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Scalp Cleansing 101

Scalp Cleansing 101

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Just like the skin of the rest of your body, the scalp needs to be regularly washed, cleansed, moisturized and tended to. Not only does healthy hair start with the scalp, but a healthy scalp free of dandruff, build up, dead skin cells and irritation will allow you to live your best life. Wondering how to get rid of dandruff?  While it might seem complicated, it all begins and ends with the scalp. 

Scalp cleansing, treatment and scalp care are all the rage these days. Finding shampoo and conditioner for natural hair can often be the first step in scalp cleansing. From scalp massagers to scrubs especially formulated with essential oils, everyone seems to have hair health on the mind. However, it’s important to not go overboard when it comes to trying to fight dry scalp or stimulate hair growth. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the benefits of cleansing your scalp, identify the best products and ingredients for scalp health, breakdown the rules of scalp detoxing and scalp scrubbing, and help you create a scalp health regimen that is easy and effective. 

How do you get rid of scalp buildup?

Scalp buildup occurs when sweat, hair products and dead skin cells combine with an oily secretion called sebum. This can lead to an irritated scalp with symptoms similar to those of seborrheic dermatitis, scalp psoriasis, and eczema. For example, each of these conditions can cause flakes to appear in the hair and scalp.

Therefore, many dermatologists and hair stylists categorize buildup in two ways: natural and product buildup. Natural buildup occurs through the scalp's normal evolution of sweat, oils and skin cells. However, product buildup is the result of too many oils, conditioners, stylers and treatments being applied to the scalp without a thorough cleansing which leads to an unhealthy scalp. When you have product, dirt, and oil building up around your hair follicle, they can slowly suffocate your hair root, causing  inflammation, and hindering hair growth.

So how do you get rid of scalp build up? To restore your hair and scalp back to a healthy state, you must detoxify the scalp of buildup and impurities with scalp exfoliation, while also conditioning and nourishing. If you have a oily situation or flakes up top, here are our tips for tackling scalp cleansing 101:

1. Pump up the hair washing

While there is no standard shampoo routine that works for everyone, if you’re spotting an oily scalp, a flaky scalp or spotting dead skin cells messing up your favorite styles, it may be time to wash. Add in another wash day to your routine, or consider a pre-poo that allows you to apply a pre wash hair treatment to your curls before the actual shampoo process. Test out shampooing more than once a week, then see how your hair and scalp feel.

2. Try a Clarifying Shampoo

When it’s time for a deep clean, clarifying shampoo removes build-up, revives the scalp & gives oily or dry hair a fresh start without stripping away the healthy oils of your tresses. PATTERN's Curl Cleansing Shampoo formula features antioxidant-rich Matcha Green Tea, Aloe Vera & Panthenol to promote strong hair. A deep clean can be especially helpful for low porosity hair types wanting to keep their cuticle open to receiving moisture.

While many curls and coilies extol the virtues of sulfate-free shampoos, sometimes those don't rid the gunk and buildup. Therefore, a clarifying shampoo is great to add to the rotation from time to time, especially if you've increased your workouts or are using more styling products.

How to use a clarifying shampoo:

Massage vigorously into scalp & wet hair to remove build-up & residue. Add more water as needed to work the product through the hair. Rinse thoroughly. If desired, wash a second time with PATTERN Hydration Shampoo. Follow with your preferred PATTERN Conditioner With Slip.

3. Invest in a scalp massager

While your hands and fingers are great for the average shampoo, to kick things up a notch to slough away dead skin cells and stimulate the hair follicle you should consider trying a scalp massager. Giving yourself a regular scalp massage can increase hair thickness and increase block circulation which is necessary for the follicles to produce hair.

When your hair is already wet, use a massager to work shampoo into the roots and the scalp. Circular motions with the scalp massager can release tension, exfoliate scalp skin and remove excess oil and buildup. 

4. Consider natural remedies like Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) is a beloved remedy for dandruff and scalp buildup. Many naturals swear by ACV princes for shine, smoothness and scalp clarifying. When used in moderation, an ACV rinse can deep clean your scalp, remove impurities without stripping your hair of natural oils.

Apple cider vinegar also contains natural alpha-hydroxy acid, which gently exfoliates the scalp and hair, allowing for removal of dead skin cells and build up that can occur from sweat and/or conventional hair products. This improves the appearance of the hair, reduces itchiness, and allows for better styling. Plus, ACV's antimicrobial properties can kill bacteria and fungus (ahem: dandruff).

An ACV wash can be made very simply.

  1. Mix a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with water.
  2. After shampooing and conditioning, pour the mixture over your hair evenly, working into your scalp.
  3. Let it sit for a couple of minutes.
  4. Rinse it out.

5. Try products with Tea Tree Oil

Known for its invigorating tingle, tea tree oil can be infused in shampoos, conditioners and curly hair treatments to help wash away impurities leaving hair fresh, clean and full of luster. Similar to lavender and peppermint, tea tree can refresh the scalp and leave hair smelling great. 

Apart from soothing sensory experience, tea tree oil reduces dandruff and flaking, and prevents excess oil production. Tea tree oil is also proven to improve blood flow and allows nutrients to reach hair follicles, balances the pH level of the scalp, and stimulates the hair growth cycle to give you a head full of strong healthy hair.

6. Make a DIY scalp scrub

Detox a dry, flaky, itchy scalp with a scrub that exfoliates to remove dead skin cells and product buildup from the scalp to support a healthy and hydrated scalp. There are plenty of scrubs on the market with peppermint, tea tree, coconut oils, and you can also make your own at home that will provide moisturization to the scalp and combat flakiness.

Our friends at Naturally Curly have a great DIY scrub, Clarifying Shampoo + Cornmeal & Essential Oil:

  • Clarifying shampoo
  • Cornmeal or ground almonds
  • Peppermint oil or tea tree oil

Start with your favorite clarifying shampoo to properly cleanse and remove any product buildup, dirt, and oils.  Mix equal parts of a mild exfoliate like cornmeal or ground almonds.  Add a few drops of an essential oil like Peppermint Hair Oil or tea tree oil.  Mix the ingredients in a bowl and massage the mixture into your scalp for three minutes using only your fingertips.  Rinse and condition.

7. Consult your dermatologist 

When your scalp itches and you've tried every remedy you can think of, it can be difficult to know what to do. If buildup and itching persist, do not keep scratching. Relief is possible by visiting your dermatologist. They will be able to diagnose whether it's dandruff, a reaction to a hair product or a more serious issue. Remember, you could also have an allergy to a shampoo, conditioner, or other product that touches your scalp. If that’s the case, you’ll likely have an itchy rash on your scalp and any other skin that the product touches.

If you have tried a myriad of over-the-counter treatments or at-home remedies but your scalp still feels less than top notch, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist.

How can I detox my scalp at home?

A scalp detox treatment like our deep scalp detox i s formulated with invigorating Australian Tea Tree Oil, pH-balancing Pink Clay, & Lemon Peel Oil to naturally purge dirt, dead skin & lingering product for the ultimate cleanse. Impurities are pulled from the follicles & pores are unclogged without stripping your hair’s natural oils. The 2-in-1 serum delivers a reset between wash days & can be used as a detoxifying pre-shampoo to restore scalp health during & after braids, wigs, weaves & more. Hair will be left soft, refreshed, & ready for the next ‘do. While many of us continue to pile on product after product and wonder why our scalp is so dry or irritated, it may be time to try a scalp detox. 

An easy, at-home scalp detox includes massaging in a mask to exfoliate the scalp, which unclogs your pores of dead skin and removes toxins from the hair follicles, roots, and oil glands. Think of it like a facial for your scalp. 

Try our Deep Scalp Detox  or these steps to clear your scalp of buildup:

1. Shampoo your hair and scalp with Clarifying Shampoo.

2. Make or purchase a scalp scrub and work it into your scalp using the tips of your fingers, being careful not to tangle your hair.

3. Detox using a bentonite clay mask like Aztex Secret Healing Clay which draws out the buildup of stylers, conditioners and products that may be coating the scalp and strands.

4. For a lighter detox, try witch hazel or a mixture of ginger, lemon and water in a spray bottle and applied directly to the scalp. Massage in, then rinse.

5. Follow with PATTERN's Treatment Mask to deliver slip, curl elongation & definition to coils.


What's a good scalp cleanser?

Scalp skin can behave like facial skin & may exhibit some of the same characteristics. The most common scalp types are: Balanced, Oily, Dry/Itchy, & Combination.

To provide and maintain a healthy environment for your scalp to thrive, you should:

  1. Consume a balanced, nutritious diet
  2. Use the best shampoo for your scalp's condition, at least once a week, to keep your scalp clean & balanced.
  3. Between wash days, keep your scalp conditioned with PATTERN's Scalp Serum, designed to invigorate & cool the scalp.

Ingredients, such as peppermint and rosemary essential oils help to cool & increase circulation on the scalp, while aloe soothes the scalp, improves hydration and reduces the effects of dryness. 

Good scalp cleansers balance healthy hydration with cleansing elements. Some of the ingredients to look for in a good scalp cleanser or shampoo are:

  1. Aloe Vera Leaf Juice
  2. Coconut Oil
  3. Honey
  4. Tea Tree
  5. Olive Oil
  6. Argan Oil
  7. Avocado Oil
  8. Jojoba Oil
  9. Matcha Green Team
  10. Panthenol

Skip harsh surfactants such as SLS or SLES & bathe your hair in moisture-rich formulas like PATTERN’s Hydration Shampoo and Clarifying Shampoo.

Keep in mind that even a healthy, balanced scalp still needs preventive care in order to remain healthy. Learning what your scalp needs takes a little time, attention & patience.

Why do I have gunk on my scalp?

Your scalp's natural oils hydrate your skin, support hair growth and keep hair shiny. However, if you are not shampooing once a week or cleansing regularly with natural hair care products, your scalp's oils can begin to accumulate with dead skin cells and styling products to create gunk.

The scalp skin is similar to the skin on the rest of your body, except it has larger sebaceous glands, also known as oil glands, that produce more sebum (the body's natural oil).  The purpose of sebum is to reduce moisture loss, lubricate, protect & nourish the scalp & hair.

Natural buildup is when your body's naturally-produced excretions pile up on the scalp. Product buildup is the result of conditioners, hair sprays, pomades, gels, and creams that are layered one on top of another, never fully being cleansed from the scalp.

Want to find out if your scalp is grimy? Part a section of your hair and take your fingernail to scrape along the scalp. If after scraping with your index fingernail, you've trapped flakes, dirt and oil, you've found build up and are in need of a scalp detox or scalp scrub.

A healthy scalp looks even in color, is flake-free & smooth. It may even have a natural luster or sheen. A healthy scalp feels hydrated & calm, rather than itchy, tight, & irritated.

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Reviewed by Ashley Ludgood

With over 12 years of experience in the beauty and fashion industry, Ashley Ludgood brings a wealth of expertise to her current role at PATTERN. Her insights have been featured in reputable publications like American Salon Magazine, American Spa Magazine, and Skin, Inc. Ashley has also shared her knowledge at conferences, including Face & Body, demonstrating her ongoing commitment to contributing to the industry. Having been an integral part of the team at PATTERN for nearly 4 years, Ashley continues to make significant contributions. Holding a degree in Journalism from Northwestern University, she remains passionate about her field. Among her favorite products, Ashley turns to the PATTERN Styling Cream, Moisture Milk, and the Cleansing Shampoo as her go-to essentials.

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