Scorching flat irons and high-lift bleach take the blame, but substantial damage can happen to a strand of hair before it’s even visible. Each baby hair incubates in its follicle—four millimeters below the surface of the scalp—for about 14 days. During this two-week period, any oxidative stress will compromise the future strength of each hair and make it significantly weaker from the get-go. “Our scalp’s health is reflected in the condition and appearance of our hair,” adds Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD.
The number-one cause of scalp stress? Malassezia globosa—the same fungus that also causes dandruff, and which Dr. Rolanda Wilkerson, PhD, principal scientist at Procter & Gamble, says exists on every single scalp. Flakes and itchiness are a clear sign that Malassezia is wreaking havoc, but even if a scalp seems calm on the surface, there may still be trouble brewing underneath. Here, 14 potent picks to keep your scalp in tip-top condition.
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Popular fungus-blasters can target Malassezia on the surface, but they are much too big to penetrate into the follicle. As a response, Head & Shoulders optimized the pyrithione zinc (ZPT) molecule—the chief ingredient in its lines—with additional ingredients designed to amplify its benefits and make it flat enough to slip inside, ultimately destroying Malassezia before it strikes. The latest option to take for a spin is just as hardworking as it is time-saving.
Rooted in Korean tradition, this do-everything scalp toner is infused with apple-cider vinegar, chamomile and honey to banish follicle-clogging product residue and balance the scalp’s pH.
Seoul-based beauty brand Vitabrid C¹² bottles a stabilized form of vitamin C that, according to the brand, is gradually released to the scalp for a full 24 hours post-application. Plus, the concentrated nozzle makes application a breeze.
Masks infused with natural, toxin-eliminating ingredients, such as this one, deliver some serious Zen to a frazzled scalp (and make hair care so chic).
When heading into the salon for a scalp massage isn’t on the docket—visit New York’s Philip KingsleyClinic or John Barrett Salon when it is—try an at-home scalp massager like this one from Briogeo. Keep it in the shower and use it after shampooing to stimulate circulation and kickstart healthy growth.
This cult-classic is formulated with calming sea salt and softening sweet almond oil to quell scalp irritation from harsh hair-color formulas and rev up circulation while sloughing off dead skin and product buildup.
HAU Hair Pack ($60 for five)
This serum-in-cap nourishes the scalp and hair with a vitamin-rich serum that’s fastened into place so you don’t have to worry about it until it’s time to rinse.
Every wash combats flakes and itch with 2 percent salicylic acid, an ingredient Beverly Hills, CA dermatologist Rhonda Rand, MD says has the potential to help with eczema and psoriasis.
Straight from Tokyo, this conditioner bottles naturally derived ingredients—think sea salt and pure essential oils—to balance and soothe.
dpHue ACV Rinse ($35)
Because apple cider vinegar is naturally acidic and has a pH level close to that of hair (around five) a rinse packed with it, like this one, can restore the scalp’s pH and seal damaged hair cuticles.
To de-gunk the scalp, lactic acid, found in this refreshing toner, is a gentle yet effective exfoliator that works to create a clean and stable canvas.
This shake-then-spray fluid is formulated with peppermint essential oil and zinc to remove excess oil, stimulate blood flow and calm irritation.
Nutrafol recently introduced a Hair Mineral Analysis that measures the levels of 60 minerals and toxic metals in newly grown hair (a sample is taken from the nape of the neck). “If there’s an adrenal imbalance in the body, it can lead to hair follicle inflammation, which will result in thinner hair and a shortened growth cycle,” says Nutrafol’s naturopath Dr. Tess Marshall. A comprehensive supplement like these will deliver the vitamins and nutrients necessary to foster a healthy scalp and head of hair; results will only be visible in around six to 12 weeks (the length of the average hair cycle).