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Scalp Exfoliation Sounds Gross, But It's the Trick to Shiny, Bouncy Curls


I love my big hair. I’ll tell anyone who will listen how I’m ride-or-die about my natural curls and involved in a passionate relationship with volume (spoiler alert: it’s getting serious). I’ll also shout about good hair days from the top of One World Trade Center, Glamour‘s HQ, which is why our entire beauty team—and now the World Wide Web—was made immediately aware of the 10-minute trick that gives me my biggest, shiniest hair ever for days at a time.

The whole thing starts with two well-known, but seldom discussed truths about hair. First off, hair is dead. Secondly, scalps are not. While your scalp isn’t the sexiest skin on the human body, it is still skin with skin care needs that usually go unaddressed until it’s too late. Try to picture people letting their faces get super itchy and flakey before doing something about it. Unimaginable. But most folks—myself included—tend to put hair care first, only thinking about their scalp when their head starts acting up. If, on the other hand, you’re savvy and treat your scalp with the respect it deserves, then you probably already know all about scalp exfoliation. That’s right, summer’s least sexy-sounding beauty trend has given me, what I consider, my sexiest hair ever.

The fact that I’ve only just started really diving into the best techniques and products for scalp exfoliating is kind of embarrassing, considering how a 10-minute weekly scalp scrub worked wonders for me in the past. Back in my bleach and blue days, I encountered my very first scalp exfoliator by way of Keranique Micro-Exfoliating Mask. At the time, my hair was so delicate and breakage-prone that I was afraid to gently massage my scalp, let alone scrub it, but I gave it a shot since the mask came so highly recommended. It cut through the buildup from all the protein serums and leave-in conditioners I’d been piling onto my damaged hair, giving me a close approximation to real curls for the first time in over a year.

Weekly exfoliation became my new hair’s new best friend until I finally chopped the damage off and started from scratch. With healthy hair, I went years without thinking about exfoliating my scalp. Then, this summer, my relentless quest for maximum curl volume at all times brought scalp exfoliation back into my life. I was having trouble getting my curl pattern to start near the crown of my head thanks to a combination of how curls loosen under their own weight and the buildup of sprays, powders, and oils I use throughout the week. When I asked our brilliant beauty writer, Rachel, what she used to keep her curls in perfect spirals, she recommended finding a scalp exfoliator that I loved. So I did just that. Twice.

From left: Lush Big Shampoo and IGK Low Key Cleansing Walnut Scalp Scrub.

The bad news is that I could not choose between Lush Big Shampoo and IGK Low Key Cleansing Walnut Scalp Scrub if you offered me cash money. The good news is that they’re both vegan and cruelty-free and I don’t think anyone will ever force me to pick one over the other. Both products break through buildup and unclog pores while differing slightly in texture. Lush Big Shampoo has some slip to it, thanks to extra virgin coconut and mandarin oils combined with sea salt granules that dissolve quickly enough to make it a five-minute scrub-session if you’re in a hurry.

The IGK Low Key Cleansing Walnut Scalp Scrub’s consistency leans more toward a paste—which takes longer to massage in and rinse out—but brings the bonus of apple cider vinegar (a major win if you’re dealing with a lot of product buildup; it eats right through residue to dissolve it). The end result from both products is the same: supple, featherlight hair with a lot of shine and plenty of bounce.

Even if you don’t pile on tons of product like I do, you’ll still see the benefits of exfoliating your scalp. “Any product or just daily activity like flaking, sweating, and oil production can cause buildup in your hair, and your scalp produces more oil when you’re stressed,” says Chase Kusero, hairstylist and cofounder of IKG Hair. That’s right. Even a squeaky clean scalp bears the volume-crushing weight of buildup.

After bringing scalp exfoliation back to my weekly hair care routine, I was so impressed with the bouncy, boing-boing softness of my hair that I actually encouraged my coworkers to touch it, which should show you how dramatic the results of this 10-minute savior really are. I would throw down with anyone who touched my hair without permission, but it feels like a worse crime to deny a close-up experience of how awesome my curls are at peak soft, corkscrew curly brilliance.

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