you’ll need to choose your preferred method. If you go the physical exfoliation route, you’ll use your hands, a tool, or a product with granules to dislodge dry skin cells, says Williams. For chemical exfoliation, look to a formula packed with active ingredients that are safe to use on the scalp.

Physical exfoliation

To physically exfoliate scalp, use products formulated with small granulated beads, a scalp brush, textured gloves, or your fingertips.

  1. With light to medium pressure, apply your fingertips or tool on your scalp.
  2. Move your fingertips or tool in small circles for a few minutes.
  3. Rinse the scalp with water to remove flaky skin cells (and any residual product, if used).

Chemical exfoliation

As mentioned, chemical scalp exfoliation requires hair care products with active ingredients. Williams recommends formulas with salicylic acid, coal tar, and pyrithione zinc, all of which help remove flaky skin cells from the scalp. She even suggests using an exfoliating product, since this is gentle and can help soothe a dry scalp.

  1. When using most chemical exfoliants, you will apply the product directly to the scalp and massage it in with the pads of your fingertips, says Williams. Avoid scrubbing or scratching.
  2. Allow the exfoliant to sit on the scalp for 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Rinse completely and follow up with a moisturising shampoo and deep conditioner.

How to massage the scalp

Image Credit: Getty Images

Massaging the scalp is simple and can be performed on wet or dry hair, according to our experts:

  1. With light to medium pressure, press your fingertips onto your scalp.
  2. Move your fingertips in small circles in tense areas for a few minutes.
  3. You can use gentle hair oil, like jojoba, on the scalp to nourish and soothe it during or after your massage.

Do you need to massage and exfoliate the scalp?

Both Dr Frey and Williams tout scalp massage as a beneficial and necessary practice; you can do this every day to improve hair health. “Massages are an important part of hair care. You need enhanced blood circulation to nourish the hair follicles that are responsible for hair growth,” Williams says. As for scalp exfoliation? Stick to a cadence of once or twice per month, since the method results in a deep, thorough clean.

While anyone can benefit from both scalp massage and exfoliation, those with flaky and excessively oily scalps will reap the the most benefits with regard to hair health and growth, note our experts. People with healthy scalps do not have to massage and exfoliate their scalps for hair growth and overall health unless otherwise recommended by a doctor.

This story first appeared on www.marthastewart.com

(Credit for the hero and featured image: triocean / Getty Images)

© 2021 Meredith Corporation. All rights reserved. Licensed from MarthaStewart.com and published with permission of Meredith Corporation. Reproduction in any manner in any language in whole or in part without prior written permission is prohibited.

How to exfoliate and massage your scalp for your healthiest hair yet

Nashia Baker

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