skin week

I Use a Cult Facial Toner to Get Rid of My Dry and Flaky Scalp

Photo: Courtesy of Isobel Lewis

I never suffered from a dry scalp until I graduated from university, when, like some kind of weird metaphor, there it was. “Welcome to adulthood,” it said. “It’s all downhill from here.” Over the following couple of years, I spent September through March trying to keep my itchy, flaky scalp at bay. I switched to an anti-dandruff shampoo, laid off the dry shampoo, and started using a manual scalp scrub brush in the shower. The first two helped things a bit — if you’re reading this and have a dry scalp, please, for the love of God, stop using dry shampoo — but manually exfoliating agitated things and left me flakier than ever.

Last autumn (after two years of this) I noticed a r/SkincareAddiction member suggest a K-beauty technique of using acid facial toners to exfoliate the scalp. Something clicked for me: Physical exfoliants dislodged the dry skin from my scalp but still left me looking flaky, so a chemical exfoliant could totally remove the buildup. I already owned the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution from the Ordinary, but wanted direct confirmation before giving it a go. I searched Google for reviews and hit the jackpot on fanserviced-b, where blogger Tracy Robey wrote about her success with the method and the product. Six months on, I’m a convert. The Ordinary’s product is most effective when used on dry hair immediately before a wash. After parting my hair, I use the small nozzle attachment to cover my scalp with product before working it in with my fingers. I have very thick hair, so I usually just focus on the front hairline and my parting where the issue is most visible. Once every month, or when things feel particularly agitated, I exfoliate my whole scalp with it, which someone with finer hair might prefer to do every time.

Then, I let it do its magic, usually leaving the acid tingling away for between 10 and 15 minutes, before rinsing it out in the shower (avoiding getting any in my eyes) and proceeding with my standard shampoo and conditioner. My scalp feels fresh but not sore, and my wash routine remains the same, where I can still go the same three days between shampoos as before. As the bottle contains a hefty 240 ml for only £6.80, I’m yet to hit the halfway mark after nearly five months of continuous weekly use on my scalp and occasional use on my face.

A note: If you’re concerned about using acids with dyed hair, a representative for the Cosmetic, Toiletry, and Perfumery Association said the product was unlikely to impact permanent or semi-permanent hair colour. They explained: “Alpha hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid are very good at removing dead skin cells from the skin’s surface and have numerous beneficial properties for the hair and scalp.”

Some other Strategist-approved scalp products

Strategist columnist Buzz Bissinger uses this scrub shampoo once a week. He writes: “I think of it as an exfoliant booster. It’s fun as hell to work it in, taking a healthy gob (I refuse to say goop) of the stuff and feeling all those salt crystals scrubbing the scalp and hair as they do their exfoliation thing. I like its rough texture and feel deliciously clean afterwards — the ultimate in squeaky.”

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I Use a Cult Facial Toner to Cure My Dry and Flaky Scalp