If we’re talking over-the-counter, the best scalp treatments should make your dryness, flaking, and itching go away without requiring a trip to the derm. But here’s the thing: itchy scalp treatments and shampoos for dandruff haven’t exactly been a thrill to shop for in the past. The packaging is usually clunky or the smell is always just slightly too clinical. So they’ve typically been reserved for that spot in the very back of your shower caddy.
But no longer: With more info than ever about the importance of scalp health, scalp products are stepping up their game. Every time we open Instagram, it seems like another brand is releasing a new scrub, mask, or elixir promising to to de-flake, balance, and nourish your scalp. It’s easy to be suckered into pretty packaging, but how many scalp products do you actually need? And should you be using them even if you don’t deal with dandruff? Actually yes, according to pros.
“Everyone, no matter their gender or age, can benefit from taking care of their scalp,” says Ariel Ostad, M.D., an NYC-based dermatologist. Your scalp is more prone to dryness than your hair, and a build-up of styling products and increased pollution can lead to irritation and flakiness. Hadley King, M.D., a dermatologist at Skinney Medspa in New York City, adds that excess dryness is something to keep your eye on, as it can eventually lead to hair loss.
Most experts will agree you don’t need a full arsenal of products, especially because too many products can lead to irritation. “We are conditioned to think we need more products than we do, often leading to over washing, which actually irritates our skin by disrupting its natural barrier,” says Ostad.
A clarifying shampoo is something everyone can use once or twice a week to help get rid of buildup and deep-clean your scalp. King suggests scrubs for deeper exfoliation, but Ostad warns that they can be irritating, so ease in. Ostad also recommends incorporating a weekly oil or monthly mask to hydrate and strengthen your skin barrier and protect your hair follicles. More targeted serums and treatments are best if you’re trying to prevent hair loss or have have seborrheic dermatitis (the scientific name for dandruff).
If you like shopping with a cheat sheet in hand, keep these ingredients in mind next time you add to your haircare routine: tea tree oil, salicylic acid, argan oil, and anti-inflammatory botanicals like rosemary and lavender oil. And if you’re not sure where to start, we’ve rounded up some of our favorites below. Read on for the 13 best scalp treatments for soothing a dry, itchy scalp.