Sure, on the face of it, a scalp facial sounds utterly ridiculous — but ever since I began researching how to best treat my dry, flaky, irritated scalp, I've become somewhat of a, shall we say, clean scalp enthusiast? It kinda makes sense: you get facials for your face, which is made of skin, and your scalp is also made of skin, so why neglect it? Just like your beautiful face, your scalp can get clogged up with dead skin, dirt and product buildup — and baby, if your scalp is in bad shape, your pony mane isn't ever going to look good.
My dry, flaky scalp problem (which is actually different than dandruff — there's a good explanation why right here) tends to act up most in the winter, so when I came across luxury hair beauty brand Alterna's 'Caviar Clinical Exfoliating Scalp Facial', I ordered it almost as fast as I could enter my boyfriend's Amazon Prime password. Caviar? Scalp facial? It costs $36.00? I'm in!
At $36.00 for 3 ounces, this product was an extreme leap of faith. It's meant to be used before shampooing for an ultra-clean and 'balanced' scalp. "Hmmmm," I thought, "Maybe that's my problem! My scalp is somehow...unbalanced?" (As you may already know, a fool and her money are very soon parted.)
Verdict: Good, but not great. The brush-head applicator feels lovely and gives your scalp a decent scrub — but you can achieve the same effect with my good old flaky scalp go-to, the $5.00 Marvy shampoo brush for approximately $31.00 less. It's hard to this product distribute evenly, and you must use a TON of it to get any scrubby traction.
**Worth mentioning here: the microbeads Alterna uses are made of jojoba, not those plastic ones that are clogging up the ocean and killing dolphins.**
A much better version of the scalp facial is Kiehl's Deep Micro-Exfoliating Scalp Treatment, which is exactly what it sounds like: a face scrub for your head. Used on a dry or moist scalp before shampooing, this gel-like formula contains apricot seed and argan nut shells to provide exfoliation. Give your scalp a good scrub with this product, let it sit for a few minutes while you wash your face, then rinse thoroughly and wash/condition your hair as per usual.
Verdict: Pretty good, maybe even great. My flaky scalp bits were almost completely gone after one use, and repeated use helped eradicate my flaky problem spots for a full two weeks. It's a little convoluted to get the goop on your scalp (especially with long hair), but the effort is well worth it.
Trying out these fancy scalp scrubs led me to wonder why I couldn't just use some bath salts or regular old face scrub to exfoliate my scalp and save a bunch of cash in the process. So I scrounged around in my medicine cabinet and whipped up a concoction using Bath Petals Australian Eucalyptus Sea Salt Soufflé mixed with a healthy squirt of Avalon Organics' Lemon Clarifying Shampoo. (Not for nothing, that clarifying shampoo is likely the best $7.00 beauty purchase I've ever made. I use it once a week to remove buildup — as a result, my hair and scalp has never looked or felt better.)
I just eyeballed the amount of bath salt to shampoo into a Pyrex dish until it made sort of a paste, then sloppily scrubbed it into my scalp with my fingernails and the assistance of my trusty Marvy shampoo brush for about two minutes before washing it out carefully with the clarifying shampoo — and rinsing twice. I'm convinced that improper rinsing (which leads to shampoo and other gunk being left on the scalp) is a big part of what causes scalp flakes.
I'm pleased to report that this home brew worked as good, if not better than any product I purchased that was meant explicitly for scalp exfoliating. I did this 'treatment' three days in a row — and then had zero scalp flakes for about a week until I did it again for three days in a row. So maybe save your pennies and just mix any gritty food thing you have laying around into a clear (not creamy or pearly) shampoo, and you'll be well on the road to a squeaky clean scalp.
Famed NYC trichologist (which is a fancy term for 'hair dermatologist') Philip Kingsley makes some of the best scalp products known to man — and wouldn't you know it, I learned about him right here on xoJane. You apply his water-based Scalp Toner to your towel-dried head after shampooing, give it a good rub-in with your fingertips, and then style your hair as usual.
Verdict: Philip Kingsley's Scalp Toner is perhaps the perfect thing to use after a good scalp scrub and clarifying shampoo, as it soothes and calms the scalp itch that comes along with those annoying flakes. I think it works because it utilizes camphor, which is actually an ancient home remedy for bum scalps like mine. It is quite easy to apply with the pointy nozzle, and I sometimes reapply it during the day to the specific areas that give me trouble. This is the scalp product I'll continue to shell out my hard-earned money for — because it works.
A 'scalp facial' is really just about giving your neglected noggin the attention it truly deserves. So I'm #TeamCleanScalp, forever & ever amen. (But honestly, just go buy that Marvy shampoo brush already. It will change your life.)
Alison Freer is the author of 'How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing'.