Lather, rinse, repeat” was once a mundane part of daily hygiene, but with more time at home and a continued emphasis on all-things scalp care, the newfound self-care step has taken on more attention than ever.
Case in point: A hairstylist’s TikTok video explaining how to properly shampoo amassed almost two million views in a single month; searches for “scalp care” have skyrocketed year over year and innovative launches (many of them filled with ingredients you trust in your skin care) continue to line store shelves. To help cut through the clutter, we asked experts which trending actives are worth folding into your hair routine.
Celebrity colorist Aura Friedman says the majority of hair-care products typically follow the same general makeup: “Natural oils meant to soften the hair, proteins to strengthen, humectants to add moisture, and fatty alcohols such as cetearyl alcohol, to give emollience and conditioning properties to the hair,” she says. Some shampoos may also contain detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate to remove dirt and oil.
“Glycerin helps to make products smoother, a little oilier and makes it a little easier to apply to the scalp,” says New York dermatologist Orit Markowitz, MD of the common humectant add. “Some hair-care products also contain vitamins, but their absorption rate is unknown.”
Your Perfect Match
Hair-care products can often be more formulation-driven than ingredient-driven, says organic hair and skin care creator Josh Rosebrook, meaning a test-drive is necessary before finding your hair’s best match. To assist in the dating game, he offers up a piece of helpful match-making advice: “Choose your shampoo according to your scalp type, or how balanced to oily your scalp is, and choose your conditioner according to how balanced to dry your hair shaft is.
Ingredients to Avoid
The list may forever be in flux, but there are a handful of ingredients hair experts agree should stay off your strands. Among them, according to Friedman: Sulfates, which can be drying, cause color-stripping and breakage; parabens, which are said to have an effect on hormone levels; and silicones, which are known to build up on strands over time and prevent moisture from entering the hair.
Rosemary may currently be trending, but Dr. Markowitz says the herb definitely holds its weight in the hair-care space, and is one she is starting to see more often. “Healthy, natural and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as rosemary and safflower oil can help calm inflammation and promote hair growth,” she says of the no-brainer addition to any hair-care regimen, especially if a compromised scalp and thinning hair hit close to home.
Similar to its role in skin care, topical vitamin C has been found to combat oxidative damage and dullness when used on the hair. Found in dpHUE’s Brightening Powder, brand cofounder and celebrity colorist Justin Anderson says he chose the ingredient to restore vibrancy and health to the hair. “We found that adding vitamin C in our formula, alongside a natural chelating agent, was an absolute game-changer,” he says. According to Dr. Markowitz, vitamin C may also play a role in keeping the dermis of the scalp rejuvenated thanks to less oxidative damage.
According to Spate, online searches for rice water have grown more than 10.2 percent in the past year alone. The reason, says Briogeo CEO and founder Nancy Twine, boils down to our hair’s make up. Because hair is made up of mostly keratin, Twine says naturally occurring proteins are already present in each strand. “However, these proteins and bonds degrade over time, especially with frequent heat styling, chemical processing, or hair-coloring.” Rice water, found in Briogeo’s latest, most-potent-yet treatment, is filled with strengthening nutrients that help restore withered bonds, reverse damage and boost shine.
We’re no stranger to skin-care favorite hyaluronic acid, but the moisture-binding ingredient also offers promising benefits when applied on the hair and scalp (you might see it appear as sodium hyaluronate on your hair-care products). “Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, which means hydration occurs by drawing out surface moisture from within,” says Dr. Markowitz. While there’s no moisture inside a hair follicle that would be drawn to the surface, Dr. Markowitz says when applied to the scalp, the acid may help hydrate and prevent dryness as it would any other skin surface for a healthier crown.
Known for their healing abilities, Friedman says peptide-infused formulas are your hair’s best friend when dealing with hair breakage, especially from too much hair color. “Try to avoid any ingredients that will be drying to the hair, such as sulfates, which can actually cause more breakage,” she says. “Look for strengthening ingredients such as proteins and peptides,” which work within the hair shaft to repair bonds.
Zinc pyrithione may be the goldstandard for busting dandruff, but salicylic acid is making waves in the oil-balancing, flake-reducing game, too. Dr. Markowitz says the acid “helps remove buildup on the scalp,” and even helps with mild scales and itching. The reliable acid also helps to bring the scalp’s natural exfoliation levels back to a healthy baseline.