Dandruff? Dry, itchy scalp? Top trichologists share how building a haircare routine around your scalp needs could be the secret to growing your strongest & healthiest hair yet

From dry and oily skin to combination, chances are you know what your skin type is, but what about your scalp type?

In the past, skincare has tended to stop north of our hairlines, but an influx of new scalp-focused products are set to turn our haircare routines on their heads, helping us create good habits from the ground up for stronger-feeling, healthier locks.

Here, top trichologists give us all the answers to common scalp care questions: from telltale signs that your products may not be quite right for your scalp’s needs (hello, itchiness) to their top tips and favourite products.

Why is looking after your scalp important?

“Building a haircare routine around your scalp needs can be incredibly important, as your scalp health can have an impact on hair growth,” explains trichologist, Kate Holden.

Scalp issues may cause itchiness, pain and, for some, scaling, so tackling their root causes can help make things more comfortable, prevent flakes and support healthier, shinier hair.

What are the signs that your products may not be right for your scalp?

If your scalp’s feeling irritated, this could mean you’re using the wrong products. A good scalp care routine should leave your head and hair feeling calm and refreshed.

Things to look out for include, “itchiness, flaking, tightness, soreness, redness, acne, build-up, greasiness, dryness, poor hair growth and breakage”, explains Kate.

Another sign could be if you’re not noticing results from your current regime, according to trichologist Angela Onuoha. “While you need to give a product time to work on the scalp, it might be a good time to switch things up if you’re not seeing any changes within a month," she says.

How to build a scalp care routine for your needs 

Think of your scalp as an extension of the skin on your face. “Just like skincare, it’s important to have a staple regime and to tweak it whenever your hair and scalp need it,” says Angela. 

“With my clients, I always explain that the following is important to keep in mind: we want to cleanse, treat (if needed), nourish, and protect both hair and scalp,” she continues. 

While the foundation should be a shampoo and conditioner, add-ons like scalp exfoliators and treatments can provide more targeted results, much like serums and exfoliators do in our skincare routines. 

“If you’re able to implement these key points in your regime, then you’re on the right path,” says Angela. 

Kate and Angela break down the basics further for building a routine that scalp and strands will love. 

1. A clean scalp = a healthier scalp 

Having a clean scalp is a good place to start and when it comes to picking a shampoo, there are lots of different options to choose from to get the most out of your hair wash day

As well as anti-dandruff shampoos for greasy or dry scalps, there are sulphate-free shampoos available to provide a gentler cleanse for those us with coloured hair, or hair types that are more prone to dryness, such as curls and coils.  

As covered in our guide to hair washing, how often you should shampoo can differ from person to person. Those with fine hair may find that their hair gets greasier more quickly, whereas those with medium-textured and thick hair can find they may be able to go a little longer before they need to lather up. 

Lifestyle is also an important factor. For example, if you commute into work, work out a lot or use styling products often, you may find that your scalp gets oilier and so you may want to wash your hair more frequently to clear any build-up from your scalp and lengths. 

As a general rule of thumb, when hair and scalp start to look oily or dull, it could be time to wash your hair. 

2. Be consistent 

Both our experts agree that persistency and consistency are super important. “With many scalp problems like dandruff, dryness, oiliness, or irritation, it’s not a case of using a product for a week and then leaving it,” Kate explains. 

“Scalp issues are prone to coming back, so if you find a product that works for you, continue to incorporate it into your routine to prevent the problem from returning.” 

3. Avoid the DIY route 

Using DIY products is one of the biggest mistakes that Angela sees people make when it comes to their scalp care. “I love natural ingredients in my products, but it’s also important that they perform at their best, and we need a little bit of science for that,” says Angela. “I always say: kitchen ingredients are for food, not to apply on our scalp.” 

Compared to products formulated by cosmetic chemists, DIY recipes may lack the studies and testing needed to make sure they’re safe and effective. 

4. Balance scalp care with length retention 

As important as scalp care is, like most things, finding a balance is important as the needs of your scalp may differ to those of your lengths – particularly if your ends are dry or damaged. 

“Simplicity and, again, consistency are key,” Angela tells us. A well-formulated shampoo and conditioner for your needs should form the base of your routine, and if length retention is also a priority for you, she suggests adding in a weekly treatment, a leave-in conditioner like Rhyme & Reason Liquid Shea Leave In Conditioner and a light oil or serum to help protect your ends. “Protecting hair and reducing friction and tension is also key for preventing hair damage,” says Angela. 

It boils down to having your staple products and then adding tweaks to suit your needs and lifestyle. “Have a scalp problem? Then you’ll probably need an extra scalp product. Got a hair problem? Then you’ll probably need an extra product for that,” adds Angela. 

As long as you’ve nailed your basics, you’ll be working on a strong foundation. 

Top tips for a dry, itchy scalp 

For mild cases of a dry scalp, using gentler products containing hydrating ingredients can be a good place to start. “My number one tip is to hydrate the scalp and work on creating a healthy scalp barrier,” says Angela. “Just like for the skin, hyaluronic acid is a great ingredient to help hydrate the scalp, without having an effect on your volume (which some oils can do).” 

A dry, itchy scalp can also be a sign that you may not be rinsing out your shampoo properly. Using too much or not washing it out completely may leave a waxy residue that can cause irritation. 

For more persistent dryness, it can be helpful to have a chat with a pharmacist, trichologist or doctor. “There are many causes for an itchy scalp, so it’s important to get it checked if you have itching that doesn’t go away or gets worse,” says Kate. Reasons for an itchy scalp can include contact dermatitis and scalp psoriasis, and so support from an expert is best.

Top products for a dry, itchy scalp

To soothe itchy scalps in between washing

Try: Eucerin DermoCapillaire Calming Urea Scalp Treatment

• Size: 100ml

• Non-sticky

A top pick of Kate’s, this leave-in formula provides a more intensive way to stop an itch in its tracks. Containing 5% urea, it has a handy nozzle for more targeted application.

For a dry scalp and dry hair

Try: Rhyme & Reason Nourish & Gloss Shampoo

• Size: 385ml
• Vegan-friendly

• Cruelty-free

For a dry scalp and dry ends, try this top pick of Angela’s. “It cleanses without making the scalp feel more dry and itchy. The conditioner has an amazing slip and gives your strands a beautiful shine,” she says. Healthy hydration from root to tip.

For a dry, sensitive scalp

Try: E45 Dry Scalp Shampoo

• Size: 200ml

• Soap, colour & perfume free

Designed for delicate scalp woes, this shampoo recommendation from Kate is the ultimate caring cleanse. Its gentle formula suits a range of hair types.

For a hyaluronic acid shampoo

Try: Boots Ingredients Moisture Shampoo with Hyaluronic Acid

• Size: 250ml
• Great price point

Get your hyaluronic acid hair fix for less than a fiver with this moisturising pick. It also helps reduce frizz and boost smoothness.

Top tips for dandruff

If you’ve noticed that you have white or grey flakes of skin on your scalp and hair, you may have dandruff. “People often confuse a dry scalp with dandruff, but the treatments for these problems are different,” cautions Kate. “Approximately half of the population have dandruff, so try an anti-dandruff shampoo first to see if this helps.”

Top products for dandruff

For a gentle anti-dandruff shampoo

Try: Philip Kingsley Flaky/Itchy Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

• Size: 250ml

Cleansing on a deeper level, this soothing shampoo with antimicrobial properties is a top pick of Kate’s for helping relieve scalp irritation and clearing flakiness. Interesting fact: it’s based on the clarifying shampoo formula the brand’s trichologists created for Oscar-winning actor, Sir Laurence Olivier.

For a soothing scalp balm

Try: Head & Shoulders DERMAXPRO Soothe Anti Dandruff Scalp Balm

• Size: 145ml

If you’re looking for a targeted treatment, try this. As well as the soothing ingredient, piroctone olamine, it contains aloe vera and vitamin E to help reduce dryness.

For oily scalps with mild dandruff

Try: Neutrogena T/Gel Oily Scalp Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

• Size: 250ml
• Contains salicylic acid

Oily scalp? This exfoliating shampoo, containing salicylic acid and piroctone olamine, helps rebalance oil levels and reduce dandruff. A top pick of Kate’s, you’ll also love its rich lather and distinctive amber, fresh scent.

Top tips for an oily scalp

Regularly cleansing away product and pollution build-up can be a good plan of action to help reduce excess oil. “Shampoo whenever the scalp’s too greasy,” recommends Angela. 

“There’s no such thing as ‘scalp training’. Just like skin, oiliness is a scalp type and the only thing you can do is control it by using the right products and frequent washing of the scalp.” 

Those with oil-prone scalps may want to try deeper cleansing shampoos. “There’s a trend in haircare at the moment where we’re moving away from stronger surfactants (cleansing agents), and using more solid shampoos and shampoo bars,” Kate tells us. 

“These products have their benefits, but if you tend to have greasy roots, they may not be strong enough to thoroughly cleanse the scalp and may mean that your hair feels oilier more quickly. 

“If this is the case, you can still incorporate gentler products into your routine, as well as using a stronger cleansing shampoo once or twice per week to give your scalp a good clean.” 

If you’ve found that your hair’s been feeling flatter or oilier than usual, check your tools. “Cleaning your hairbrush regularly can also help stop the transfer of dirt, grime and product build-up back onto your scalp,” explains Kate. 

Another top tip of Kate’s? Turn down the hot water tap. “If you’re prone to greasy hair, making sure your shower isn’t too hot can help, as hot water stimulates the sebaceous glands.”

Top products for an oily scalp

For a clarifying shampoo

Try: Noughty Detox Dynamo Clarifying Shampoo

• Size: 250ml
• Cruelty-free

With peppermint and sorrel leaf extracts, this clarifying shampoo should be used for times when you need a deeper clean, recommends Kate.

For a scalp scrub

Try: Umberto Giannini Scalp Scrub Exfoliating Anti-Dandruff Scrub

• Size: 200g
• Silicone-free
• Vegan
• Cruelty-free

To help remove build-up, this scalp-stimulating blend of fruit enzymes and micro-grains of natural walnut shell is a great treat and treatment. Use once a week to give scalp and roots a boost.

For a chemical exfoliator

Try: The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Treatment

• Size: 150ml
• Sulphate- and silicone-free
• Cruelty-free

If you prefer a liquid exfoliant, this pre-shampoo treatment helps lift product build-up and remove grease. Fellow Boots customers love its abilities to reduce flakes and soothe itchiness.

A final note

If your specific scalp care problem is persistent and affecting your confidence, it could be a good idea to book in with an expert. 

“People often think that they need to suffer with scalp problems on their own,” Kate tells us. “If you’re struggling, speak to a professional who can help you. This could be your GP, a trichologist, or a dermatologist.” 

It could help save you time and money in the long run.