Clarifying Shampoo Or Scalp Scrub: Which One Is Better For You?

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Scalp care is at the forefront of hair care, and for good reason: The state of your scalp contributes to the look and feel of your strands. A healthy scalp translates to fast-growing, soft, shiny strands, and who doesn’t want that?

And to secure a lush, full mane, you need to regularly clean and stimulate your scalp. After all, a buildup of product, oil, and overall grime can suffocate the hair follicles and actually impede growth over time. You can find a plethora of scalp detoxing products on the market, which can get confusing in terms of which scalp-cleansing product to use.

One question I hear frequently as of late: Should I use a scalp scrub or a detox shampoo? I tapped trichologist and hair-health expert Shab Reslan to find the answer. 

To be frank, clarifying shampoos are meant for the strands, not the scalp. Similarly, scalp scrubs are formulated to benefit the scalp, not the strands. So it’s not that one product is better than the other; they’re simply different.

So if you’re looking to better your scalp health, then you should look for scalp-focused products, like a scalp scrub or scalp treatment. These products are formulated to lift buildup and rejuvenate the skin on the scalp, whether it be through chemical or physical exfoliation

Clarifying shampoos, however, are designed for the strands (although many contain ingredients that also purify the scalp as well). So if you’re looking to deeply cleanse your hair, then this is a good option. If you have color-treated hair, though, you should be careful when selecting your clarifying shampoos, as some may contain ingredients that can strip your color right off.

When to use each product. 

If you take a close look at your scalp and see buildup from hair products, or if your hair continuously feels oily even right after you wash it, then you might want to consider a scalp scrub, Reslan says. 

Many scalp products contain chemical exfoliants like salicylic or glycolic acid, which provide a deep cleanse. These are great for the skin on your scalp, but they won’t help the health of your strands—hence the name scalp scrub. 

“If you just aren’t getting enough cleansing capability from your daily shampoo, which the majority of us don’t (and that’s a good thing), then you should use a glycolic acid scrub,” Reslan says. “The little granules in there will help scrub the scalp gently and then also break up that buildup and balance out the scalp.”

Scalp-focused products:

DpHue ACV Scalp Scrub


Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub


Act + Acre Scalp Detox


Cold Processed Scalp Detox


When it comes to clarifying shampoos, those should be used on your strands and kept away from the scalp. Many clarifying products contain stronger ingredients that, when used in moderation, will work wonders on the lengths of your hair. However, these cleansing agents might irritate your scalp, so stick to the shaft of the hair.

Reslan explains the perfect time to call upon cleansing shampoo: “If your hair feels dull, it’s tangling a lot, or you use a lot of styling products daily, you definitely want your clarifying shampoo,” she says.

As scalp care becomes more and more sophisticated, we’re met with more and more products to navigate. As a rule of thumb: Use a scalp scrub to break up the buildup present on the scalp and manage sebum production; reach for a cleansing shampoo when you need to deep clean your strands of product buildup, but keep it away from the scalp itself. If it’s hair growth you’re after, then you may benefit from a growth serum, too—here are a few different options if you’re in the market.

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