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Why TikTok Seems to Love a Scalp Care Trend (But the Experts Don’t Agree)

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Main image – Michelaravasio/Stocksy

Ever heard the saying ‘your scalp is skin’? Well, it’s not a saying. It’s a fact. But for some reason, we don’t typically treat the skin on our scalps with the same care or urgency as the skin on our face and body.

To add to this, there seems to be a rise in misinformation surrounding scalp care online, with some influencers crediting complicated (and sometimes just weird) hacks and routines for improved hair growth and health.

TikTok and Instagram, we love you. But we’re also looking directly at you. 

So, with these fact distortions in mind (and in some cases, barefaced lies), I wanted to bust the myths.

Here, we grilled one of the most respected trichologists in the world (and daughter of hair and scalp guru Sir Philip Kingsley no less) Anabel Kingsley for her thoughts, tips, and advice on the topic of scalp care, as well as co-founder of haircare brand Silke London, Maria Sotiriou.

We ask questions like “What does a healthy scalp actually look like?” (Asking for a friend…) “Is that online ‘oiling’ trend really effective?” And “Why is going natural not always best?”.

 

Image – Annatabakova/Stocksy

 


How is your scalp actually different to the rest of your skin?

It’s true, most scalps are covered in hair but it’s what’s underneath that counts. And that’s a whole lot of skin. “It’s an extension of the skin on our forehead,” says Kingsley. Well, when you put it like that, surely scalp care is a no brainer.

“It’s a very oily part of our body. So, you have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of hair follicles on your scalp and they are all attached to a sebaceous or an oil gland. So, actually the scalp is the most naturally oily part of the body.”

So, what does all this oil mean for the scalp? “The scalp has a different microbiome,” she says. “And because it is more oily, you’re quite prone to getting oily skin conditions on the scalp like seborrheic dermatitis or scalp eczema which is sometimes found on your eyebrows as well.”

 


What does a healthy scalp look like?

“Nice skin that’s healthy, it doesn’t have flakes, it’s not red and there aren’t broken blood capillaries,” Kingsley explains. “You can get brown spots or cancerous changes on your scalp so [your scalp should show] minimal sun damage too. No inflammation and no itching or irritation.”

Imagine looking down and noticing that the skin on your arm was red, flaky and inflamed. You would know instantly that it wasn’t healthy, and you’d likely do something about it.

 


Does a healthy scalp = healthy hair?

Think about where hair follicles come from. “Your scalp houses your hair follicles,” Kingsley says. “We know 100% that a flaky scalp can increase excessive daily hair shedding and exacerbate female pattern hair loss.”

So less potential hair loss is one reason to keep your scalp happy. And another is improving how your hair actually looks. “Just aesthetically if the scalp is in bad condition, if it’s oily, your hair is not going to look as good as it could,” Kingsley warns. 

 

bridal makeup

Image – Lightfieldstudios/Adobe

 

“And there were some studies done that show people with dandruff or scale on the scalp and as the hair emerges, its condition is impacted.” Breakage to the hair can be caused by not taking care of your scalp too.

“Over time as hairs are growing from a less than ideal scalp environment, the outer hair cuticle is compromised and the result is hair that’s more brittle,” she continues. “It can then have a long-term impact because when your hair gets long it’s more prone to weathering and daily assaults and it could also increase breakage long term.”

 


Myth 1: Every scalp needs a complicated, multi-step routine

“I am not a fan of anything that over complicates anything to do with taking better care of your hair and scalp,” says Sotiriou. “Over complicating results in confusion and exclusion.”

“You don’t need an overly complicated regime but you should be cleansing once a day, preferably,” adds Kingsley

Of course, there are many products that will help keep your scalp in good condition, but an extensive, say, 5-step routine that you do every day is unnecessary. “Use a mask once a week,” she says. 

 

Image – Philip Kingsley

 

“If you have dandruff, you should use an exfoliating, calming scalp mask. If you have more severe dandruff you might need to reach for more prescriptive scalp creams that have higher percentages of salicylic acid or sulphur.” Try Philip Kingsley Flaky/Itchy Scalp Anti-Dandruff Mask (£20 from Philip Kingsley UK /$23.88 from Feel Unique US) which contains salicylic acid and anti-fungal piroctone olamine.

Kingsley says overnight serums work well too. “We make a really good one for people who don’t really have any issues with their scalp but want to keep it that way,” she explains. 

“So that’s the same thing you do with the skin on your face. Even if you don’t have acne or you don’t have wrinkles, you do things to help keep your skin healthy. So, you can use a nightly serum with good anti-inflammatory, mildly exfoliating actives in there.”

 


Myth 2: ‘Hair training’ is good for hair

This trend of spacing your hair washes out more and more until you stop washing it altogether is to, apparently, encourage less oil production.

Trend-setters believe that this would eventually result in never having to wash your hair again, but our experts say this is completely unrealistic and strongly advise against since oil might not build-up, but dirt, product residue and bacteria will.

“Leave no more than three days between cleansing your scalp, regardless of your hair type or texture,” says Kingsley.

 


Myth 3: You need a scalp scrub

Kingsley says that, despite what TikTok would have you believe, scalp scrubs are out of the question. “No one should do that,” she says, explaining that the, “exfoliating particles can damage your hair cuticle and your blood vessels.”

The only scalp exfoliant Kingsley recommends is chemical. “Because they’re not damaging the hair, they’re not abrasive and they don’t have large particles.”

Try The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Exfoliating Scalp Treatment (£11.99 from Look Fantastic UK /$16 from Sephora US) which feels lightweight and helps to soothe itching.

 


Myth 4: You need loads of scalp tools

Whilst your makeup regime might require a handful of brushes, scalp brushes- another social media favourite- on the other hand are a no-no as they are much more abrasive. “Never use a scalp brush,” says Kingsley

“I always say to my clients if you’re in doubt about what to use on your scalp, ask yourself whether you would use that on your face. So, ‘would I use this scrub with large abrasive particles on my face?’ Most likely not. Because you’d end up with blotches and probably broken blood vessels.”

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And then there’s the LED gadgets for the scalp. “There’s some evidence that LED works depending on the type used, but not on its own, so you can use it with other things like a minioxidil,” [a medication prescribed to treat hair loss] Kingsley says. “There’s also a question of how much it is actually penetrating the scalp because all your hair is there.”

But does it actually work? “It probably works better if you actually have areas of quite pronounced thinning because then the light can actually get to where it needs to be.”

Sotiriou recommends keeping one tool in your possession and that’s a hair turban, which can help to reduce friction and breakage. “I tip my head forward and shake [my hair] out with my fingers to make sure it is going in the same direction and it also helps to maintain the body and curls of my hairstyle,” she explains. 

“Then I tie it loosely at the top front of my head with a hair tie. I then place my SILKE London Hair Wrap (£50 from SILKE London UK /$65 from Look Fantastic US) over my hair so that it it will look and feel healthy, shiny, and styled in the morning.”

 


Myth 5: Rosemary oil will give you your best hair ever

Rosemary oil has got to be one of TikTok’s favourite scalp hacks, with plenty of influencers citing a study into the ingredient.

But when it comes to apparent scalp ‘remedies’ like this, it would probably help if initial studies had been done on both sexes, to get a fair trial, according to Kingsley. “One study was carried out in 2015 on a small amount of men, not women,” she says.

“[It compared] the effects of rosemary oil with 2% minoxidil. It showed that it was as effective with hair regrowth but it’s not a big enough study, especially as 2% minoxidil isn’t going to do much for men anyway. You’re comparing something that doesn’t work very well so that’s actually not very impressive.”

So, what balance should be studied to prove that rosemary oil benefits the hair and scalp? “You need a 3 to 5% to actually have an impact on hair growth and for men you almost always need a 5%,” she says. 

But does rosemary oil actually do anything for the scalp and hair? “I wouldn’t say there was that much harm in applying it but with hair loss in particular it’s progressive and treatments take time to work. So, by the time you’ve realised the rosemary oil isn’t working you could have lost a year where you could have been using an actually effective ingredient,” she warns. 

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? Hey Sexy Lady [Feat. Brian & Tony Gold] – Shaggy

And apparently it’s the minoxidil that’s key here. “When you have female pattern hair loss, starting something that has real scientific evidence or longevity data and clinical studies like minoxidil is most effective,” explains Kingsley

“We have so much data, so many studies that show how effective it is at the right percentage, why not use that? Something that’s actually going to work.”

There are alternatives you can use, and Kingsley recommends menthol to soothe the scalp. This, in turn, will cause less itching. “Menthol is a counter irritant so it distracts you from the sensation of having an itchy scalp. In that respect, it can be beneficial but it’s actually not going to help with hair,” she says.

“We actually use menthol in some of our products for hair loss, not because it’s actually treating the hair loss but because people like the sensation, and with hair shedding you’ll often get itching.” 

Tea tree oil is also recommended. “This is also not a bad ingredient as it’s an anti-microbial and also helps with oil,” Kingsley explains. 

 


Myth 6: ‘Natural’ ingredients are better

“People like a natural remedy, that’s the problem,” says Kingsley. “They think it’s better because it’s natural but poison ivy is natural!” Point taken.

“Just because it’s organic, or it’s something you find in your cupboard, or it’s squeezed from apples and fermented it doesn’t mean that it’s safe to use it on your scalp,” she adds. So, it’s not all about going ‘au natural’ as long as the product has been certified as safe?

“It’s important to buy something that’s been tested for safety and stability. And yes, brands can bring out scalp products that don’t do much but generally you can kind of count on the fact that they’re probably safe and that they’re stable,” says Kingsley.

Ingredients to look out for are chemical exfoliants for flaky scalps. “Things like salicylic acid or betaine salicylate for hydration,” she advises. “Piroctone Olamine is a really good ingredient for dandruff as it helps to combat the yeast that are responsible for the formation of dandruff.”

What about for cooling and soothing? “Witch hazel can help. And pyrithione zinc helps to soak up or regulate oil production,” she adds. 

 


Myth 7: Your scalp needs ‘oiling’

Oh look, another misinformed online trend. Kingsley despairs. “I watch videos on TikTok and people are getting oil and aggressively rubbing it into their scalp,” she says. 

“What you’re doing is breaking your hair over time and risking bald patches because once you’re breaking blood vessels, [it’s] causing irritation and inflammation, and damaging your hair as it emerges from the scalp. It’s important to treat your scalp really gently.” 

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And apparently the oil is only covering up problems like dandruff instead of solving them. “People think oils are working because it disguises the flakes but it’s probably the worst thing you can do because dandruff is caused by an oily scalp and seborrheic dermatitis,” warns Kingsley

“Dandruff is just a mild form of seborrheic dermatitis and to put it into context, ‘seborrhea’ is the medical term for oil sebum. So you don’t want to be putting oils on your scalp.”

The solution? No oiling, unless you’re applying a hair oil on the ends of your hair to hydrate it when it’s brittle. 

 


Myth 8: A caffeine shampoo will help hair growth

Whilst caffeine shampoos do exist, caffeine isn’t going to do much for the hair’s condition if it’s being washed away, says Kingsley. “Caffeine in hair care has really good data behind it but only in leave-on form and only from certain percentages,” she explains.

“So, when it’s in a shampoo you’re throwing your money down the drain. For any hair loss product applied to your scalp to work it has to be left on.”

Will it damage your hair? Kingsley says no. “There’s no harm in using a shampoo with caffeine in it but it’s equally not going to do anything [beneficial].”

 


Myth 9: Dry shampoo is bad for your hair

Good news fellow dry shampoo worshippers, when used properly, it doesn’t cause damage. “They’re fine as long as you’re not using them as a replacement for shampoo,” says Kingsley.

“Using a dry shampoo is like using talcum powder to clean your face. It will mop up excess oils but the dirt is still there, it just helps to make your hair and scalp look less oily.” 

When is appropriate to apply one? “Using it for a day in between washes is fine, but the problem happens when you are using it consistently as a replacement for real shampoo,” she warns. “So it’s not the dry shampoo in itself that’s causing the problems, it’s the fact that it can lead to lack of shampooing often.”

Think of it as a top-up product rather than one to start a clean slate. My favourite is Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo (£20 from Look Fantastic UK /$30 from Sephora US) as it doesn’t feel powdery or like it clogs my skin.

 


Myth 10: Your scalp needs ‘detoxing’

We all love the idea of a detox, but is it beneficial to the scalp? “Detox is a nice marketing word but I would say you need to cleanse your scalp well, not detox it,” says Kingsley.

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Do you detox your scalp? Heres your reminder ? #hair #hairstyle #diy #hacks #hairgrowth #hairtok

? original sound – Madina Shrienzada

“If you’re using loads of dry shampoo and you have build-up of it on your hair then shampoo thoroughly – twice.”

Other ways you can take care of your scalp and hair include not going to bed when it’s wet. “This is when your hair is most vulnerable to damage, your hair cuticles, which are there to protect the hair, become buckled,” warns Sotiriou.

If you want to stay proactive with keeping your hair healthy overnight though, she says it’s all about wearing a hair wrap. “Start by making sure your hair is washed properly on wash day,” Sotiriou advises. 

“Removing oil and dirt build-up will enable your natural nourishing sebum (scalp’s natural oil) to be transported from root to tip when wearing a hair wrap.”

 


The takeaway

When it comes to some trends and tips to do with scalp care, the internet can often get it very wrong.

Between promising that ‘oiling’ will give you your best hair yet (hmm…) and suggesting that an abrasive scalp brush will do wonders for your skin, sometimes you just need some *actual* expert advice to check in with before you take the plunge.

Thanks to Anabel Kingsley and Maria Sotiriou’s tips, you can hopefully now sleep at night (with dried hair) knowing you’re treating your scalp properly. Don’t forget that natural ingredients aren’t always the answer and that over-complicating your hair regime might work against it.

Choose a chemical scrub over a physical or mechanical one and enjoy the effects of your dry shampoo by using it wisely. And remember what Kingsley said. The skin on your scalp is an extension of the skin on your forehead. And how you treat it ultimately has an effect on the look and condition of your hair. 

 

Meet the experts

Anabel Kingsley is a consultant trichologist, as well as brand president of the Philip Kingsley Clinics and product ranges. Her passion for hair and scalp health was ignited from a young age by her father, Philip Kingsley. Anabel qualified as a Trichologist in 2013. She is an Associate Member of The Institute of Trichologists, graduating with a Distinction, as well as receiving ‘The Award of Excellence’.

 

Maria Sotiriou is a London-based hairstylist with more than 37 years’ experience and the founder of haircare brand SILKE London.

 

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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University
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