We scoured the internet and pored over reviews to figure out what makes a great scalp exfoliator. In our research, we found that the best exfoliators fit seamlessly into your hair washing routine as either a treatment or exfoliating shampoo, use gentle physical or chemical exfoliants, and offer additional benefits like hydration and skin calming.
As with facial exfoliants, scalp exfoliators can either be made from gritty ingredients–like walnut shells, sugar crystals, and salt–or acids that cover the range of both AHAs and BHAs. Keeping these things in mind, we’ve put together a list of our favorite scalp exfoliators available online.
Top 10 Best Scalp Exfoliators to Buy Online
As many of these exfoliators come with additional benefits for your scalp and hair, be sure to keep your hair type and needs in mind as you make your choice.
1. Girl+Hair Natural Hair Products Clear Plus Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying Hair Rinse (10.1 fl. oz.)
Best Gentle Chemical Exfoliant for All Hair Types
This apple cider vinegar-based rinse was designed specifically for women of color who wear protective hairstyles but can be used by basically everyone. It gently exfoliates your scalp, clearing away buildup, and leaves your hair feeling silky and smooth.
Reviewers of all ethnicities write that it’s lightweight, leaves your hair flake-free, and will not dry your scalp out. Men have even reported using it on their beards to good effect.
|Exfoliator||Chemical: Apple cider vinegar (malic acid)|
|Use Frequency||Once every week to two weeks|
|Additional Benefits||Protein to repair damaged hair, vitamin E for hair health|
2. KMS Head Remedy Deep Cleanse Shampoo (25.4 fl. oz.)
Best AHA-Based Shampoo Gentle Enough for Daily Use
This shampoo contains a blend of AHAs to cleanse your scalp of buildup from hair products, environmental pollutants, and hard water minerals. It evens out the surface of your hair and leaves it feeling lush and soft.
It’s designed to be used by all hair types and is gentle enough for daily use. Reviewers note that with this shampoo, you might find that you’re able to go longer between washes.
|Exfoliator||Chemical: Lactic acid and other AHAs|
|Use Frequency||Can be used daily|
|Additional Benefits||Evens out hair texture|
3. Elizabeth Parker Naturals Cradle Cap Baby Scrub (8 fl. oz.)
Best Gentle Physical Exfoliator for Dry, Flaky Scalps
This body and scalp scrub is formulated to exfoliate delicate baby skin, and it’s packed with super nourishing, all-natural ingredients like aloe vera, manuka honey, and cehami extract for itch relief.
Because it’s formulated for babies, it uses an extra fine walnut shell powder rather than rougher salts or other exfoliators, which makes it great for those with sensitive skin.
|Exfoliator||Physical: Walnut shell powder|
|Use Frequency||Up to twice a week|
|Additional Benefits||Moisturizing, helps treat psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis|
4. Rx Systems Volumizing Glycolic Shampoo (8 fl. oz.)
Best Shampoo for Dry Scalps and Hair
This shampoo works double duty to clean and ease itchy scalps as well as tame frizzy hair. It contains two AHAs: glycolic acid and alpha lipoic acid, which work together to improve scalp health and strengthen strands.
It cleanses without stripping and leaves your hair feeling silky. Reviewers note that it’s gentle, doesn’t affect sensitive skin, and effectively combats dry, itchy skin.
|Exfoliator||Chemical: Glycolic acid, alpha lipoic acid|
|Use Frequency||Can be used daily|
|Additional Benefits||Nourishes scalp with aloe vera|
5. iGK Low Key (5 fl. oz.)
Best Soothing Cleansing Scrub
This walnut shell exfoliator not only helps to remove buildup from hair, but it also soothes, cools, and calms with the help of peppermint oil to alleviate irritation. You can swap out your primary shampoo on the days that you use it.
It’s a small container, but the formula is extremely thick and meant to be thinned down and lathered with water. Reviewers note that even with regular use, this scrub can last as long as six months.
|Exfoliator||Physical: Walnut shell|
|Additional Benefits||Balances pH, calms irritated skin|
6. L’Oréal Paris EverFresh Micro-Exfoliating Scrub (8.5 fl. oz.)
Best Budget Scrub for Oily Scalps
If you’re willing to sacrifice on extra benefits, this scalp scrub is a great budget option. It exfoliates with ground apricot seeds and does a good job at removing flakes and excess oil.
That being said, some reviewers note that because it is a fairly bare-bones scrub, it can be drying for those who aren’t oil-prone and should be followed with a hydrating conditioner.
|Exfoliator||Physical: Apricot seed|
|Use Frequency||Up to twice a week|
7. Aveda Invati Advanced Exfoliating Shampoo (6.7 fl. oz.)
Best Deep Cleaning Shampoo Good for Those with Scalp Acne
This exfoliating shampoo features salicylic acid, a BHA that goes deep into your pores to clear out blockages and buildup at the source. It’s ideal for those who suffer from pimples or acne on their scalps.
Reviewers note that with regular use, this shampoo can actually make hair grow thicker as it cleans out and stimulates follicles. However, it is quite pricey and may not be a worthwhile expense for some.
|Exfoliator||Chemical: Salicylic acid|
|Use Frequency||Can be used daily|
8. Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
Best Shampoo Exfoliator for Dry and Oily Scalps
This shampoo utilizes charcoal as a micro-exfoliator to scrub away buildup and also for its absorption abilities, which pull sebum and oil away from the skin. It works well on both oily and dry scalps.
However, it should only be used up to twice a week, so if you wash your hair more frequently, it would be best to use another shampoo on other days.
|Use Frequency||Up to twice a week|
|Additional Benefits||Moisturizes, promotes hair strength and growth|
9. Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt (8 fl. oz.)
Best High-End Exfoliant for Sensitive and Oily Scalps
This salt scrub is formulated for those with sensitive or oily scalps. It balances pH and also works as a cleanser, so you may not need shampoo on the days that you use it.
Reviewers note that it’s effective at keeping buildup away. Just a little bit works up to a nice lather, so one jar will last several months of regular use.
|Use Frequency||Once or twice a week|
|Additional Benefits||Cleanses, moisturizes|
10. HeadBlade HeadShed Men’s Exfoliating Scrub (5 fl. oz.)
Best for Shaved Scalps
This scalp scrub is designed specifically for those who shave their heads as a way to keep bumps at bay between shaves as well as prep skin for shaving. Of course, it can also be used by those with more hair as well.
Reviewers note that it works fantastically at preventing ingrown hairs (on the head or elsewhere) and leaves the scalp feeling soft and healthy.
|Exfoliator||Physical: Walnut shells|
|Use Frequency||Once or twice a week|
How to Choose a Scalp Exfoliator – Buying Guide
Finding the right scalp exfoliator is largely about figuring out what works best for your wash routine. Do you want to add a separate step? How often do you wash your hair? Is your scalp in desperate need of some serious sloughing?
Separate Treatment or Two-in-One Shampoo? Depends on Your Wash Routine
There are two main types of scalp exfoliators–exfoliating treatments like masks and scrubs and exfoliating shampoos.
Treatments are good for those who already like their hair care routine and don’t want to change out any of their current products. They’re also good for those who wash their hair more frequently as you can choose when to add them into your routine and when to skip out.
Exfoliating shampoos, on the other hand, allow you to have fewer products. They tend to be milder as you might use them more often, but they should still only be used as a main shampoo by those who wash their hair more infrequently. Others should stick to using a gentler primary shampoo and swap out for the exfoliator once or twice a week.
Physical vs. Chemical Exfoliants Depends on Your Sensitivity and Preferences
As with facial exfoliation, scalp exfoliation can be done either with gritty ingredients physically buffing away buildup or with chemicals that dissolve buildup.
Physical Exfoliants Fight Heavy Buildup but Can Be Rough on Skin
For those that use a lot of product or struggle with flaky skin and dandruff, a physical exfoliant will likely be your best bet for a quick, visible change as it physically removes buildup. However, depending on the type of exfoliant and your skin sensitivity, it may be rough on your skin, and it’s best not to use physical exfoliants more than about once a week.
Some popular physical exfoliants that you’ll find include salt, sugar, charcoal, and nut shells. Be sure to steer clear of microbeads as they’re made of tiny plastics that can be harmful for your skin and the environment.
Chemical Exfoliants Are Gentler and Can Have Longer Lasting Results
For those looking for a more gentle option, chemical exfoliants are the way to go. These work by essentially unsticking the glue that holds sebum and product buildup together. Some even work on a deeper level to really clean out your follicles, leading to longer lasting results. Depending on the concentrations, these can be safe for more frequent use than physical exfoliants.
Some common chemical exfoliants include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid. You may sometimes see these referred to as BHAs (salicylic acid) and AHAs (everything else). For those who are wary of lab-made chemicals, look for products with apple cider vinegar, which naturally contains malic acid, a type of AHA.
Look for Additional Benefits to Increase Hair Health
Look for an exfoliant that has other benefits aside from just cleaning your scalp.
For example, search for calming ingredients like aloe and lavender to soothe your scalp after the mild irritation that exfoliating can cause. Or, look for hydrating oils that can help to moisturize and strengthen your hair—just be sure that the oils are non-comedogenic like jojoba and argan so that you aren’t reintroducing the follicle blockages you just removed.
When and How to Use Scalp Exfoliators
While facial and body exfoliation is pretty common knowledge, scalp exfoliation might still be kind of foreign to most people. But it’s basically the same thing–you’re just trying to clear out the buildup on your scalp to create a healthier environment for your skin, follicles, and hair. You should aim to exfoliate about once a week.
For the best results, give your head a gentle brushing before you hop in the shower to loosen up any dirt or grime in your hair. If you’re using an exfoliating shampoo, be sure to massage it into your scalp without using your fingernails.
If you’re using a separate exfoliating treatment or scrub, wash your hair first and work the exfoliator into your scalp in sections so that you’re sure to get every part of your head. For those with thicker hair, you’ll want to use smaller sections. Feel free to use an exfoliating brush or glove, but your hands should work just fine. Rinse it out and follow up with your normal conditioner.
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Your hair’s one of the most beautiful accessories that you have, so wear it proudly. Here are some more products that can help you and your hair look and feel your best.
Once you figure out what your head needs, picking an exfoliator and incorporating it into your routine is no more difficult than exfoliating your face or body. And you’d be surprised at how much of a difference it can make for head and hair health.
By Jacqueline Oshiro
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