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10 best scalp scrubs that will transform lacklustre locks

With a range of benefits and hydrating ingredients, these formulas will give you head some extra TLC

Ellis Cochrane
Thursday 23 May 2024 10:55
To help you pick the best scalp scrub for your hair type, we put a range of options to the test
To help you pick the best scalp scrub for your hair type, we put a range of options to the test (The Independent)
Our Top Picks

While many of us exfoliate the skin on our face and body, our scalp could also do with some TLC, which is where the best scalp scrubs come into play. If you’ve experienced a particularly itchy scalp, dandruff, greasy roots or lacklustre locks after you’ve just washed your hair, your scalp could probably do with some attention.

There are a number of reasons why introducing one of the best scalp scrubs into your haircare routine can be beneficial. “By removing dead skin cells, pollutants, and debris, scalp scrubs help eliminate build-up, excess oil, and dandruff flakes, leaving your hair feeling shiny and clean,” says Justmylook hair expert Hayley Walker. “Scalp scrubs also help to unclog hair follicles, promoting improved circulation and nutrient absorption, leaving you with a healthier scalp – an environment ideal for encouraging hair growth.”

However, “it’s important to use a scalp scrub that suits your particular hair type”, explains trichologist Jane Mayhead, from Harley Street’s The Private Clinic. “More abrasive scrubs are only suitable for very short hair and oily scalps,” adds Mayhead. People with “longer hair, porous, curly or chemically treated hair should opt for mild and non-abrasive formulas. Abrasive ingredients can cause damage to the cuticle layer of the hair.”

When shopping for a scalp scrub, there are a number of ingredients you’ll want to look for, for example, peppermint and tea tree help soothe itchy and irritated scalps, providing a cooling effect. “Many popular scalp scrubs will also include ingredients such as caffeine and sea salt, to help scrub away dead skin cells and balance the scalp, alongside acids. Glycolic acid works as a chemical exfoliator, and hyaluronic acid helps improve moisture,” says Wil Fleeson, Director of Trichology Scotland and Rainbow Room International’s Buchanan Street salon. Meanwhile, ingredients such as coconut oil and argan oil can also provide hydration.

With all this in mind, keep reading for our pick of the best scalp scrubs for every budget.

How we tested the best scalp scrubs

Ellis tested a whole host of scalp scrubs
Ellis tested a whole host of scalp scrubs (Ellis Cochrane)

To help you pick the best scalp scrub for your hair type, we put a number to the test, from myriad brands and at a range of price points. We assessed them on how well they dealt with different scalp issues, their ingredients and overall texture, as well as the eventual results.

In a bid to give each scalp scrub a fair trial, we kept the rest of our shower routine the same – using our normal shampoo and conditioner, so we could be sure any difference in our scalp was down to the scrub used.

The best scalp scrubs for 2024 are:

  • Best scalp scrub overall – Christophe Robin cleansing purifying scrub with sea salt: £33.60,
  • Best budget scalp scrub – Umberto Giannini scalp scrub exfoliating anti-dandruff treatment: £7.46,
  • Best scalp scrub for sensitive skin – Arkive headcare the crown scalp scrub: £14,
  • Best shampoo scalp scrub – Briogeo scalp revival charcoal + coconut oil micro-exfoliating shampoo: £36,
  • Best scalp scrub for fine hair – The Inkey List glycolic acid exfoliating scalp scrub: £10.50,

Christophe Robin cleansing purifying scrub with sea salt

  • Best: Scalp scrub overall
  • Key ingredients: Sea salt crystals, citric acid, sweet almond oil, benzyl salicylate
  • Size: 250ml
  • Why we love it
    • Great for dealing with oily or greasy roots

This is the scalp scrub we reach for when our hair has been looking and feeling greasier than usual or when there’s product build-up on our hair and scalp. With a good amount of lather, this cleansing and purifying scrub can be worked into the scalp effectively and leaves both the scalp and hair looking noticeably cleaner, calmer and flake-free.

The natural ingredient of sea salt crystals helps to stimulate circulation on the scalp, which in turn can have an effect on new hair growth and the health of the scalp more generally. While this is one of the coarser scrubs, out of the ones included here, this thicker texture works particularly well to deal with everything from excess product to dandruff and dry patches.

Even though it is suitable for all hair types, this scrub really comes into its own on oily or greasier hair, as well as sensitive scalps.

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Umberto Giannini scalp scrub exfoliating anti-dandruff treatment

  • Best: Budget scalp scrub
  • Key ingredients: Pineapple enzymes, coconut oil, piroctone olamine, crushed walnut shell
  • Size: 200g
  • Why we love it
    • Lovely fragrance

At less than £10 (it’s also often on offer), this scalp scrub from Umberto Giannini is our favourite budget-friendly option. Not only can it be applied as a pre-shampoo treatment, but it can also be used once a week in place of your shampoo.

For the price, you might not expect it to include so many impressive ingredients but it contains piroctone olamine – a compound clinically shown to destroy the fungus that can cause dandruff. This scrub also benefits from the hydrating qualities of coconut oil and a gentle natural physical exfoliant in the form of crushed walnut shells. After just one use, we found our scalp felt like it had a deep clean and we saw an immediate reduction in flakes and dandruff.

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Arkive headcare the crown scalp scrub

  • Best: Scrub for sensitive scalps
  • Key ingredients: Baobab oil and protein, caffeine, bromelain, betaine, lactic acid
  • Size: 180ml
  • Why we love it
    • Available in a travel-friendly 60ml size, too
    • Includes some of the smallest grains/particles
  • Take note
    • Slight tingling feeling on the scalp

If you have a particularly sensitive scalp, you may have been wary about using a scrub but this one from Arkive has some of the smallest particles of all the scalp scrubs we tested. This means that instead of relying on a rough or coarse texture, it utilises chemical exfoliants, such as lactic acid and pineapple enzyme bromelain, to break down dead skin and product build-up.

It also has a creamy serum-like consistency. While it does produce a slight tingling feeling when applied, which might not be for everyone, we appreciated the cooling and refreshing effect it had on the scalp. This is particularly true when our scalp is itchy and feels tight. Apply this specific scalp scrub after you’ve shampooed your hair, and it will leave your hair and scalp feeling thoroughly nourished.

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Oribe serene scalp scrub

  • Best: For physical and chemical exfoliation
  • Key ingredients: Soothing flower complex, peppermint oil, caffeine, glycolic acid
  • Size: 125ml
  • Why we love it
    • Easy to apply, thanks to the built-in applicator
  • Take note
    • On the pricier side

If you prefer a combination of physical and chemical exfoliation, this option by Oribe is one of our top picks. The little polymer beads give you the physical feeling of scrubbing the scalp, without feeling too harsh or abrasive. An impressive blend of alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), such as glycolic acid, work deeper into the skin to remove excess and dead skin cells and aid with cell turnover.

This scrub should be applied to wet hair before shampoo/conditioner and used once a week – any more than this may cause further irritation, because of the number of actives. At almost £50, it is one of the most expensive scalp scrubs on the market but our tester thinks the results are worth the splurge.

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Briogeo scalp revival charcoal + coconut oil micro-exfoliating shampoo

  • Best: Shampoo scalp scrub
  • Key ingredients: Binchotan charcoal, coconut oil, microcrystalline cellulose and tea tree, peppermint and spearmint oils
  • Size: 236ml
  • Why we love it
    • Can be used weekly in place of shampoo
    • Also comes in a travel-friendly 59ml tub

If you want to cut down the number of products you use on your hair, this shampoo scalp scrub from Briogeo is one of our absolute favourites. Applied to wet hair, a little goes a long way, as this quickly works to buff away dead skin, dandruff and built-up products.

We’ve been using this scalp scrub for well over a year and when used consistently, it really helps our scalp feel less itchy and irritated. It also has a cooling effect on the scalp, with an accompanying minty scent, which makes it a great choice for those who struggle with an itchy scalp or even seborrheic dermatitis.

Briogeo also has a number of other products in its scalp revival range, which is well worth checking out.

  1. £36 from
Prices may vary
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Paul Mitchell special detox tea tree foaming salt scrub

  • Best: Scalp scrub for oily hair
  • Key ingredients: Volcanic ash, Himalayan pink salt, French green clay
  • Size: 192ml
  • Why we love it
    • Great on greasy/oily scalps
    • Fresh minty scent

If you have a naturally oily scalp or find that your hair can become greasy almost instantly, you’ll want to look out for a scalp scrub designed with this in mind. Enter Paul Mitchell’s special detox tea tree foaming salt scrub.

The clay-like texture lathers and foams up quite nicely and feels especially calming on the scalp, as a result of its natural ingredients. Because of the beautiful minty fresh tea tree fragrance, it instantly gives you that at-home spa experience. 

This is the scalp scrub we reach for when we feel the urge to wash our hair more frequently, due to it looking greasy or oily within a day or so after washing it. Using this scrub, normally once a week, enables us to go a few days longer between washes.

  1. £27 from
Prices may vary
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The Inkey List glycolic acid exfoliating scalp scrub

  • Best: Scalp scrub for fine hair
  • Key ingredients: Symcontrol scalp, glycolic acid, castor beads, Bioecolia
  • Size: 150ml
  • Why we love it
    • The nozzle makes it easier to apply directly to the scalp
    • Fragrance-free

This budget-friendly option from The Inkey List can be used on both dry and wet scalps. While it is suitable for all hair types, as well as coloured hair and sensitive scalps, it performs particularly well on fine hair that can sometimes become weighed down by heavier and coarser scrubs.

We’ve found applying it to damp hair and leaving it for around 10 minutes before washing it off provided the best results. The application is a real breeze, thanks to the handy nozzle, which enables you to get right into the scalp, to ensure you have covered it in its entirety. Not only is this particular scalp scrub vegan-friendly, but it’s also free of fragrance, sulphates, silicone and alcohol.

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Ouai St. Barts scalp and body scrub

  • Best: Multitasking scalp scrub
  • Key ingredients: Sugar, coconut oil, panthenol
  • Size: 250g
  • Why we love it
    • Works well on the scalp and the body
    • Lovely scent
  • Take note
    • Slightly runnier consistency, compared with some other scalp scrubs
    • Strong fragrance may not be for everyone

If you’re looking for a multitasking scrub, Ouai has two great options: the limited edition St. Barts scalp and body scrub and the brand’s original scalp and body scrub. Both perform equally well on the scalp as they do on the body but we prefer the more tropical scent of the St. Barts variety. Combining notes of dragonfruit, orange blossom, tuberose and baltic amber, it immediately transports you somewhere warm and sunny, regardless of the weather here in the UK.

When applying it to the scalp, you only need a small amount, which should be applied to wet hair that has been sectioned, to allow you to make sure you get right into the roots. This lathers up nicely when you start to rub it into the scalp in circular motions and can be used instead of shampoo or before you shampoo, depending on your preference. We tend to use this once a week in place of shampoo and as a body scrub, too.

  1. £36 from
Prices may vary
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Kevin Murphy scalp spa scrub

  • Best: Scalp scrub for all hair types
  • Key ingredients: Micellar water, witch hazel, tea tree oil, coconut oil
  • Size: 180ml
  • Why we love it
    • Soothing
  • Take note
    • Rinsing alone may not remove all of the product

Suitable for all hair types and textures – including coloured or chemically treated hair – this scalp scrub should be used every week to help soothe and balance the scalp. It does lather up nicely and doesn’t dry out the scalp, making it a great option for those with dry skin.

The only slight negative with this particular scalp scrub is it can leave your scalp and hair feeling a tad gritty if you haven’t washed it out fully. This means you will most likely have to shampoo your hair after using the scrub, which can add extra time and energy to your haircare routine. The brand describes it as a ‘pre-treatment,’ so it shouldn’t necessarily be used on its own or instead of a shampoo, like some of the other scrubs we tested.

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Fable & Mane sahascalp wild ginger purifying scrub

  • Best: Scalp scrub for dandruff
  • Key ingredients: Ginger, neem, Himalayan pink salt
  • Size: 237ml
  • Why we love it
    • Reduced flakes after just one use
  • Take note
    • Strong fragrance

Dandruff can be an unsightly and irritating problem but this is when a scalp scrub can help. With a creamy, whipped texture and a gentle grain, this option from Fable & Mane doesn’t irritate or exacerbate any existing scalp issues, while effectively dealing with dandruff and flakes.

After just one use of this scalp scrub, we noticed a visible reduction in the number of flakes and we were impressed by how this formula foamed up. We couldn’t get enough of the beautiful fragrance, either. Our hair also looked much cleaner at the roots after washing, and we felt we could go longer between washes after using this scrub.

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Scalp scrub FAQs

What is a scalp scrub?

“A scalp scrub is a haircare product designed to exfoliate and cleanse the scalp, much like your favourite body scrub does for your skin,” says Justmylook hair expert Hayley Walker. “The glands on your scalp produce oil (sebum) to keep your hair and skin healthy. When this oil builds up too much, regular shampoo might not be enough to remove it all. That’s where scrubs come in handy.”

Physical exfoliators contain small particles, such as sea salt, sugar or beads, while chemical exfoliators use acids or enzymes to dissolve and loosen dead skin cells, dandruff and product build-up.

How often should you use a scalp scrub?

This “varies hugely from one person to the next, depending on your scalp health and lifestyle,” explains trichologist Jane Mayhead. “People with a sensitive scalp should limit exfoliation to no more than once a week at the most, however, those with an oily scalp, who are prone to build-up, may wish to do it more.”

She added: “Generally, I would exercise caution using a scalp scrub too often, to prevent over-exfoliation, as this can damage the scalp.”

Director of Trichology Scotland Wil Fleeson says: “If the scalp scrub contains moisturising ingredients, you will be able to use this more regularly without drying out and over-exfoliating your scalp. Those who have fine hair and an oilier scalp will also have more build-up and may find they will need to use a scalp scrub more frequently to avoid build-up and for a more effective cleanse.”

The verdict: Scalp scrubs

Our best buy is the Christophe Robin cleansing purifying scrub with sea salt, due to its impressive results and the fact it can be used on all hair types. Another highly rated scalp scrub (which can also be used instead of shampoo) is the Briogeo scalp revival charcoal + coconut oil micro-exfoliating shampoo, thanks to its cooling effect on particularly itchy or irritated scalps. Finally, those on a budget should consider Umberto Giannini’s scalp scrub or The Inkey List’s glycolic acid exfoliating scalp scrub – both of which come in at less than £15 and specifically help with product build-up.

For more hair must-haves for luscious locks, check out our article on the best hair masks

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