Give your scalp a deep clean with the best scalp cleansers for super-shiny, healthy hair
You probably already know that healthy hair starts with a good cleansing and conditioning routine, with shampoo and conditioner products suitable for your hair type. However, for a deep clean that removes build-up of dirt and dead skin from the hair, you’ll need a specialist scalp cleanser.
A build-up of sebum, skin flakes and styling products on the scalp can cause irritation, while also blocking hair follicles. Scalp cleansers usually combine an exfoliating scrub with gentle cleansing ingredients suitable for the delicate skin on the scalp; these lift away any build-up and cleanse the scalp of oils and environmental residue. Like double-cleansing the skin on your face, washing your scalp allows hair to grow freely from the root, and enables nutrients to reach your scalp and hair follicles more easily.
Scalp cleansers are particularly good for oily scalps, but the right combination of ingredients can also benefit all hair and skin types, including dry and sensitive scalps. We’ve tested a range of scalp cleansers and picked our favourites for all hair types below.
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How to choose the best scalp cleanser for you
What is build-up?
Build-up is the name given to any residue that remains on the scalp and root of the hair after shampooing and rinsing. It can be formed of many things: oil and sebum produced by the scalp; flakes of dead skin that stick to oily residue; dirt and environmental pollution; styling products, and even leftover shampoo. All of this can block hair follicles and slow hair growth, so cleansing the scalp can help your hair grow to its natural maximum.
Environmental and product build-up can also cause irritation. Giving the delicate skin of the scalp a gentle cleanse can help reduce itchiness, flaking and inflammation.
How does a scalp cleanser work?
Scalp cleansers combine gentle cleaning ingredients, similar to those found in shampoo, with some form of exfoliator. This will take the form of a physical scrub, such as salt or sugar granules or fine-ground nuts or grains; or a chemical scrub, with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) to dissolve dead skin cells. In either case, the scrub works into the scalp to gently work away and lift off build-up, which is then rinsed away.
Most scalp cleansers can be integrated simply into your usual routine. Part your wet hair and apply cleanser close to the roots and scalp, then massage in as directed before rinsing and following with your usual shampoo and conditioner. A scalp cleanser can be used around once a week, depending on the issue you’re trying to treat. Like facial scrubs, it’s best not to exfoliate the scalp too often since this may cause irritation. Avoid using a scalp scrub on damaged or broken skin.
How else can I keep my scalp healthy?
While cleansing is an important part of a scalp-care routine, overwashing can strip the hair of its natural oils and conversely encourage excess production of sebum. As such, if your scalp is itchy and irritated, try washing less often and with more gentle products to maintain its own natural balance. Those with a sensitive scalp may find that avoiding products containing sulfates and parabens improves the overall condition of the scalp.
Massaging the scalp gently with the fingertips between washes can also help loosen excess skin flakes and increase circulation to the head and scalp. This allows the blood to bring nutrients to the area, promoting strong and healthy hair growth. A head and scalp massage is also a wonderful way to relax before bed. Finally, eating a healthy, balanced diet will ensure that your hair and scalp are fed and nourished from the inside out.
How we test scalp cleansers
At Expert Reviews, we know that the best way to test a product is to use it ourselves. We test all the scalp cleansers we review by using them as directed. If a product is recommended for a particular hair type, where possible, we will test on that type to provide an accurate assessment.
We start by reviewing the main cleansing ingredients; whether the product uses a physical or a gentle chemical exfoliant, thereafter evaluating the effects of the cleanser on the feel of the scalp following one wash and after multiple uses. As well as noting the effects of the cleanser on the scalp and hair, we assess how the product feels in use and any grittiness or tingling that we might experience in use. We also consider how easy it is to rinse out a formula. We note how much product is required for a single application, its scent, and make an evaluation of how easy and pleasant a product is to use overall.
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The best scalp cleansers to buy in 2023
1. Christophe Robin Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt: Best for oily hair
Price: £42 | Buy now from Lookfantastic
Launched in 2013, this bestselling scrub with natural sea salt from French hair-care specialist Christophe Robin was one of the first scalp cleansers to enter the market. The salt granules gently dislodge any build-up at the base of the hair, then dissolve themselves, leaving hair clean, shiny and wonderfully soft. This rich scrub, which smells divine too, lathers gently with warm water. It can even be used on its own, without having to follow with a shampoo; to use, simply massage into the scalp, rinse thoroughly and finish with your favourite conditioner.
Christophe Robin’s Purifying Scrub is particularly good at tackling excess oil and sebum, but a gentle formulation also makes it suitable for sensitive scalps. A luxurious and very effective addition to your fortnightly wash routine.
Key specs – pack size: 250ml
2. Coco & Eve Like a Virgin Deep Clean Scalp Scrub: Best for dry hair
Price: £34 | Buy now from Cultbeauty
This nourishing formula from Coco & Eve combines a physical scrub made of ground coconut shells and Balinese volcanic ash, with fruit-derived AHAs and BHAs to slough off unwanted build-up from the scalp; hair is left hydrated and glossy. Pineapple and citrus extracts gently loosen excess dirt and skin flakes, caffeine boosts hair growth and cooling peppermint soothes the scalp. This scrub smells delicious and leaves the scalp and roots feeling soft and clean. Follow with the treatment masque in the same range for luscious, silky-smooth hair.
Key specs – pack size: 150ml
3. Bouclème Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo: Best for curly hair
Price: £26 | Buy now from Boucleme
Wavy, curly and coily hair needs delicate care that will help it to retain moisture and bounce. This exfoliating shampoo, designed with those needs in mind, is a recent addition to Bouclème’s range of natural hair-care products. The vegan formula contains castor oil beads with natural grapefruit and spearmint and marjoram to gently exfoliate the scalp; a wash leaves the hair feeling fresh, clean and hydrated down to the roots.
Almost as important as what the shampoo contains is what it doesn’t, and Bouclème’s formula is free of drying sulfates, parabens or silicone. The cleanser feels soft on the hair and smells wonderful. For best results, and to avoid stripping moisture from the hair, Bouclème recommends using this product once a month and rinsing thoroughly before applying a curl-friendly conditioner.
Key specs – pack size: 250ml
4. Briogeo Scalp Revival: Best for sensitive scalps
Price: £40 | Buy now from Briogeo Hair
A great choice for sensitive scalps that are prone to irritation and inflammation, Briogeo’s Scalp Revival scalp cleanser uses charcoal rather than abrasive granules to gently lift dirt and build-up from the hair. A soothing combination of peppermint, spearmint and tea tree oil is great for calming the skin and reducing inflammation, while natural coconut oil adds moisture and nourishes the scalp. This is a wonderful cleanser if you suffer with an itchy, flaky scalp that reacts badly to harsh hair-care products. Apply a handful and massage thoroughly, then rinse and follow with a gentle shampoo and conditioner.
Key specs – pack size: 236ml
5. Noughty Detox Dynamo Scalp Scrub: Best sustainable scalp cleanser
Price: £9 | Buy now from Lovenoughty
Vegan and cruelty-free brand Noughty prides itself on its plant-based formulas that deliver good results at pocket-friendly prices. This natural scrub combines green bamboo powder, coconut shell and pumice to loosen residue from the scalp and break down dirt and grime, with soothing and moisturising extracts of sorrel and peppermint. The scrub has a pleasant minty smell, and leaves the scalp gently tingling.
Free of sulfates, parabens and silicone, this is a good hydrating cleanser for dry and sensitive scalps – and, like all Noughty products, it comes in sustainable packaging that won’t cost the earth, either.
Key specs – pack size: 250ml
6. Drunk Elephant TLC Happi Scalp Scrub: Best multitasking scalp cleanser
Price: £30 | Buy now from Cultbeauty
Cult skincare brand Drunk Elephant launched a new haircare line last year in collaboration with celebrity hairdresser Chris McMillan, which brings the clean, biocompatible philosophy behind its best-selling skincare products to a range for hair and body. Happi Scalp Scrub contains cellulose granules and gentle lactic and glycolic acids to break down dead skin cells and other deposits on the scalp. While nourishing marula, baobab and passionfruit oils put moisture back into the hair and keep it shiny. To use, apply to dry hair and wait 5-10 minutes to allow the AHA and BHA acids to get to work, then massage into the scalp and rinse well. Happi Scalp Scrub has a sweet marzipan scent and can be used on the body as well as the scalp as a moisturising exfoliant scrub.
Key specs – pack size: 180ml
7. Kérastase Scrub Apaisant soothing scrub – Best salon-style scalp cleanser
Price: £43 | Buy now from Lookfantastic
For a really deep cleanse that also soothes and calms itchy, sensitive scalps, look no further than salon specialist Kérastase’s Scrub Apaisant with softening Jojoba Oil and orange peel powder. The lightweight gel has a delicious citrus smell and massages easily into the scalp, lifting away dirt and particles while boosting circulation with its gentle tingle. The scrub rinses out easily leaving soft, shiny hair; follow with your favourite conditioner. Oily scalps will enjoy the same brand’s Scrub Énergisant with sea salt and salicylic acid.
Key specs – pack size: 250ml