Most of us go to great lengths to care for our faces. But the scalp? Not so much.
"We don't think about the scalp unless something goes very, very wrong," says Paradi Mirmirani, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, San Francisco.
But out of sight shouldn't mean out of mind. For one thing, the scalp gives you clues about how to care for your hair.
If it's dry, your hair is probably dry, too, and more likely to break. An oily scalp pretty much guarantees that your roots will fall flat by midday.
The skin under your hair is much like that on your face: It can get acne, flake, and react to irritants with rashy redness, says David H. Kingsley, Ph.D., a trichologist (that's a scalp and hair doctor) based in New York City.
"You'll find that your T-zone and scalp behave similarly from day to day," he says. So pay a little attention to the top of your head.
Get the Right Products
You'll need a shampoo that matches your scalp type and a conditioner for your ends, whether they're fine, curly, colored, dry, or damaged, Kingsley says; ends usually need more moisture. Apply conditioner a few inches from your scalp and work down.
"You don't want it on the skin because even after rinsing, some oils, waxes, or silicones will stay behind, and that moist environment can lead to fungal overgrowth," says Zoe Diana Draelos, M.D., consulting professor in the department of dermatology at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.
Itchiness and oily-looking flakes are clues. An anti-dandruff shampoo should help; try using one every other day for two weeks.
A stellar scalp starts with the right washing technique. "Most people don't shampoo thoroughly," says New York City salon owner and hair stylist Valery Joseph. Often, he says, we skim lather over our hair's roots but don't actually clean the scalp itself. So oils, dirt, and styling products keep building up, causing oiliness, dullness, and itching.
Joseph advises dedicating three minutes to lathering up. Consider it a mini-massage.
Give It a Rub
Speaking of massage, it's one of the most gratifying things you can do for your scalp. Besides being a tension-buster, it exfoliates the surface and leaves hair fuller and shinier, says Marc Zollicoffer, a global educator for Aveda.
Using the pads of your fingers and medium to firm pressure, move the skin in circular motions (the way you'd rub a sore muscle) as you shampoo. Work from the front hairline up to the crown, then repeat on the sides and back, also kneading upward to the crown.
"It starts the day on a good note," Zollicoffer says. Maybe even a good-hair note.
Pick Your Scalp Type
Use these descriptions to determine whether your scalp is oily, normal, or dry -- then use the personalized tips and product suggestions to get to the root of your problem.