If your scalp feels dry and itchy or your hair hasn’t been looking its best lately, it might be time to consider having a scalp detox. These treatments can take a number of forms, but they’re intended to help improve the scalp’s skin, and therefore help your hair grow healthy and strong.
How to Detox Your Scalp
Dr. Mary K. Wendel, a board-certified internal medicine physician and national medical director of Medi Tresse Medical Hair Rejuvenation for Women in Wellesley, Massachusetts, says the scalp detoxes offered in her practice typically incorporate a combination of two elements:
— A high-pressure exfoliation spray of the scalp, which removes all of the build-up on the scalp, including excessive leftover hair products and dried skin.
Dr. Brian R. Toy, a board-certified attending dermatologist at Providence Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo, California, and a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California School of Medicine, says that scalp detox treatments “typically involve massaging or scrubbing the scalp to mechanically exfoliate dead skin cells from the scalp’s surface.”
This manual process may be aided by the use of chemical exfoliants such as salicylic acid, which helps remove dead skin cells.
Wendel recommends using a scalp detox treatment four times per year.
Ingredients to Look for in Scalp Detox Products
Wendel also recommends using a scalp cleansing shampoo weekly to remove product build-up on the scalp. Look for a product that can remove dead skin and oil build-up from the scalp, while still moisturizing with aloe and essential oils.
“Excessive scalp oil can be removed with bentonite clay, an oil-absorbing powder,” Toy says. Clarifying shampoos are also commonly used. These products “typically contain surfactants to remove residue and buildup of hair product. Shampoos may also contain tea tree or peppermint oils, which cool the scalp while producing a tingling sensation. This stimulates blood flow to the scalp and may have anti-inflammatory benefits as well.”
Another product that is sometimes used as a scalp detox is chelating shampoo. Chelating means removing toxic metals. These products are especially useful for people who have hard water in their showers at home, which can cause mineral buildup in the hair and on the scalp over time.
“Chelating shampoos utilize chelating agents such as acetic acid, sodium gluconate and phytic acid,” Toy explains. “These agents remove mineral deposits on the hair, which include calcium, copper, iron and lead.”
Copper specifically can be problematic, because when it bonds to swimming pool chlorine it can turn your hair green. “A chelating shampoo will correct this problem,” Toy says. Chelating shampoos will contain a chelating agent, such as:
— Disodium EDTA or sodium calcium edetate.
— Tetrasodium EDTA.
— Sodium citrate or trisodium citrate.
— Sodium gluconate.
— Sodium phytate.
— Acetic acid or ethanoic acid.
These ingredients aren’t typically found in a clarifying or a regular shampoo, or they would be found in much smaller amounts.
Another way to detox the scalp is to take a break from hair treatments such as bleaching, coloring, perming or relaxing. “These types of hair treatments tend to irritate the scalp and can irreversibly damage the hair,” Toy says. The harsh chemicals contained in some bleaching and perming products can strip the hair of its natural oils, leaving it very dry and brittle.
Similarly, skipping the use for a while of heat-based tools — such as curling irons, flat irons and blow driers — can help your hair and scalp recover.
Benefits of Scalp Detoxing
A scalp detox promotes healthy hair growth. “Mechanical or chemical exfoliation removes scalp debris, such as dandruff, and reduces the likelihood of bacterial and fungal overgrowth,” Toy explains.
Clarifying shampoos can help remove the buildup of hair products, which can help make hair shinier and improve its luster. And simply taking a break from your regular use of potentially drying or damaging products gives your hair and scalp time to recover and return to a healthy state.
What scalp detoxes can’t do, Toy says, is help you pass a drug test. “Drugs get impregnated into the hair shaft as the hair grows and they cannot be detoxified or washed away. Antibody testing is used to easily detect the presence of drugs in the hair, which can persist for months following drug exposure.”
[READ: Stress and Hair Loss.]
Who Needs a Scalp Detox?
Wendel says that everyone can benefit from an occasional scalp detox treatment. “Our scalp contains sebaceous glands, which produce sebum, which is often thought of as the body’s natural oil that moisturizes hair and skin. This is true, however, the sebum can build up and clog pores and cause irritation and folliculitis, interfering with hair growth.”
A detox scalp treatment can “particularly benefit those who use a lot of hair product, or have heavily treated hear,” Toy says. For example, if you bleach, color, or perm your hair regularly, or you use heat styling tools often, you may benefit from a DIY scalp detox.
If you’re experiencing hair loss, you may think avoiding shampooing will help slow that loss, but that’s not true. Wendel says that shampoo is “essential to open those pores and follicles to encourage healthy hair growth.”
Toy agrees. “Any patient with hair loss or hair damage might also benefit,” as might those with excessively oily or dry scalps. “These individuals are particularly susceptible to seborrheic dermatitis, an inflammatory condition of the scalp that can cause itching, redness and flaking due to the presence of yeast.” A scalp detox can help address some of these issues and give your skin a chance to heal.
Women especially can benefit from a scalp detox, even if their hair isn’t thinning. “Many of the hair products and treatments that women use can actually be toxic to the scalp skin, causing dermatitis, seborrhea, dandruff. In some cases, it can be severe enough inflammation to cause hair loss,” Wendel says.
What’s more, “in the summer, hair tends to dry out from the sun, as well as from swimming in salt water and pools, all (of) which can inflame the scalp further,” Wendel says. An exfoliating scalp detox can help improve these issues.
Wendel says a good scalp detox can be a very satisfying thing. “It feels great and is very soothing, even during the treatment. It’s totally painless and actually a very pleasant experience. It’s like a facial for the scalp,” she says, and your scalp will feel better immediately after treatment.
Who Should Avoid Scalp Detoxes?
Patients who have sensitive skin should be careful when exfoliating the scalp, Toy says. “Mechanical exfoliation (abrading the skin to remove dead cells), when performed too vigorously, can actually damage the hair follicle and result in hair loss. Similarly, those with sensitive skin may want to avoid chemical exfoliants, which can burn the scalp when used improperly.”
If you have any open sores or wounds on the scalp, you should avoid chemical exfoliation with acidic ingredients, like salicylic acid and apple cider vinegar. What’s more, those sores or symptoms of itching, burning or hair loss “may be indicative of a more serious problem, and patients should consult a board-certified dermatologist before attempting to self-treat, which can cause irreversible damage.”
Wendel adds that if you’ve recently had scalp surgery that hasn’t completely healed or still have stitches intact, you should skip the scalp detox. If you’re working with an appropriately trained provider, they will check your scalp before the treatment to ensure that the treatment is appropriate for you.
That said if you’ve recently had a hair transplant, Wendel says you may “benefit from exfoliation and detox once all the sutures are removed. These treatments remove skin debris and buildup of dry tissue, stimulating better healing.”
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Scalp Detox Treatments That Are Simple and Effective originally appeared on usnews.com