What Is a Japanese Head Spa?

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Like buccal massage, Japanese head spas are one of those buzzy beauty treatments that everyone seems to be talking about right now. The scalp service promising shinier, healthier hair is catching on stateside in part thanks to TikTok. So is this the step your hair routine is missing?

We spoke to a dermatologist, trichologist, and manager of one of the most popular Japanese head spa locations in New York City for the lowdown on the treatment process and how it can help with hair loss and thinning.

Featured Experts

  • Shinichi Nguyen is the manager of Masa.Kanai, a popular head spa in New York City
  • Paul Nassif, MD is a plastic surgeon based in Beverly Hills, CA
  • Kerry E. Yates is a trichologist and founder of Colour Collective

What is a Japanese head spa?

The phrase “head spa” is simply the Japanese way of referring to a scalp treatment, explains Shinichi Nguyen, manager of Masa.Kanai, one of the most sought after head spa locations in New York City.

“While head spas are a recent international emergence, the practice has been a staple in the Japanese beauty industry for many years. “Akin to the typical ‘cut and color’ services, a ‘head spa’ is a common menu item that can be found in practically any Japanese salon,” Nguyen says.

Every salon will have their own spin on the way they perform a ‘head spa.’ For example, it may be an add-on massage while washing the hair rather than standalone scalp treatment experience. Generally though, you can expect some variation of treatment to detoxify the scalp, and massage to stimulate circulation and relieve tension.

“Most head spas utilize dedicated ingredients and products that target specific scalp problems”—whether that’s dandruff, oiliness, irritation, or hair loss—“rather than overlooking the scalp and treating the hair alone,” Nguyen explains.

For example, for hair loss, treatments can be customized at MASAI.KANAI with “a remedy that mixes biodynamic organic ingredients such as chamomile, peppermint, and plant stem cells to help stimulate the follicles to promote new growth, while strengthening the hair that currently exists to prevent further fallout,” she explains. On the other hand, those dealing with psoriasis may be offered a remedy that consists of fennel, amaranth, mahogany, and teak, to deliver moisture to the scalp while helping soothe inflammation and relieve irritation, she says.


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What to expect from a Japanese head spa treatment

At many Japanese head spas available stateside, the process starts with a consultation that starts by looking at your scalp with a microscope and letting you get a close-up look for yourself on a screen of any flaking, scaly patches, or sebum build-up. They might also look at the condition of your hair cuticle and follicles.

At MASAI.KANAI, which bills itself as a “holistic wellness experience” they’ll also ask you questions about your lifestyle (for example, your diet and stress levels), to create a personalized treatment to address your main scalp and hair concerns.

From there, you’ll receive an intensive deep cleansing and detoxing of the scalp—all in a relaxing, spa-like environment.

Like your typical facial, some head spas also offer steam therapy as part of their scalp treatment to unclog pores and hair follicles on the scalp. (MASA.KANAI uses a machine that generates an ultra-sonic fine mist of microscopic water particles.)

As for the benefits of steaming? “An opened hair follicle (from steam) allows better absorption of moisture, which in turn leads to a healthier hair follicle,” explains Kerry E. Yates, trichologist and founder of Colour Collective. This in turn can help dry and damaged hair become less prone to breakage and feel softer and shinier, Nguyen says.

Can a Japanese head spa help with hair growth?

If you’ve ever had your scalp massaged you know that they’re incredibly relaxing, but head spas also boast a lot of other benefits. At the top of the list: Deep cleansing and detoxifying the scalp.

So, why is that so useful? “Just like the skin on your face and body, dead skin cells of the epidermis slough off and regenerate new skin cells regularly (called cellular turnover). The second layer of skin, called the dermis, contains hair follicles,” explains Beverly Hills, CA plastic surgeon Paul Nassif, MD. “When the scalp skin isn’t adequately nourished or exfoliated, dead skin cells, product residues, oils, and other impurities can build up, leading to clogged follicles, which impact hair growth,” he explains.

Yates explains that our hair follicles can also become clogged from environmental pollutants (especially if you live in a big city) and from over relying on products like dry shampoo.) “Deep cleaning the scalp and or exfoliating is so important because a dirty scalp (oil, grime, even our natural oils) can lead to irritation, itchiness, and flaking,” Yates explains. 

There’s another way Japanese head spa treatments can be beneficial for hair growth. “Massage is very important for circulation—getting the blood flowing to the hair follicles helps them become stronger, which can lead to new hair growth,” Yates says.

Dr. Nassif adds that while he highly recommends a scalp massage for everyone to help nourish the scalp, especially as we age and the number of hair follicles decreases. However, he cautions that “one treatment here and there isn’t going to do anything for hair growth.” He adds that research shows that scalp massage does help with hair growth—but you need to massage your scalp for about 10-20 minutes every day to see an improvement and it takes a few months of doing this to see results.

How often should you visit a Japanese head spa?

Head spas are often described as “scalp facials,” and like normal facials, they can be something you do regularly or once in a blue moon to treat yourself. While a single treatment can certainly help with relaxation and give your scalp a thorough deep-cleaning, unsurprisingly, head spa therapists recommend consistency for the best results, especially since the scalp is constantly changing, Nguyen says.

“Our specialists generally recommend every 4 to 6 weeks, which aligns with the average skin cycle for old skin cells to be replaced by new ones,” says Nguynen. She adds that once-monthly appointments are typical especially for clients with concerns like hair regrowth.

Those without any scalp concerns may opt to come once a season for maintenance, she says. “Even if you don’t have any immediate scalp problems, treating your scalp and keeping it healthy can help prevent possible concerns in the future.”

How much does a Japanese head spa treatment cost?

The price of a treatment will depend on the specific salon, the length of the treatment, and the specific services offered. A 60-minute session is $300 at MASAI.KANAI, and head spa packages at other high-end salons can run around $200.

The takeaway

While a visit to the Japanese head spa might be an occasional indulgence or a one-and-done experience depending on your budget, giving your scalp more TLC is worth bringing into your regular at-home hair-care routine.

Yates recommends exfoliating your scalp at least once a week and giving yourself a scalp massage in the shower a few times a week in order to keep your scalp healthy. (Dr. Nassif recommends using your finger pads to rub your head in a circular motion, focusing on areas of tension.)

“Exfoliation to remove product buildup, dead skin cells, and other impurities allows skin cell regeneration and repair of hair follicles,” Dr. Nassif explains. His NassifMD Purifying Scalp Detox Exfoliant ($55) can be used weekly in place of shampoo to eliminate buildup and improve scalp and hair health.

Of course, if you’d rather have someone else do the pampering for you, there’s always the Japanese head spa. An added bonus? It will help manage stress, Dr. Nassif says, which plays a role in your skin, scalp, and whole-body health.

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