The 12 Best Scalp Scrubs of 2023

Your best hair day is just a quick scrub away.

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 The 12 Best Scalp Scrubs of 2023 Tout

InStyle / Reese Herrington

Whether you’re dealing with greasy hair or a dry, flakey scalp (or just about any hair-related woe), a scalp scrub can be the key to a total hair and scalp reset. After all, a dollop of shampoo every few days isn’t enough to cut through the layers of product buildup, oil, sweat, and, yes, dead skin cells that pile up on the scalp. 

To find the best scalp scrubs, we conducted hours of research evaluating the top-rated scrubs on the market, testing standout options, and consulting with an array of hair experts. After careful consideration, we found 12 scrubs that effectively cleanse and exfoliate the scalp while simultaneously nourishing its microbiome. With any of these picks, your best hair day is just a scrub away.  

Best Overall

Christophe Robin Purifying Scalp Scrub with Sea Salt

Christophe Robin Purifying Scalp Scrub with Sea Salt


What We Love: This gritty but gentle scrub provides a deep cleanse without stripping strands, and lathers into a soft foam as you massage it into roots.

What We Don’t Love: The unique texture takes some time to adapt to, and the scrub can be difficult to remove if it’s not fully emulsified.

There’s a reason this scrub has gained a cult-like following: It’s a buildup-busting powerhouse. The award-winning formula features a hybrid approach to exfoliation, utilizing sea salt and dissolvable grains to cleanse, remove impurities, and moisturize the scalp. 

Despite the heavy duty exfoliation, the formula is surprisingly gentle. When mixed with water, it transforms into a foamy texture that helps remove product buildup and leaves hair feeling refreshed. Plus, it smells like a summery sea breeze, which makes using this a delightful sensorial experience. 

No matter your scalp concern — be it dryness and flakes or excessive oil production — the scrub addresses both, and it’s safe to use on color-treated hair. The unique texture definitely takes a few tries to get used to, especially since the formula needs to be fully emulsified in order to rinse away. But, learning curve aside, this scrub is a universal panacea for a clean, rejuvenated scalp.

Price at time of publish: $53

Size: 8.5 oz | Key Ingredients: Sea salt crystals, bisabolol, carbohydrate complex | Scented: Yes

Best Budget

Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub

Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub


What We Love: As the name suggests, this scrub provides instant results without stripping hair or irritating the scalp.

What We Don’t Love: The thick consistency makes it difficult to fully rinse out, which can leave hair feeling heavy and weighed down.

The Kristin Ess Instant Exfoliating Scalp Scrub strikes the perfect balance — it effectively sloughs away dead skin and buildup without being too abrasive, thanks to a blend of exfoliating sugars and soothing oils. 

While many scrubs come in a tub, this one comes in a mess-free tube with a clever pointed tip, which allows for a no-fuss, pinpointed application. We can use the tip to part wet hair, then apply the scrub directly to the scalp, which comes in handy for reaching hard-to-get-to areas that need a deep clean. 

This scrub is a bit thicker than other options on our list and requires some extra elbow grease to rinse out, but because the exfoliator efficiently removes flakes and buildup while keeping our scalp balanced and hydrated, we find it well worth the effort — plus, it’s a steal at less than $20.  

Price at time of publish: $15

Size: 6.7 oz | Key Ingredients: Sugar complex, sunflower seed oil, mango butter, avocado oil | Scented: Yes

Best Splurge

Oribe Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub

Oribe Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub


What We Love: This purifying scrub features both chemical and physical exfoliants for the ultimate scalp reset.

What We Don’t Love: At just 4.2 ounces, it’s one of the smallest bottles on the list, despite its luxury price tag.

Oribe’s Serene Scalp Exfoliating Scrub packs a serious punch thanks to its dual-exfoliant formula. An alpha hydroxy acid blend penetrates deep into the scalp to dissolve dead skin and lift away pore-clogging impurities, while soft polymer beads (which are free of microplastics) slough off debris on the scalp’s surface. Though that’s some major exfoliation, hydrating flower extracts prevent irritation and dryness and leave hair feeling clean and nourished. 

Between the acids, flower extracts, and polymer beads, the formula is surprisingly creamy and gentle for a scrub, which makes it easy to rinse off unlike others that can leave gritty chunks hidden between strands. We also appreciate the mess-free tube format and the bright citrusy scent. 

Our only gripe is the size — it’s fairly small as far as scalp scrubs go and those with thicker hair will likely go through the bottle quickly. But if you can fit it into your budget, it’s a top-notch scrub.

Price at time of publish: $52

Size: 4.2 oz | Key Ingredients: Alpha hydroxy acid blend, Oribe signature complex | Scented: Yes

Best Drugstore

Nexxus Clean & Pure Scalp Scrub

Nexxus Clean & Pure Scalp Scrub


What We Love: The formula is free of parabens, dyes, and sulfates, making it a great choice for sensitive scalps.

What We Don’t Love: The exfoliating benefits aren’t always consistent — sometimes we find the sugar crystals to be too gritty, while other times they melt away before providing any meaningful exfoliation.

Infused with elastin protein and marine minerals, this scalp treatment scrub strengthens and moisturizes hair while removing product buildup and impurities. Plus, it’s formulated without any parabens, dyes, or sulfates, making it a solid choice for all hair types, especially those with sensitive scalps.

A little bit of product goes a long way with this scrub, and at an already-great price and a once-weekly suggested use, it leads the pack in terms of value. Seriously, a single 11.3-ounce tub should last you months.

For the most part, we’re fans of the gritty texture that emulsifies into a shampoo-like consistency, but sometimes (on rare occasions) the sugar crystals can feel abrasive, while other times they melt away quickly. It’s a Goldilocks-like conundrum, but we found that storing this in a temperature controlled space — outside the shower — keeps the texture and results consistent. 

Price at time of publish: $20

Size: 11.3 oz | Key Ingredients: Sugar, sweet almond oil | Scented: No

Best for Oily Scalps

Kérastase Energizing Scrub Purifying Scrub for Oily Scalp

Kérastase Energizing Scrub


What We Love: Specially formulated for oily scalps, this hard-working scrub not only tackles buildup and oiliness, it also volumizes hair and extends time between washes.

What We Don’t Love: This is meant to target oiliness so it exfoliates really well — so much so that it can be a little drying.

We’re no stranger to greasy, stringy hair, and we know how frustrating it can be to need a good hair wash every day or two. That’s why we use Kérastase’s Energizing Scrub — it helps us double our time between washes and effectively sloughs away oil and dead skin without weighing down our strands

The scrub features not one, not two, but a whopping three different exfoliating ingredients for a deeply purifying treatment. There’s salicylic acid, which helps cut through any surface oil and exfoliates deep within the pores; sea salt, which eliminates impurities and physically exfoliates the scalp’s surface; and vitamin B6, which balances oil production on the scalp. You can really feel the oil-fighting trifecta, working — it produces a cooling, slightly tingly sensation that makes for an invigorating shower experience.

The results are so good, however, that we’d only recommend using this scrub if your scalp is very oily. For those with occasional mild oiliness or a relatively normal scalp, it very well might leave you with dry, straw-like strands.

Price at time of publish: $56

Size: 8.5 oz | Key Ingredients: Sea salt, vitamin B6, salicylic acid | Scented: Yes

Best for Dry Scalps

Virtue Labs Exfoliating Scalp Treatment

Virtue Labs Exfoliating Scalp Treatment


What We Love: The lightweight cream texture is seriously luxurious — and manages exfoliates the scalp while deeply hydrating hair.

What We Don’t Love: The tiny exfoliating beads can be difficult to fully rinse out, especially when used on curly and coily hair.

This ultra-whipped exfoliating treatment feels like a cross between a hair mask and a gentle scrub — which makes sense once you realize it’s meant to replace your conditioner. An exfoliating conditioner scrub is definitely novel, and it’s particularly ideal for those with extra-dry scalps.

While fruit enzymes and beta hydroxy acids provide dual-action exfoliation, a blend of coconut, jojoba, and kalahari melon oils deeply hydrate the scalp and hair without that dreaded heavy feeling. The fruit enzymes leave behind tiny, micro-sized beads that gently exfoliate the surface, while the BHAs exfoliate deep within the pores. This means that while the scrub might not feel all that, well, scrubby, it’s definitely working. A quick massage and rinse results in an ultra-soothed, clean scalp with moisturized hair that’s soft to the touch.

Those with particularly curly, coily, or thick hair might have a harder time fully rinsing out those itty bitty beads, but it’s nothing a few extra minutes of scrubbing and a great scalp massager can’t fix.

Price at time of publish: $48

Size: 5 oz | Key Ingredients: Papain, BHAs, coconut oil, jojoba oil, kalahari melon oil | Scented: Yes

Best for Sensitive Scalps

Ceremonia Papaya Scalp Scrub

Ceremonia Papaya Scalp Scrub


What We Love: Not only does this scrub smell amazing, but the fragrance is hypoallergenic, making it great for sensitive scalps.

What We Don’t Love: The gentle scrub might not be adequate for those seeking a deep exfoliation.

Ceremonia Papaya Salt Scrub Shampoo provides a gentle detox that even the most sensitive scalps can withstand thanks to its whipped texture that melts into the scalp and mildly exfoliates. Bolivian mountain salt and papaya enzymes carefully break up buildup and dead skin cells, while prickly pear extract provides deep moisture and nourishes hair. 

While all those benefits are great, the non-sensitizing fragrance is what made the scrub a shoe-in on this list. Formulated without any harsh ingredients, the scent is surprisingly gentle and won’t cause any irritation or discomfort. It smells absolutely divine, too: It’s equal parts clean and woody thanks to notes of lemon zest, vetiver, black tea, violet, brown sugar, and tonka beans. We’d wear this as a fragrance if we could.

Because this is meant for sensitive scalps, it might not provide the gritty, deep exfoliation some are looking for. While it’s certainly effective, it’s decidedly light on the scrub factor and isn’t ideal for those with heavy buildup. 

Price at time of publish: $29

Size: 8 oz | Key Ingredients: Bolivian mountain salt, papaya enzymes, prickly pear extract | Scented: Yes

Best for Curly Hair

Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo

Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo


What We Love: This curl-friendly scrub shampoo cleanses the scalp and relieves itchiness without stripping hair. 

What We Don’t Love: The tub format makes for a pretty messy application process.

This sulfate-free scrub works on all hair types, but it’s particularly curl-friendly thanks to its effective but non-drying formula. The scrub-shampoo hybrid can even be used daily to keep your scalp squeaky clean and free from buildup. The formula features binchotan charcoal, which draws out impurities that clog the hair follicle, as well as a combination of coconut, peppermint, spearmint, and tea tree oils to soothe and moisturize the scalp. The latter three oils also have a cooling effect when applied, which further helps to reduce inflammation and itchiness.

Beyond curly hair, we also recommend it for anyone who regularly uses a lot of styling products because it quickly removes any buildup from cream conditioners, hair gels, and texturizing sprays.

The standard size comes in a tub, which frankly, can be a bit messy. We recommend opting for the value size that comes with a pump, or the mini size which features a mess-free squeezable tube. 

Price at time of publish: $42

Size: 8 oz | Key Ingredients: Binchotan charcoal, coconut oil, peppermint oil, spearmint oil, tea tree oil | Scented: Yes

Best for Colored Hair

dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub

dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub


What We Love: This isn’t just color-safe, it’s actively good for dyed hair thanks to its color-locking technology.

What We Don’t Love: It can be hard to work into the scalp, especially for those with thicker hair.

People who color their hair may think they need to write off scalp scrubs completely — after all, many formulas contain sulfates or harsh chemical exfoliants that can dull color. The dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Scalp Scrub isn’t like most scrubs, though. Infused with color-locking technology, it keeps hair color vibrant while rebalancing the scalp, so you can go longer between dye jobs. 

This pick feels fresh and tingly upon application thanks to the heaping dose of apple cider vinegar, which also helps reduce frizz and increases shine by sealing the hair’s cuticle. This catchall ingredient gently exfoliates while maintaining optimum hair pH levels, too. Pink Himalayan salt gives this scrub its gritty texture, though the larger-sized grains can be difficult to work into the scalp, especially for those with longer, thicker hair. We find that it works best on fine hair.

Price at time of publish: $39

Size: 9 oz | Key Ingredients: Apple cider vinegar, Himalayan sea salt | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Natural Scrub

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp Scrub

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Happi Scalp™ Scrub


What We Love: This supercharged formula attacks buildup with a blend of glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citrus acids, as well as biodegradable exfoliating beads.

What We Don’t Love: This can sometimes sting, likely due to the 10 percent blend of acids.

If natural ingredients and clean formulations are priorities in your beauty routine, Drunk Elephant T.L.C Happi Scalp Scrub is a must try. The dual exfoliation scrub is extremely hard-working — a blend of alpha and beta hydroxy acids rapidly breaks down and dissolves dead skin cells and product buildup, while biodegradable exfoliating beads gently sweep them away. For the best results, allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, just like a hair mask. Once the time is up, your scalp will be cleansed and hydrated, and hair will look more voluminous. 

Keep in mind that the 10 percent blend of acids is so strong, that the formula can be too effective. A slight stinging is totally normal, but if it feels too intense (or persists), we suggest rinsing it out after just five minutes.

Price at time of publish: $38

Size: 6 oz | Key Ingredients: AHA/BHA blend, marula oil, mongongo oil | Scented: No

Best Multi-Tasker

Ouai St. Barts Cleansing Scalp and Body Sugar Scrub

Ouai St. Barts Cleansing Scalp and Body Sugar Scrub


What We Love: This scrub’s fragrance is like a one-way ticket to the tropics, and the head-to-toe formula works just as well on the scalp as it does on dry elbows.

What We Don’t Love: It can sometimes leave behind a slightly sticky feeling.

If bathroom storage is at a minimum, it’s simply not plausible to have separate scalp and body scrubs. Enter: This one-stop-scrub, which is the same formula as the beloved original version, with the added benefit of Ouai’s intoxicating St. Bart’s fragrance. With notes of dragon fruit, orange blossom, tuberose, and baltic amber, it smells like a beachy dream. 

The unique texture, which reminds us of a soft paste, simultaneously exfoliates and hydrates the skin. The slight lather makes it easy to massage through your roots, while the sugar crystals and coconut oil-infused formula provides just enough grit, sans irritation. We noticed that some users say the formula leaves behind a tacky residue, but we’ve never encountered the issue. Instead, it leaves our scalp and body feeling luxuriously smooth and soft. 

Price at time of publish: $40

Size: 8.8 oz | Key Ingredients: Sugar crystals, panthenol, glycerin, coconut oil | Scented: Yes

Best Shampoo Scrub

Rahua Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo

Rahua Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo


What We Love: Rahua’s plant-powered exfoliating shampoo is a multifunctional two-in-one that cleanses as it exfoliates.

What We Don’t Love: The scrubby beads do little to enhance the overall exfoliating effect.

Rahua’s Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo boosts hair and scalp health with a two-in-one formula that leaves hair feeling deeply cleansed and soft to the touch. It’s equal parts soothing and cleansing, gently exfoliating the scalp with organic star anise, while morete oil locks in moisture and nourishes damaged strands. The light exfoliation makes this a great pick for those with sensitive scalps who still want to clear buildup; and, as a bonus, we also noticed that this shampoo greatly reduced our dandruff when we tested it over the course of 12 weeks.

This is definitely more liquidy than a true scalp scrub, even though it does contain small exfoliating beads. Overall, though, the beads felt like more of a nuisance than anything, and we think it would work just as fine without them. 

Price at time of publish: $40

Size: 9.3 oz | Key Ingredients: Sacha inchi, Morete oil, star anise, mango sugars | Scented: Yes

What to Keep in Mind

Type of Exfoliant

Traditional scrubs mainly use physical exfoliants to buff away dead skin and other debris on the scalp, but according to Jerome Lordet, salon director of Pierre Michel Salon in NYC, some utilize chemical exfoliants to further the effect. Dr. Isfahan Chambers-Harris, a Washington D.C.-based certified trichologist and founder of Alodia, suggests sticking to natural exfoliants like sugar and sea salt.

Scrubs with chemical exfoliants, like Drunk Elephant T.L.C Happi Scalp Scrub, work overtime to provide a deeper clean, sloughing away build up, dead skin, and other impurities. These types of scrubs tend to be a bit more powerful, and therefore work best for those with oily scalps who regularly need a deeper clean.

Hair Type

You should also consider your hair type when looking at scalp scrubs, as different ingredients can help target specific issues. For example, those with oily hair should look for a scrub with clarifying ingredients that will help cut through the oil and grime. With three different exfoliating agents, Kérastase Energizing Scrub: Purifying Scrub for Oily Scalp is a great option to help regulate oil production and prevent buildup.

Meanwhile, those with dry hair or a dry scalp should look for scrubs with more moisturizing ingredients, like coconut oil or shea butter, that can help nourish the scalp and prevent buildup (we recommend Virtue Clarifying & Exfoliating Scalp Treatment).

Those with curly hair should steer clear of scrubs with sulfates, as the ingredient can be particularly drying on tight curls. Instead, Shab Caspara, New York-based trichologist and founder of hair care platform Leona, says to look for gentle scrubs with physical and chemical exfoliants that help remove buildup without causing damage to the hair, like Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Scrub Shampoo.

Your Styling Routine

Your styling routine will largely determine how often you should use a scalp scrub. “Once a week is good for most hair types,” Lordet says. “But if you’re dealing with heavy product buildup from dry shampoo or other styling products that go directly on the scalp, use more as needed.” For those who find themselves needing more frequent exfoliation, consider a shampoo-scrub hybrid, like Rahua Scalp Exfoliating Shampoo.

Your Questions, Answered

What is a scalp scrub?

"A scalp scrub is an exfoliant designed to break down buildup on the scalp prior to washing and cleansing the hair with shampoo,” explains Caspara. According to Dr. Chambers-Harris, they also help remove excess oil, dead skin cells, and flakiness from the scalp’s surface.

How do you use a scalp scrub?

Instructions will vary, so check the packaging for details. Generally for best results, Lordet suggests sectioning hair while wet to ensure the product is applied directly to the scalp. Then massage the scrub in, working your fingers around your head. 

“The key is to not overuse scrubs and don't massage the product too aggressively into the scalp,” Dr. Chambers-Harris explains. “It can cause more harm than good by causing micro tears and creating an overall imbalance of the scalp.” After about five minutes, rinse well with warm water and follow up with your regular shampoo and conditioner.

Do you use a scalp scrub before or after shampoo?

“Scrubs help breakdown product, sebum, and environmental buildup before shampooing it all out,” Caspara explains. While most scrubs should be used before shampoo, be sure to check the instructions for specific product details.

Why Shop With Us

Danielle Cohen is a freelance beauty writer and editor with more than five years of experience reporting on the beauty industry and testing products. For this story, she did her due diligence researching the best scalp scrubs available and testing a selection out herself. She also consulted Shab Caspara, New York-based trichologist and founder of multi-brand hair care platform Leona; Jerome Lordet, salon director of Pierre Michel Salon in NYC;  and Dr. Isfahan Chambers-Harris, trichologist and founder of Alodia.

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